The North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) in Detroit is the largest automotive show in the United States, and since it’s on the home turf of traditional American automotive manufacturing, the Detroit Auto Show is also where many automakers showcase their latest wares. NAIAS is home to more debuts of new offerings than nearly all other auto shows globally. Many of those debuts are concept cars that showcase the design or technology direction a company is headed with future products.
Today, we’re going to look at the concept cars unveiled in Detroit this year and what they mean to the manufacturer unveiling them and the industry as a whole.
Buick Avenir Concept
Quite possibly the most stunning concept unveiled at the show, the Buick Avenir has design language that speaks to both production readiness and nostalgic reminders of Buick’s storied past in vehicle design.
The lines and tone of the Avenir speak to classic Buick design language with accentuated rear haunches and an elegant overall structure. The interior is ultra-modern with a sleek, uncluttered look hallmarked by light color tones, metallic edges, and forward-looking technology.
“Avenir embodies Buick design, which centers on effortless beauty and presence without pretense,” says Ed Welburn, vice president of General Motors Global Design.
Everything about the Avenir exudes refinement. This car, Buick says, will be its flagship for design going forward, but will not see production.
Chevrolet Bolt Concept
Chevrolet says that the Bolt concept will become reality soon. The Bolt is an all-electric car meant to be the automaker’s flagship electric vehicle (EV) going forward (the Chevrolet Volt is their flagship hybrid). The Bolt is in every way a larger version of the slow-selling, limited-market Chevrolet Spark EV, which was introduced about two years ago.
The Bolt concept shown in Detroit is very close to what a production Bolt will look like, Chevrolet says, and it definitely looks ready for the street as we saw it. It sports a 200-mile driving range and will have a price tag of about $37,500 (before incentives). With a design geared toward interior space and versatility, an everyday outward appearance and lots of range, the Chevrolet Bolt is a good offering from General Motors in the segment. Significantly, the Bolt will compete with the BMW i3 and the upcoming Tesla Model III, being cheaper than the BMW and likely more widely-accepted than the Tesla. Its design language takes cues from both of those vehicles as well, with similar exterior styling to the i3. Meanwhile, the interior shows Tesla’s influence with a simple, modern appeal and a large touch screen in the center of the dash.
We expect to see one more rendition of the Chevrolet Bolt before it actually goes into production, probably as a production-ready concept with more refinement to the rougher edges of the one shown in Detroit.
The Guangzhou Automobile Group (GAC) was the only Chinese automaker making a showing in Detroit. They unveiled three of their latest models, with the GS4 having its global debut at NAIAS. The GS4 is a compact sport utility vehicle powered by a small-displacement engine. The design language of the GS4 is sporty and aimed toward the top-selling segment in the Chinese market, which is currently dominated by Buick.
Although GAC proclaimed that the GS4 is production-ready, the company’s history indicates that it will not likely see production in this format. We expect the GS4 to go through at least one more design iteration first.
Honda FCV Concept
The Japanese automaker responsible for the first production gasoline-electric hybrid is also one of the world’s leaders in hydrogen fuel-cell automotive research and development. Now, Honda is moving forward from its famous FCX Clarity hydrogen fuel-cell vehicle (HFCV) by introducing a new design concept called, simply, the FCV Concept.
Marked with futuristic styling and Honda’s new signature front fascia with a light-edged grin, the FCV Concept is as much about its futuristic exterior as it is about the huge leap forward Honda has undertaken in fuel cell vehicles over the past couple of years.
The low, wide aerodynamics of the FCV are similar to current production models in Honda’s lineup (notably the Accord), but with distinct touches that mark this as a car of the future. Small exterior mirrors hint that they could be augmented by cameras. The FCV also lacks door handles (buttons release the latches to open the doors), and its “cutting blade” wheels slice forward as the car is in motion.
Hyundai Santa Cruz Concept
Likely the biggest surprise of the show was Hyundai’s unveiling of a new pickup truck concept based on a crossover. The Hyundai Santa Cruz Concept seats five, has rear suicide doors and is powered by a diesel engine that’s currently used outside of the U.S. It’s all-wheel drive, has a versatile bed and a very cool look. Hyundai was quick to point out that this is a concept only and is nowhere near ready for production.
While the idea behind the Santa Cruz is not new, this could be a smart way for the Korean automaker to get into the truck business in the U.S. The Santa Cruz would build on Hyundai’s already well-established crossover presence here and would offer buyers an alternative to bigger, bulkier, small pickups such as the Toyota Tacoma and Nissan Frontier. Plus, we have to admit that the look of the Santa Cruz is just fantastically likable.
Infiniti Q60 Concept
When the Infiniti G37 sedan and coupe changed names to Q50 and Q60 respectively, Infiniti fans knew that redesigns for the flagship luxury cars were on the way. Now, that appetite has been sated thanks to a healthy dish of beauty called the Infiniti Q60 Concept. Unveiled at a small pre-show event to a few journalists before hitting the NAIAS floor Tuesday morning, the Infiniti Q60 Concept immediately enamored onlookers. As we drank champagne and oggled the finesse of the car, a few other notable tidbits engaged our ears.
The Q60 Concept features a twin-turbocharged 3.0-liter V6 engine that befits a luxury sport coupe such as the Q60.
The exterior of the Infiniti Q60 Concept is emphasized by sexy curves and straight-line speed accents. Muscular rear haunches and a fastback design compete with the front end saloon styling and peering headlamps. Big scoops under the front fascia and creases in the hood promise concentrated movement to go with the fast, low roof. It all comes together with an elegance of speed that marks the luxury sport coupe market today.
Local Motors Strati
On the upper show floor at NAIAS, a mechanical whining and milling noise could occasionally be heard. Following that sound took us to the Local Motors booth where a car was being created with a 3-D printer and then refined in a mill, live on the show floor. This is not the first time that Local Motors has built a car live, but it is the first time the next-generation of its Strati concept has been built. Refinements to the Strati are being updated through the unique, open source design process that Local Motors has created by the globalization of ideas online.
With the help of designers and engineers collaborating globally and with partners like the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, the Peterson Companies, and SABIC materials, the Local Motors Strati becomes reality in about three days, start-to-finish. The car takes about 44 hours to print and mill and another day to put together, with the electric drivetrain components coming from Renault’s Twizy car.
This third generation of the Strati has a larger windshield, a slightly wider chassis and should provide better ride and handling characteristics. It took two months for the refinements to be worked out after the second-generation was tested, which is significantly less time than the industry standard of four to six years. The Strati could represent the future of automotive manufacture, as Local Motors is poised to revolutionize how components (and perhaps even cars themselves) are designed and made.
Mercedes-Benz F 015 Concept
The Mercedes-Benz F 015 Concept was first unveiled at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, which was about a week before the Detroit Auto Show. Nevertheless, the car was a huge hit at NAIAS, where true automotive enthusiasts could ogle it with fresh eyes.
Built as a self-driving electric car, the Mercedes F 015 embodies the ideal of ultra-futuristic conceptual design. It incorporates current technology trends in the automotive industry along with those of the electronics industry and throws in a few new twists for spice.
Envisioned as a “mobile living space” by Mercedes-Benz CEO Dr. Dieter Zetsche, the F 015 grows beyond the automobile’s role “as a mere means of transport.” The F 015 seats four behind suicide doors that open without a central pillar, creating a large interior space. Seats swivel to create a conversation space, and folding arm rests and tables add versatility to the comfort zone that’s created inside the car.
Volkswagen Crosse Coupe GTE
This is the third time that Volkswagen has introduced a three-row sport utility concept, and many of us wonder if it’s not the charmer that will finally see production. The Crosse Coupe GTE certainly appears more production-ready than any of its predecessors, and Volkswagen seemed keen on emphasizing its market readiness.
The Crosse Coupe GTE offers a unique powertrain. Volkswagen has embraced hybrids globally and seems interested in making them the mainstream for their new offerings. The Crosse Coupe GTE features a plug-in hybrid powertrain hiding behind that two-bar grille, which consists of a 3.6-liter V6 engine and two electric motors. VW says the Crosse Coupe GTE has a 20-mile all-electric range and 355 horsepower of total output.
The Overall Trend
Many of the concepts that were unveiled at the 2015 Detroit Auto Show feature alternative powertrains, sportier designs and an emphasis on interior dynamics. The next few years promise a host of electrified and hydrogen-powered offerings to go with the gadgetry that is beginning to festoon our automobiles.