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Concept Cars Drive Technology, Design

By Evelyn Kanter, February 25th, 2017

So-called concept cars are an important glimpse into the future direction of technology and design. Every manufacturer spends millions on R&D, on armies of engineers, designers, and a new category called "futurists," and then the results are showcased at auto shows.

Manufacturer photo: The Toyota Concept-I has no conventional dashboard screens; instead they are replaced by a next-generation head-up display
Manufacturer photo: The Toyota Concept-I has no conventional dashboard screens; instead they are replaced by a next-generation head-up display

Some concepts are literally just for show: clickbait for photographers and TV news reports, like the jaw-dropping Lincoln Navigator concept I saw at a couple of recent shows. Even though the gullwing doors and giant steps that fold out when the door opens won't make it into production, the larger side windows, panoramic roof, and some new interior features are rolling out in new models.

Other vehicles are called concepts when they are really pre-production models, giving the R&D team the time and permission to make final tweaks before the model goes on sale. One such example is the Jaguar I-Pace due next year, probably as a 2019 model.

Jaguar I-Pace is a sleek electric midsize SUV with 200 horsepower motors on each axle, providing a 400-hp kick that launches it from 0-to-60 mph in a Jaguar-like 4.0 seconds, and high-tech liquid-cooled lithium ion batteries with a 220-mile range. Does that sounds like a Tesla? The answer is yes. The I-Pace will be a direct competitor, in performance, style, luxury leathers and woods in the cabin, and bragging rights.

Here are some other recent concepts that impressed me, and I hope they'll be driving into dealerships soon in one form or another.

Manufacturer photo: The Toyota Concept-I has no conventional dashboard screens; instead they are replaced by a next-generation head-up display

The Toyota Concept-I has no conventional dashboard screens; instead they are replaced by a next-generation head-up display. Also, colored lights in the footwells inform you when the car is in autonomous or driving mode while similar lights around the seats warn you about blind spots, and lights also greet your approach. I just love the idea of anybody or anything lighting up when they see me! More importantly, technology monitors driver attention and road conditions, adding more automated safety support when needed to help navigate dangerous conditions, such as when you are dozing off or glazing over.

The Chrysler Portal is an electric minivan with advanced batteries and a range of more than 250 miles on a full charge. It also has the ability to drive autonomously on highways, with more driverless features to come. A ring of LED lights highlights the clamshell doors, and seating can be reconfigured easily, just as in the bestselling Chrysler Pacifica minivan. But my favorite Portal feature is the super-tech facial recognition technology, which could make car keys obsolete one day.

Mitsubishi eX concept is another electric, also sleek looking, with knife-edge styling and hidden door handles. It's designed for the fast-growing compact SUV market, with 188 total horsepower. A neat feature is that its stored energy can supply enough electricity to power domestic appliances. In other words, eX can be turned into a back-up generator in an emergency.

The Volkswagen I.D. features a 3D digital cockpit integrated with Amazon's Alexa for voice-activated everything. The cockpit can be customized

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