By Chris Harris and Vivian Lin
In the days leading up to our attendance of the 2013 Detroit Auto show, we’d heard a lot of hype about the reemergence of the concept car. Tom LaSorda, GM veteran and former CEO of Fisker and Chrysler, expressed in one interview that “concept cars are coming back to life.” Both of us being new to the auto-show scene, this was exciting to hear. Having only been exposed to the auto exhibits at the CES trade show, we could only imagine with anticipation the visions of the future that awaited us in Detroit.
What we found was a mixed bag. Everything from pre-production and prototype vehicles, to truly imaginative forays into the future, wore the badge “concept car.” We realized the term “concept car” is being used too loosely. The concept cars that LaSorda gushes about, like the Toyota Corolla Furia and the Ford Atlas truck, are close-to-production level vehicles and basically only point the direction for incremental changes in aesthetics. Interestingly, the only concept car that seemed to truly explore the possible future of the car, the driving experience, and the riding experience, the Toyota Fun-vii, actually made its debut at the 2011 Tokyo Motor Show.
To help us make sense of what we saw, we examined trends and differences across the various “concept cars” and created a typology based on their functions.
The BETA – The design of these vehicles has been so refined that they are very close to what will become the production (or pre-production) model. These really should be labeled “prototypes,” but can be showstoppers nonetheless. Check out the Acura NSX (already in its second iteration) and the BMW 4 series.
The GLIMPSE – These vehicles embody styling cues for a company’s future fleet. They tend to look “almost there,” as they show off aesthetic and technological indulgences that will more than likely be priced out of production vehicles. By far this was the largest category of “concept cars” we saw, among them, Honda’s Urban SUV (pictured here), the Toyota Corolla Furia, and the Ford Atlas.
The GAME CHANGER – These concepts think through more than merely the aesthetics of the vehicle. It seems that almost every big brand is investing heavily into alternative fuel technologies. The BMW duo of the i3 and i8 concepts paint one of the more vivid visions of what life with an electric car might look like in the not-too-distant future. The Hyundai HCD-14 Genesis can also be included in this category for its exploration of eye-tracking and 3D-gesture control interfaces.
The VISION (A.K.A. “WTF ON WHEELS,” according to Chris) – These concepts re-imagine all aspects of what a vehicle can be. These are the “concept cars” that we were looking for in Detroit. They experiment with radical new ways of interacting with the car for both driver and passenger, and they build up the story with fantastical theatrical elements that paint evocative pictures of distant future driving experiences. As already noted, the Toyota Fun-vii (rear and interior pictured here) holds the distinction of being the only vehicle of this type in the entire exhibition…and it isn’t even new.
If the concept car is truly coming back to life, then it appears to be just taking baby steps in the right direction. Now, don’t get us wrong, there are some truly showstopping car designs right around the corner. What we need to see is exploration of a future beyond the next five years, something beyond just a pretty exterior, to recapture our imagination.
In Stockholm, the waterways lead your eyes into the city center, Gamla Stan. One look at Old Town serves as a snapshot of the architectural DNA that binds all parts of this Swedish city.
The phrase, “the same but different” comes to mind as you get lost in the seemingly endless corridors formed by the tight knit neighborhoods surrounding the city’s core. Classic but not overtly ornate details like the ever-present hanging street lights reinforce the character of the city.
In contrast to the uniformity of the outside architecture, the interiors of Stockholm’s bustling shops, cafes and thrift stores are random and varied. The spaces tend to capture the emotion, heart and life of the beautifully crafted local goods.
As you might expect, contemporary furniture is everywhere! Stockholm provides a maze of design department stores along with thrift and vintage items galore stuffed into showroom spaces and tiny basements alike.
But alas, with very limited time in the city, I had to get my fix on local history. I chose to explore The Vasa Museum which houses a salvaged shipwreck from the 1600s. While the focus of this exhibit is the giant meticulously restored vessel, the dioramas and surrounding materials tell a rich story of the sinking and resurrection of the ship and of the human toll of the tragic event. One of the odd exhibits is a display of six facial reconstructions based on the corpses of victim’s found on the ship. Crazy and creepy, but very cool!
Taking in a 5,000 foot view, you can loosely define a city’s character by its colors, textures, noises and smells . It’s when you actually hit the ground and dig around a little bit that you begin to discover the pleasant surprises that form the more lasting impression you will carry with you.
Arriving in Manchester, England I think you might expect a workman’s redbrick Football town, and admittedly, on the taxi ride in I began to think the same thing. But, within hours of landing, I was hooked. Before I knew it I had covered the circumference of its City Centre by foot!
The Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI) collects and preserves the equipment that revolutionized and fueled the growth of industrialized, civilized England. I didn’t think I’d be so fascinated by the evolution of textile looms and the English sewage system, but I was!
On that note, who’da thunk English political propaganda would be so graphically intriguing. I do, after visiting the People’s History Museum where the civil plight of the common Manchester citizen is well documented in a series of preserved political posters.
One of my favorite nooks ended up being the Northern Corner of City Centre. A little rough around the edges, this graffiti covered neighborhood of non-descript redbrick flats hides Manchester’s creative side – a coalition of local designers and artist who not only supply craft but provide education and a creative outlet for the cities youth.
I feel so fortunate getting this opportunity to explore it served as the perfect primer for my next stop, Stockholm, Sweden.