Flashy and innovative, concepts offer auto designers the opportunity to let their imaginations run wild. From beginning to end, designers can spend anywhere from six months to two years bringing a concept to market. Some have already gone into production; others we can only cross our fingers about.
BMW GINA Light Visionary Concept
The Concept: BMW's latest concept car shatters all the tried and true conventions about automobile design. For Head of BMW Group Design, Christopher E. Bangle, it’s all about "breaking paradigms." A year in the making, the GINA Light Visionary Concept abandons the usual concepts of side panels, roof, front aprons, and doors in favor of a clean, seamless form with four main components. Contrary to rumor, the car is not named after some hot, mystery woman, instead the name actually stands for Geometry and Functions In "N" Adaptions, which speaks to BMW’s new design philosophy focusing on maximum freedom and creativity. The two-seater roadster is created from an expansion resistant fabric spread across a metal structure, giving it that smooth, sculpted look.
Coolest Feature: Skin is definitely in on the GINA. The flexible material allows the concept to move in ways that were previously only conceived of through movie magic. Together with its metal frame, this car is able to adapt to all situations through its ability to change shape. When moving at high speeds, the GINA automatically creates a rear spoiler by raising a built in component on the frame. The ultra flexible skin lets the spoiler form with nary a wrinkle, and the car's headlights remain hidden beneath the flexible skin. After being activated by the driver, the skin cover opens revealing the headlights and thereby creates the illusion of a car opening its eyes. All of these transformations are controlled by a combination of electronics and hydraulics. As for the skin's makeup, it's a hybrid composed of mesh-netting support. It’s resistant to low and high temperatures as well as water-resistant.
Demographic: YouTube videos of the GINA in action have set the Internet ablaze with fans and detractors alike. The car's appeal would translate well to the tech and arts scenes as well as early adopters who have to be seen driving the next big thing.
Expected Pricing: It’s a pretty safe bet that GINA's current model won’t make it to the production line. Bangle says, "The GINA Light Visionary model just shows ONE possible answer to the whole approach of materials." Expect to find GINA-like features in future BMW models.
Suzuki Kizashi 3 Concept
The Concept: Debuted at the 2008 New York Auto Show, the Kizashi 3 concept is the final iteration in the Kizashi series. Aptly named — Kizashi, in Japanese, means prelude or preview — the series offers a bold look into Suzuki’s design future. Sporting strong and elegant lines, these cars are meant to represent the toned physique of an athlete in motion.
A definite head turner, the production-ready Kizashi 3 combines the stunning looks of its predecessors, bringing the concept one step closer to production. Described by Jeff Holland, the company's public relations manager, as "a near luxury sports sedan," the final version of the Kizashi 3 will feature a 300 horsepower, 3.6 liter engine with "a possible hybrid or high tech variant of the power train model." Suzuki is currently in the process of developing pre-production models and working to push the car into production.
Coolest Feature: While the Kizashi 3 definitely possesses outer beauty, its real story lies under its hood. Powered by a 3.6-liter Double OverHead Cam (DOHC) V-6 engine with plated cylinders and a six-speed automatic transmission, the Kizashi 3 packs a punch. Taking a cue from its motorcycle heritage, this vehicle is all about speed and performance. With its impressive 300 horsepower, coupled with Suzuki's all-wheel-drive system, the Kizashi 3 is ready for the starting gate in 2010.
Demographic: With its three iterations, the Kizashi is set to appeal to a wide audience. There's the crossover and wagon for families, and a sedan that could appeal to driving enthusiasts and a younger demographic.
Expected Pricing: Suzuki has been known for producing affordable vehicles and the Kizashi will be no different. "We like to say it’s like an Audi for half the price," Holland quips. "It’s a Suzuki, it’s got to be affordable. It’s very important to the brand."
The Concept: While many Americans think that bigger is better, the Smart Fortwo's design challenge that notion. Birthed from a partnership between Swatch and Mercedes Benz, the Smart car is a fusion of utility, customization, and art. Its name alone defines its purpose — Smart actually stands for Swatch Mercedes Art.
Measuring 8.8 ft. long and 5.1 ft. across, the Smart car was built for city driving. "The real focus of the design and the size of the car is to answer the problem of urban congestion and city driving," says Communications Director, Ken Kettenbeil, "The Smart’s size and maneuverability gives it an advantage when navigating sticky driving situations." The dilemma of finding parking is also a thing of the past since two Smart cars easily fit in the average parking space. Its size also plays a part when it comes to fuel economy. While hybrid cars tend to have slightly better gas mileage, the gas powered engine Smart car is the highest rated gas engine with 33 city and 41 highway miles.
Coolest Feature: This has to be the Smart Fortwo's customization capabilities. Swatch inventor Nicolas Hayek, wanted to bring the same color, fun, and changeability found in his timepieces to a car. With that in mind, all of the exterior colored panels on the Smart car are changeable. Panels come in six colors and are relatively inexpensive, selling for approximately $1000. The interior also features a variety of colors. Another cool feature can be found in the transmission. It’s an automated manual, which means you can switch between automatic and manual.
Demographic: The Smart Fortwo has universal appeal. With its low price tag, the Smart car's destined to appeal to first-time buyers like college students and recent grads. Its unique look will likely attract trendsetters who are always on the search for the next cool thing.
Expected Pricing: $11,590
Chrysler ecoVoyager Concept
The Concept: As electric cars continue to gain popularity in the States, Chrysler aims to stay ahead of the pack with its ecoVoyager concept car. Designed for a trip that's on par with a private jet, the car reaches a top speed of 150 mph, going from 0 to 60 in 8.8 seconds, and with a driving range of 300 mpg.
Principal Exterior Designer, Greg Howell, combines luxury and innovative design in an attempt to look ten years into the future. The ecoVoyager’s one box design scheme is simplistic yet bold. Sporting a panoramic glass roof and doors that open at a generous 90 degrees, the ecoVoyager is a testament to the beauty and elegance synonymous with the Chrysler brand. In an attempt to bring more Chrysler cues to the car, the windows, front grille, taillamps, and headlamps are modeled after the trademark Chrysler logo. The interior of the car is just as impressive as its exterior, featuring four individual chairs capable of heat and massage, and the Direct Sound function, which allows all users to hear the music of their choice sans headphones, without disturbing other passengers.
Coolest Feature: Besides its polar ice paint job, the coolest feature on the ecoVoyager is its electric motor. Capable of developing 200 kilowatts or 268 horsepower, the ecoVoyager can go from 0 to 60 in less than 8 seconds. The ecoVoyager also has a range extender in the form of an advanced hydrogen fuel cell that increases the car’s range to more than 300 miles. The braking system also captures energy that would be lost, returning it to the battery. Together with its low emissions (water vapor), this makes the vehicle a boon for design conscious environmentalists.
Demographic: As a luxury vehicle, the ecoVoyager might be out of range for the average car buyer. Described by design director Lance Wagner as a "mature vehicle," expect to see young at heart baby-boomers and the financially well off behind the wheel of this stunner.
Expected Pricing: Undetermined
Dodge ZEO Concept
The Concept: Dodge, also looking to step into the electric car arena, introduces the 2008 Dodge ZEO (Zero Emissions Operation) concept. Inspired by the F-22 Raptor fighter jet, the ZEO is a four-passenger sport wagon with a touch of muscle car thrown in for good measure. With a top speed of 130 mph, the ZEO goes from 0 to 60 in less than six seconds, enough to please any performance fanatic. "It breaks the stereotype of what a small, efficient electric car can be," says Wagner. "It shows how much personality and style these kinds of cars can have."
The ZEO interior is just as innovative. Designed to give the impression of being a "single piece of sculpture," the inside is decked out in all white. The center console extends down from the windshield, giving the impression of being in a dual cockpit.
Coolest Feature: The ZEO’s best feature hands down can be found in its overall design. The roof and windshield combine into one continuous piece of glass, offering each passenger the best view. Its aluminum plated inserts, crosshair grille, and bold wheel arches give the ZEO its wow factor, while its front and rear suicide doors add extra flair.
Demographic: The Dodge ZEO could appeal to car enthusiasts, techies, and the socially conscious alike. It satisfies the need for speed, combined with a futuristic look packed with all the necessary cool gadgets, and most important: it's easy on the environment, so you can tear down the track with a conscience that's crystal clear.
Expected Pricing: Undetermined
Jeep Renegade Concept
The Concept: The 2008 Jeep Renegade concept is a mean, lean, green machine. Built from recyclable materials, sustainability is a major theme in this concept car. Fitted with oversized tires, and a speedster windshield, this car is built for an off-roading, cross-country adventure.
The new Jeep sports a more elongated look than its boxier forerunners. In keeping with that close-to-nature vibe, the Renegade was designed as a full time open-air vehicle, meaning it has no roof. In lieu of a roof, the back trunk can be fitted with a number of "lids." The lids act as storage chests for all your outdoor needs including lids built for kayaking and mountain biking. There is also an "as built" option that can fit two matching water scooters and there's also an open storage space.
Coolest Feature: This car is green all over. Its building materials are all eco friendly: the chassis is molded without the use of harmful resins, while the metallic green color is added during the molding process, which cuts out harmful paint solvents. An advanced hybrid and regen-braking system allows the Renegade to reach a fuel economy of 110 mpg, approximately four times greater than that of a gas-only car. Topped off with seats made from a soy-based foam the Renegade is both innovative and socially responsible.
Demographic: Jeep's history of being outdoorsy continues with this concept. With its outdoor sport-friendly removable lids, the Renegade will appeal to off-roading fans, mountain bikers, and anyone who likes to play hard. It's also an obvious choice for the environmentally conscious.
Expected Pricing: Undetermined
HUMMER HX Concept
The Concept: The HUMMER HX redefines the look, feel, and attitude of the HUMMER. In an effort to stem the tide of a slowing off-roading market, the HX’s slick new design is a welcome departure from HUMMER’s usual brick-shaped silhouette. The HX takes a minimalist approach, and at 81 inches with 103-inch wheelbases, it's a lightweight compared to its predecessors. Its two-door, open-air concept is a reflection of the adventurous vibe of its three young designers.
Lead Exterior Designer, David Rojas looked to the skies for inspiration: "I looked at stealth planes like the F-117 fighter plane. It has faceted surfacing and I used it in bits and pieces in the design." The new modernized grille design is based on a picture of an alligator coming out of the water.
The HX stays true to its HUMMER roots with body-on-frame construction, mounted on independent front and back suspensions, prominent air intakes, and hood vents. To make this concept an unstoppable off-roading machine, the HX is equipped with 35 inch off-road tires, a 4 wheel drive system, and the new E85 FlexFuel 3.6L SIDI V-6 engine with a six-speed automatic transmission. Throw in a complete underbody armor kit and a power-operated winch, and the HX concept is a force to be reckoned with.
Coolest Feature: HUMMER hasn’t been known for customization, but the HX should change public perception. According to Rojas, the HX can be reconfigured into three different forms. "You have the slantback, which is iconic to HUMMER. You can also take the rear hatch off which enables the squareback, which offers SUV capabilities for maximum capacity. If you take the whole thing off and fold the back seats down, you have a SUT which is a small truck." Other additions of note are the removable fender flares and the removable doors that are advantages for serious off-roaders.
Demographic: HUMMER has always been a favorite among the younger market and the HX should continue in that tradition. Its scaled-back size has the ability to draw in an audience that was previously intimidated by the larger models. The HX's biggest audience will come from the off-roading market where HUMMER has traditionally made its bread and butter.
Expected Pricing: Undetermined