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TECHNOLOGY TAKES A FRONT SEAT IN AUTOMAKERS' NEWEST CONCEPTS

Old 01-20-2007, 03:22 PM
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Default TECHNOLOGY TAKES A FRONT SEAT IN AUTOMAKERS' NEWEST CONCEPTS

Posted on Fri, Jan. 19, 2007


2007 North American International Auto Show
Driven by design

TECHNOLOGY TAKES A FRONT SEAT IN AUTOMAKERS' NEWEST CONCEPTS


By Matt Nauman
Mercury News

DETROIT - Critics have used words like weird, outrageous and futuristic to describe the Ford Airstream, a new concept vehicle that blends design cues of the iconic travel trailer with inspiration from the hippie vans of the '60s and even Stanley Kubrick's ``2001: A Space Odyssey.'

But at the North American International Auto Show, designer Freeman Thomas used another word: real.

``This one has a sense of whimsy to the shape. It makes you smile a little bit,' said Thomas, Ford's director of North American Strategic Design. ``But this is more of a real kind of concept vehicle for the future vs. something we might have seen in the '50s where it hovered or something like that.'

From its plug-in fuel-cell powertrain to its 360-degree, mood-setting television monitor, the Airstream characterizes the blending of technology and concept cars that emerged as one of the key trends of this year's Detroit auto show. The list of concept cars with high-tech sensibilities included the Chevrolet Volt, Chrysler Nassau, Toyota FT-HS, Kia Kue and others.

Here's a look at some significant Detroit concepts, and the technological trends they revealed:

Ford Airstream

Below the floor is a powertrain combining lithium-ion batteries and a hydrogen fuel cell, something Ford calls its HySeries Drive. It achieves combined city/highway fuel economy of 41 mpg, Ford says.

``It drives like a normal car,' said Thomas, who heads Ford's advanced design studios in California and Michigan, and helped create the concept vehicles that led to the Chrysler 300, Audi TT and Volkswagen New Beetle before he joined Ford in 2005. ``It is absolutely silent and all you get out of the exhaust is just a little bit of steam.'

After charging it through a household electric outlet, the Airstream concept gets 25 miles of pure electric range. After that, its fuel-cell powers the motor.

The highlight of its lounge-like interior is a 360-degree television monitor that Ford built with DynaScan. It projects a rotating image. ``We can have a virtual lava lamp, a virtual fish aquarium, a virtual fire going on like a fireplace,' Thomas said.

Rear-view cameras, which replace the usual exterior mirrors, are detachable and can be used to feed live video right to the cylindrical monitor.

Tech bit: Instead of a traditional grille, the Airstream gets ``tempered glass, like a pair of sunglasses,' Thomas said. It incorporates headlights and decorative lighting, and gives the vehicle a shiny optimism.

Chevrolet Volt

Another electric vehicle, the Volt uses General Motors' e-flex platform that allows it to combine electric motors and a battery pack with a variety of engines, including ones that use gasoline, diesel, ethanol, biofuel or hydrogen. It, too, is a plug-in, and GM says it can travel 40 miles using only electric power.

``We did not want it to look like a science project,' said Ed Welburn, GM's vice president of global design. ``It needed to be a strong, well-executed design.'

Tech bit: Much of the Volt, including its roof and side glass, is made of scratch-resistant, clear plastic. It provides better visibility and offers something GM calls ``city lights,' where the vehicle's interior lighting shows through to the outside world.

Acura Advanced Sports Car

Most think this car foretells the next NSX super-car, due to arrive in 2009. Most notable was its V-10 engine, which is mounted in front vs. the mid-ship V-6 used in the 1991-2005 NSX.

Tech bit: The front LED headlights, two subtle slashes over huge air dams, resemble the pop-up lights on the original NSX.

Chevrolet Camaro convertible

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Old 01-21-2007, 04:53 AM
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Default RE: TECHNOLOGY TAKES A FRONT SEAT IN AUTOMAKERS' NEWEST CONCEPTS

I just don't like the front end of the new Camaro. It looks too much like a cross between an old Vette and a new Caddy. The rest of the car is OK, though.
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