Gone are the days when carmakers felt the need for speed. As a new batch of concept cars proves, when automotive designers are tasked with meeting strict emissions regulations, it’s all about wild-looking rides.
Much of the emerging focus is on small electric cars targeted at short-range city commuters. Audi, BMW, GM and Volkswagon all have models aimed at urbanites. Because driving in dense traffic makes high speed maneuvering wishful thinking, zip isn’t the purpose of these cars’ designs. Instead, the goal is curb appeal. Single driver vehicles, two-seaters with a passenger sitting behind the driver and designs inspired by Formula One racers are all on the table.
If electric cars are the future of the short haul, hybrids, such as the one designed by Jaguar, are destined to become the kings of the open road. The benefits of these cars are their extended range and ability to combine electric motors with fuel-sipping turbocharged V6 engines that emulate the fast-forward thrust of the large V8 engines that were once synonymous with the American roadster.
The fastest and most luxurious hybrids on the road are likely to bear European markings. Even though Detroit’s R&D muscle has been curtailed by financial ailments, Ford’s EVOS fastback, Chevrolet’s hybrid Miray sports car and Cadillac’s Ciel convertible suggest that Detroit is still capable of innovative thinking. But even the California upstart Fisker isn’t shy about acknowledging its debt to Europe. And Chrysler, leaning on its Fiat relationship, is intending to bring a Maserati Kubang SUV to U.S. shores in the near future. Detroit’s efforts, and Asia’s as well, pales by comparison to European carmakers, where designers seem free to rethink the whole idea of personal automotive transportation.
Herewith, some of the year’s best prototypes that may just show up in the lane next to you.