Detroit, Mich -- Dream on, Detroit. On Sunday at the 2005 North American International Auto Show, automakers were big on dreaming of the future - both in the realm of fantasy concepts and in concepts that may very well soon come to life. The sheer number of concepts that debuted at the Show indicates a pause to breathe in the treadmill production of new and redesigned models. Simply put, perhaps there aren't that many production vehicles that need replacing this year; and automakers are looking to the future at vehicles which either define their aspirations or signal new vehicles to be produced in the coming years.
Lexus, for example, debuted the Lexus LF-A - and while it is solely a concept vehicle, Lexus designers and engineers have put two years into the development of what they say will be the "new face of Lexus." So while you may never drive the Lexus LF-A - a brute strength and graceful super car - you will very likely see the essence of the LF, which stands for L-Finesse, in new model and redesigned Lexus vehicles.
Acura, on the other hand, debuted the concept RD-X as a direct precursor to the actual production SUV. Smaller than the MDX, the RD-X will feature all aspects of Acura's burgeoning technology drive, especially the use of navigation, traffic link, SH-AWD, and satellite. According Bill Elliot, executive vice president of America Honda, the RD-X will actually debut as a 2006 model. The RD-X is perfectly representative of a concept that will go directly into production, in while Acura officials maintain that much of the concept will make it to the production line, reality dictates that some of the more futuristic touches -such as a custom briefcase in the center console will not make it to the model that graces dealer lots. Still, it's admirable that some automakers try mightily to carry on the most appealing and "cool" aspects of the concept vehicles they introduce.
On the whole, concepts serve these two purposes: to provide a forward look at the future of a car company in terms of styling cues, interior appointments and technology advancements. In this way, concepts serve as a blue print and as a marketing tool: even though it's impossible to drive a concept, a cool, futuristic vehicle will always be the talk of the town - at least until the next cool glimpse at the future is revealed. In this way, automakers can gain attention to their brand and gauge interest in the more creative application of vehicle design and engineering. The other main purpose is more realistic: to showcase a car, such as the Saturn Sky, an almost-ready for production roadster, build anticipation and gauge consumer interest for the actual vehicle.
Both types of concepts - and a few that blurred the lines between fiction and reality -were on hand at the 2005 North American Auto Show. In addition to the Lexus LF-A, Acura RD-X and Saturn Sky, concepts that debuted here included the very real Chrysler Firepower, a beautiful Corvette killer that hints at the potential of Crossfire design; the Chrysler Gladiator, another realistic look at expanding Jeep capabilities, and the Jeep Hurricane, a two-HEMI engine mounted future car that would be an extreme off-road capable vehicle -but wouldn't exactly make the grade when it came to taking the kids to school. Also debuting in Detroit was the real-as-life Audi All road Quattro Concept, and more.
By Brian Chee
Photos by Erik Hanson