By Nathan Adlen
Remember when cars of the future looked like they could travel over 300 mph, pour you an espresso and dampen a perfect cigar in a nuclear-powered humidor? Ah, the old days. Today, we expect environmentally friendly, safe, utilitarian vehicles that multitask online as they reverse global warming.
It’s easy to dismiss the oddball, impossible-looking concept cars of today, but here is a surprising revelation about these vehicles – they can be built. With current technology and enough public interest, many modern concept cars can be manufactured. The question is: which ones have a shot?
Here are five possible cars of the future.
General Motors EN-V
Imagine a fully-enclosed Segway Scooter that can comfortably hold two people, travel 25 mph and has a range of 25 miles. GM did, and the EN-V is the result. The speed and range are an assumption that this vehicle will be for city transit only. It is smart enough to keep its balance, avoid unseen obstacles and drive autonomously.
Working prototypes run on lithium-ion batteries with an electric motor in each wheel. Like the two-wheel Segway, the EN-V has an advanced stabilization system that keeps riders from falling over. General Motors had a few Segway engineers assist in the EN-V’s complex stabilization system.
Having side-by-side wheels has its advantages. It can completely rotate within its own space and is about one-sixth of an average car’s length. Still, it’s tempting to ask GM, “How about saving a few bucks and add a third wheel in the back?”
Weighing in at about 1,000 pounds, the EN-V, or something like it, might replace some small transportation conveyances in the future. It certainly has potential. Given its complexity, carbon fiber components and (ahem) odd looks, it probably won’t replace the old family Camry anytime soon.
There are a ton of electric and hybrid concept vehicles out there. Occasionally, a future/prototype/concept diesel pops up. Out of those future diesels, the Mitsubishi Concept-RA has to be the sexiest. It is one of the few vehicles on this list that looks like it could be produced with only minor exterior changes.
The Mitsubishi Concept-RA has a super-clean, four-cylinder, variable geometry (VG) turbocharged, 201-horsepower, 2.2-liter diesel engine that provides maximum torque of 310 lb-ft. That’s mighty good given its extreme light weight. According to Mitsubishi, the body is made of “aluminum space frame made from extruded aluminum sections and die-cast aluminum components; while the hood, fenders and other outer panels are molded from impact-resistant and easily recyclable plastic resin.” An educated guess might place the curb weight at around 2,500 pounds.
This is an efficient diesel coupe that might represent the Evo of the future. Or the body could represent what the next Eclipse may look like. Either way, it’s all good.
Have you ever heard someone say, “That was built by committee?” Well, the Fiat Mio was. Fiat created a website and got input from over 17,000 people in an online collaboration between average folk and designers.
The Mio’s “designers” want an environmentally sound vehicle. The electric power train would most likely get its power from lithium-ion batteries. In today’s available technology, this might amount to Nissan Leaf-like performance. Because this small, 98-inch vehicle is electric, it’s easy to envision something like the Mio on the road one day. Keep in mind, 98 inches is a half-a foot smaller than the current Smart Fortwo. Given its potential to be an intelligent vehicle and drive autonomously, it’s doubtful the Fiat Mio will be on the highway anytime soon.
Almost all of its interior innovations are available today. They include a mobile phone integration, heads-up display, touch-screen controls and advance multimedia systems. With the exception of the Fiat Mio’s ability to pilot itself, the rest of the vehicle has plausible prototype applications.
The Mazda Kazamai is an excellent example of how some automakers use concept cars to hint at what a near-future production vehicle will look like. Kazamai means “swirling crosswinds,” in honor of its shape.
Mazda kept the mechanics and technology believable by giving the Kazamai a 2.0L direct-injection, gasoline engine, 6-speed automatic transmission, roll stability, blind spot monitoring system and four-wheel drive. The Kazamai is more of a showcase of next-generation components that Mazda will release soon.
The only thing that makes the Mazda Kazamai a bit of an impossibility in its current form are the complex bends and shape of its body panels. Also, considering its market level, don’t expect to see 22-inch wheels on anything resembling a production version.
If you dig the shape, there’s good news: It’s more than a slight possibility that you are looking at a design similar to that of the next Mazda CX-7.
Toyota RiN Concept
Sometimes a design moves from the absurd to the sublime; other times it is absurd and sublime. Take this RiN concept from Toyota. It is perhaps one of the most driver-centric vehicles ever conjured, but built for people who do not really want to drive. In fact, after checking out the features the RiN provides, it would be a surprise if anyone could drive it without falling into a deep, comfortable sleep.
Shaped like a digital camera and rolling cabana, the entire design ethos of the Toyota RiN concept is to soothe its occupants. The thin tires are actually designed to channel water away from pedestrians. Exterior components are made of soft, recycled plastics to mitigate harm in case a pedestrian is clipped. To increase it’s friendliness to folks outside the RiN, the headlights are not harsh. The see-through doors slide and are made of glass that blocks infrared and ultraviolet rays.
The steering wheel actually measures your heartbeat and will tell you about your mood. As your blood pressure rises, air is conditioned with a plasma cluster that uses negative ions to create “fresh” air. Add to that a pinpoint humidifier and natural sounds piped in by the RiN’s external microphone that removes all non-natural sounds and it’s like you’re piloting a day spa. Even the seats are climate controlled, suck up vibration and gently warm body extremities that get fatigued.
The brake and acceleration pedals are shaped like leaves.
Toyota is trying to create an environment of peaceful serenity so “that when you arrive, you’ll be even healthier than when you left,” which is Toyota’s description, not mine. It has controls that respond to light caresses. I suppose we all do.
(Nathan Adlen also writes about cars for TFLcar.)