One of the many reasons that people attend the 2011 New York International Auto show is to glimpse the future.
Or should I say, auto show concept cars have had a long tradition of allowing the attendees possible glimpses of the future. I say "possible" because some cars are wildly improbable ideas that are being floated by bold designers.
Other times, they foretell likely production cars that the manufacturers show to gauge consumer reaction. Once in a while, a car crosses the line from seeming fantasy to tantalizing reality: my favorite example of this is the mighty Dodge Viper. Here are a few of the cars this year's New York Show displayed and my guess as to their probable production.
Scion FR-S Concept: I start with this one because I can say with a fair amount of certainty that we will see it in showrooms, and because it gets my vote for Best in Show. The front-engined rearwheel-drive Sport is a 2+2 sportscar with amazingly beautiful lines and an interesting story.
It was shown as a Scion product, which makes perfect sense. This is the brand with the youngest average buyer age in the industry, and we all know you can sell a young man's car to an old man, but not vice versa. Rumors have been floating around for more than a year about the sportscar being built as a joint project between Subaru -- contributing the flat four cylinder engine -- and Toyota. It's been a long time since a car seduced me so quickly and thoroughly.
Volkswagen Bulli: The VW Microbus has left an indelible mark on our culture. Whether you think of it as the hippie van, inexpensive transportation for nine, or the bones for the Westfalia Camper, VW has gobs of brand equity with what some call "the original minivan."
This version offers three rows of two-person bench seats, and no rear-mounted air-cooled flat four. Instead, it boasts a 114 horsepower and 199 foot-pound of torque electric motor driving the front wheels. VW says that the lithium-ion battery should give it a range of 185 miles. It might show up with a diesel engine, or a high-efficiency gasoline engine. If the 2014 possible production date comes to pass, this should prove to be a popular reincarnation of a fabled legend.
Saab PhoeniX Coupe: Designer Jason Castriota designed this highly-unlikely-for-production concept. In case you don't recognize the name, this young designer is neither Swedish, like the Saab brand, nor Dutch, like the new owner of Saab, Stryker. The American-born Castriota has crafted an exciting-looking design that's unlikely to see production, but creates some positive buzz for the reborn brand.
Cadillac Urban Luxury Concept: Cadillac wanted to show us that just because a car is small, it doesn't mean it can't also be luxurious. The dramatic scissor doors provide show-car fantasy and ease of access for the lucky occupants. A turbocharged 1 liter three-cylinder engine with electric assist offers a glimpse at a possible GM powertrain designed to help meet the future CAFE standards.
So far, the only manufacturer with a genuine "city car" sold in the USA is Smart. If they catch on, we could see some version of a GM small car, and why couldn't it bear some resemblance to this?
Lexus LF-Gh: Here's a concept that sits on the line between "it could never happen" and hints of the future. Items like replacing rear view mirrors with cameras are still a ways off, but the hybrid powertrain is a future version of powertrains already in use. Lexus maintains that the styling of this concept bears a striking resemblance to what the new GS sedan will look like.
Mercedes-Benz A-class concept: If Scion hadn't shown the FR-S, this would've gotten my vote for best-looking concept. I would not put money on Americans seeing the A-class for sale here, though. It was strongly hinted that Merecedes would finally relent and bring the car to the U.S., but no dates were given.
This vehicle had proportions that could easily see production, but the fussy details might be left behind.
So whether they're something you might see in your driveway next year, or just this one time, concept cars are all part of the fun at the 2011 New York International Auto Show.
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