2012 Paris Motor Show Tech that Changes Your Future
Every year at every motor show, we see lots of new technology that probably will never make it to market. Side Rear View Cameras keep showing up, and I haven’t seen them in production yet, but I still see people ignoring them altogether in imitation of the good old barn owl. My neck doesn’t do that anymore, besides, if I had those cameras, I could keep my head facing forwards, where it belongs. Anyways, how about some new technology from the 2012 Paris Motor Show that we might actually see in a production vehicle?
For everyone poo-pooing electric vehicles [EV], maybe you should drive the Mercedes-Benz model that’s been packed with 740 hp of electric motors. Sure to put you in your seat, the new EV concept is way out of most people’s price range, but it certainly puts the kibosh on the wimpy EV stereotype. When we are all finally zipping around in clean EVs, we’ll thank MB for putting this thing together and giving the EV manufacturers a good idea on power.
Have you ever ridden a scooter? Cute, dust-buster-looking things, that you can park anywhere, and don’t go very fast, and don’t look very good getting you there. BMW’s C Evolution Concept Scooter should do away with all that nonsense. Electric Power? Check. Cool BMW lines? Check. Parks anywhere? Check. Wimpy? Not in the least. For an EV of this size and a top speed of 75 mph, I’m not really sure I want to test that limit, but it’ll keep you out of trouble on your way to work, even if you have to hit the highway for a few miles.
You see touchscreens everywhere these days, on your smart phone, tablet, even your microwave. Many manufacturers have been putting touch screens as part of the navigation systems, so intuitive and easy to use, certainly better than the joystick of iDrive fame. Lexus LF-CC has touchscreens everywhere, on the center console, on the steering wheel, and maybe on the cluster. Sure they’re easy to use and they control everything from the seats to the air-conditioning to the audio, visual, navigation, and entertainment systems, but I wonder how easy they’ll be to use on the road. Usually I can reach down and adjust the fan or volume without even looking, just by feel, unless they came up with something to fix that.
Audi switched early to aluminum space frames, which added strength and removed weight from the vehicle, increasing fuel efficiency. Taking the next step in weight reduction, the Audi Crosslane Concept SUV combines the aluminum base with carbon fiber and fiberglass reinforced polymers for the rest of the vehicle, which could have meant a huge weight reduction if it weren’t for the massive battery packs pushing this hybrid SUV past the 3,000-pound mark. Tomorrow’s vehicles, especially in light of stricter fuel-economy regulations and the ever-increasing price of gas, will most likely implement some of the weight saving materials and methods we’re seeing in this new Audi concept.
Speaking of weight, forget aluminum-based and go to straight carbon fiber. In order to offset the weight of Ferrari F70‘s new 900-hp hybrid drive-train, the new chassis is 20% lighter, and 27% stiffer than the Enzo it’s bound to replace. The new version might still outweigh the old one, though given those heavy battery packs. Tomorrow’s cars might make the switch to lighter and stiffer materials, and the lighter you go, the less fuel you’ll burn, or you can just go faster, your choice.
Also in the lightweight category, certainly no sports car, but the +100-mpg Toyota FT-Bh hybrid concept proves that even the leanest vehicle can still lose weight. Weighing in at less than 1,800 pounds, you might assume that it took a cue from the new F1 and got rid of all that heavy ferrous stuff, but you’d be wrong. Making use of high-tensile steel, magnesium, and aluminum, Toyota’s R&D team pushed the limits of weight-reduction and aerodynamics to give other hybrid vehicles a run for their money. Tomorrow’s vehicle can stand to lose a little weight, and still be as safe as the steel-chassis vehicles we’re used to today.
Before the beginning of the Industrial Age, a manufacturer had a great idea, interchangeable parts. Instead of making something one at a time, one piece at a time, why not make hundreds of parts and then build hundreds of machines, all exactly the same? Manufacturers ever since have taken this to whole new levels, and BMW’s Active Tourer Concept takes it even further. The new turbocharged 3-cylinder motor is a modular, that is, it’s based off a single, 500-cc, cylinder. Want more power? Stack up a few more of those cylinders! Need less power? Scale it back a little. Switching to a new modular engine configuration, BMW doesn’t have to design a new engine for every one of it’s vehicles, meaning production becomes more efficient, which hopefully means that prices can come down. Future modular-engined vehicles could make the job of manufacturers that much easier.
This is kind of old technology, but we can bring it up again, hopefully for a better reason than, “Hey it’s new!” The Volkswagen GTI Concept has a new variable ratio electronic steering system. Sure, the concept is now decades old, and many manufacturers have tried their hand at it, but maybe this time they got it right. There are more sensors on vehicles these days than on the first Space Shuttle, and it’s complicated, but they also enable even more control than ever before. Maybe this time we won’t end up with a sloppy mess and get our driving experience back? Technology always moves forward, but “how it feels” has never been an exact science.
Do “Sport Car” and “Diesel” belong in the same paragraph? The Peugeot Onyx says it does. Usually associated with torquey and efficient models, you still can’t shake your finger at the 700-hp race-inspired Onyx. Using weight-reduction techniques in the rest of the car to take advantage of all that diesel torque, the new concept uses the same 3.7-liter turbocharged V-8 engine that ran in the Le Mans diesel-prototype races. Most countries take diesel for granted, while here in the States is more foreign a concept. Onyx thinks you can have it all, and maybe if we adjust our thinking a little, we could find a torquey little diesel-powered sports car here as well.
One of the keys to fuel efficiency is aerodynamics, which is why, theoretically, a McLaren ought to get better fuel economy than a Willys. The McLaren P1 Concept pushes the envelope of aerodynamic design with an active wing that improves air flow over the vehicle, increases down-force, and could even work like an air-brake. There are a few sport-cars today that have active wings, but I wonder if this kind of technology could find its way into other parts of the body, like the air dam, fenders, or back end. The more aerodynamic sports cars get, the more efficient they can be at any speed, and no one will give you dirty looks because you drained the gas tanks, again.
Speaking of gas, why even go to the gas station? No, I’m not talking about an EV, Audi’s e-Gas Concept vehicle runs on more than just gasoline. Other countries make use of certain engines and add a propane tank and you’ve got a vehicle that runs on both LPG or gasoline. Now, so you want to go buy it, or you can just make it yourself? Audi’s multifuel car runs on either, and I can imagine that you could use their device mounted in your home, methane gas fuel generated by splitting water molecules and then combined with carbon-dioxide in the air. Add a wind mill and a solar panel, free fuel forever!