Auto show con­cepts: Build ’em or for­get ’em?

Houston Chronicle - - BUSINESS - By Dee-Ann Durbin

DETROIT — Car com­pa­nies don’t just show cur­rent mod­els at auto shows. They also un­veil pro­to­types that could be built in the fu­ture. These so-called con­cept cars help them gauge the pub­lic’s re­ac­tion to new de­signs or tech­nol­ogy. They can also amp up ex­cite­ment about a com­pany’s fu­ture.

These are some of the con­cept ve­hi­cles on dis­play at the North Amer­i­can In­ter­na­tional Auto Show in Detroit. As visi­tors check out these con­cepts, they should ask them­selves: Would I build it or bag it?

Volk­swa­gen I.D. Buzz: The lat­est in­car­na­tion of VW’s groovy, 1960s minibus is the I.D. Buzz. VW says I.D. stands for “iden­tity” and “iconic de­sign.” The “buzz” refers to the whirring sound of the elec­tric drive sys­tem, which can take the mini­van up to 270 miles on a charge. The I.D. Buzz seats up to eight and lets the driver’s seat face the rear when the mini­van is in selfdriv­ing mode. VW minibuses haven’t been sold in the U.S. since the 1970s. This one would fit neatly with VW’s goal of sell­ing 1 mil­lion elec­tric ve­hi­cles an­nu­ally by 2025.

In­finiti QX50: In­finiti hints at the fu­ture de­sign of its mid­size SUV with the QX50. Its flow­ing lines re­sem­ble other, newer mem­bers of the In­finiti fam­ily, like the smaller QX30. The con­cept has an ad­vanced semi-au­ton­o­mous driv­ing sys­tem that can take over for the driver in some sit­u­a­tions, like stop-andgo traf­fic. It also has a sig­nif­i­cantly more ef­fi­cient en­gine. In­finiti is ex­pected to build a model very close to the con­cept ver­sion that will go on sale next year.

Lin­coln Nav­i­ga­tor: Au­tomak­ers of­ten load up con­cept ve­hi­cles with fea­tures that might not make it into pro­duc­tion. Take the con­cept Lin­coln Nav­i­ga­tor. Gi­ant gull-wing doors in the rear and three steps that un­fold to help oc­cu­pants climb in aren’t likely to be seen in dealer show­room. Still, the sleek, wagon-like shape gives a clue that the new Nav­i­ga­tor will be a sharp de­par­ture from the cur­rent, truck-like one, which de­buted in 1997. The 2018 Nav­i­ga­tor is ex­pected to go on sale later this year.

Cadil­lac Es­cala: Cadil­lac says the gleam­ing Es­cala gives an idea of a fu­ture flag­ship sedan. It has smooth sur­faces and a long hood. In­side are thin, curved dis­play screens that re­spond to touch, voice and ges­ture com­mands and fab­ric seats in­spired by high­fash­ion suits. The Es­cala is a rear-wheel-drive sedan with a 4.2-liter twin­tur­bocharged V8 that can cut back to four cylin­ders to save fuel. While the Es­cala is a beauty, its sales prospects are dim in a mar­ket that is crazy for SUVs. Cadil­lac sedan sales were down 2 per­cent last year; by con­trast, sales of the Es­calade SUV jumped 11 per­cent.

GAC Enspirit: What could make an SUV stand out in a mar­ket over­run with them? How about a bon­sai tree? Chi­nese au­tomaker GAC — that stands for Guangzhou Au­to­mo­tive Group — is dis­play­ing the EnSpirit con­cept on the auto show floor, a small four-door SUV with a re­tractable cloth roof. In­side are light wood ac­cents and a long cen­ter stack that fea­tures a lit­tle bon­sai tree in the rear. The EnSpirit is a plug-in hy­brid.

Paul Sancya / As­so­ci­ated Press

In­side the rear-wheel-drive Cadil­lac Es­cala sedan are fab­ric seats in­spired by high-fash­ion suits.

Tony Ding / As­so­ci­ated Press

Volk­swa­gen’s I.D. Buzz can seat eight. When the van is in self-driv­ing mode, the driver can face back­ward.

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