Best concept cars of 2021
Technology and Business
It seems humans have always been fascinated with the future, though what we expect it to bring has varied wildly over the years. Yet one thing that hasn’t changed is how visualising tech we’d like to see opens up our imaginations. It’s when we think forward that some of our wildest ideas – like vehicles with no drivers – come to life.
This is precisely what we can see in the world of concept cars. That term may bring with it connotations of flashy models with little substance, and we’ve seen quite a few sleek bodies with just a description of what they ‘could’ do at auto shows so far. But those high-specification, one-of-a-kind vehicles often provide the starting point for our future ‘normal’.
As David Woodhouse, design director at Lincoln Motor Company, explains, those futuristic features we spot on concept cars may not become a reality immediately. “You might not have seen them in the first couple of years after you first experienced them,” he says, “but in the longer run, 10 years down the line, maybe they had a big influence on the trend of automotive design.” In short, their influence is always seen in the long term.
Concept cars are an effective way for OEMs to test new ideas on the general public. Plus, in creating something which can be seen as an ideal vision of the future, particular routes for development start to take prominence in the minds of manufacturers, designers and consumers too. It’s almost like a self-fulfilling prophecy. Thierry Metroz, design director at French luxury brand DS, explains, “A concept car is a development accelerator… to test the new technologies that we imagine for the future, and accelerate their development.” So, what are we imagining for the future right now?
The big concept explored in Renault’s Morphoz is an interesting one. The mere existence of the model seems to question whether we’ll see cars as personal products or shared services in the future – something we’ve been questioning for some time now. And Renault, just like the other contestants, doesn’t bother too much with technical concepts. They take autonomy as a given for vehicles of the future. Yes, the Morphoz is fully autonomous, but that isn’t its main selling point.
The Morphoz adapts to all uses and needs. It looks like a crossover, but also extends to create something which seems much closer in style to the hop on/ hop off AVs we’ve already seen, complete with seats which swivel to face each other. Models like the VW Sedric have already shown that interiors are becoming more important, and that remains true here. Everything in the Morphoz is tailored to passengers, with plenty of concern for how people will interact inside and prompts like suggested playlists or video game challenges to keep riders’ minds off the driving and in the moment.
It’s not just concept cars that give us a hint where manufacturers might be heading – plenty of sci-fi creations have become sci-fact too. Read ‘Autonomous driving on screen: sci-fi fantasy to sci-fi reality’ to find out more.
Volvo Polestar Precept
Sustainability is the main concern of Volvo’s Polestar Precept, as Volvo has used the concept car as an opportunity to use recycled materials in a way we’ve rarely seen before. 3-D knit fabric made from recycled bottles features in the sumptuous interior alongside Nylon 6, a material made from discarded fishing nets, as does sustainable cork. It’s this element we can most easily imagine featuring in upcoming releases and Volvo agrees, saying, “It’s not a concept car. It’s a commitment car. A declaration of where we plan to go and what we plan to do.”
This model doesn’t just show us a greener future, but one where driverless functionality doesn’t have to mean visible sensors and clunky cameras. On the Precept, the front grille becomes a ‘SmartZone’ which houses sensors and a further LIDAR set-up is hidden on the roof. Plus, it’s incredibly personalised – something we’re already expecting to see increase in the wider car market – and responsive, recognising a driver as they approach the car and readying their preferred settings before they get inside.
Rolls Royce 103EX
For Rolls Royce, the future is defined by personalisation on a scale we’re yet to see in car manufacture. The 103EX is their first concept car and though this model offers plenty, they stress that this is just one iteration – in the world of tomorrow, they want each car they produce to be ‘as unique as your own fingerprint’. It will be a space for more than driving alone, after all.
In this autonomous model, they promise comfort, sanctuary and the opportunity to make the most of that most precious commodity, time. The 103EX is the first home for the company’s artificially intelligent assistant too. Her name is Eleanor, and she is the voice of the Spirit of Ecstasy which has adorned each model since 1911. Detail and specification are perhaps a little thin on the ground, but this car is all about feeling, and that feeling is rather luxurious.
Mercedes-Benz VISION AVTR
Looking like it’s driven straight out of a sci-fi blockbuster, this concept car is packed with interesting features which have built excitement to rival the release of a similarly futuristic model, BMW’s Vision NEXT 100, back in 2016. On the VISION AVTR, spherical bubble-like wheels can be driven independently of each other and mean the car can drive sideways in a ‘crab-like movement’. There are integrated solar plates to minimise energy consumption. An impressive wrap-around screen display encourages passengers to interact with each other and their surroundings.
Plus, it’s all controlled through a biometric connection between car and driver. A central unit means it can be controlled from either the traditional driver or passenger seat and choice is built in. Though the car can operate autonomously, drivers can choose to have more input through various settings, opting for the aptly named ‘Comfort’ mode when they want the full driverless experience.
Which of these concept cars most inspires you? Do you think such ‘vision vehicles’ really do shape the future of development? What would you add to your car of the future? Let us know in the comments below.
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