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Why companies make concepts and what you can see at the Toronto auto show

Auto makers create concept cars for different reasons.

Some hint strongly at what an upcoming production vehicle will look like. Some are “dream cars” in the tradition of General Motors’ legendary Autorama exhibits of the 1950s, while others are internal exercises never seen by the public.

“I like to think of concepts as beautiful research projects,” says Ralph Gilles, the Canadian who heads global design for Fiat Chrysler Automobiles. “We take some concepts to auto shows and events to gauge public and media feedback. Others are created for internal purposes and help us to understand feasibility.

“The driving factor to build a vehicle lies heavily on whether it has a solid business case that meets the needs of our consumers and the standard and direction set by the brand.”

Wild concepts can make it to production. Gilles points to the Dodge Viper, a two-seat high-performance car powered by a V-10 truck engine, first shown at the 1989 North American International Auto Show in Detroit. It went on sale largely unchanged three years later.

Often it’s elements of a futuristic concept’s design or technology that find their way into production models – for example, FCA’s Portal minivan concept that targets millennials, shown at Detroit this year but not coming to the Toronto show. Some of its ideas on connectivity can be implemented quickly.

“Even the design language for me is something that could potentially pave the way for where we want to take the Chrysler brand,” says Gilles.

The concepts appearing at the Canadian International AutoShow in Toronto were revealed at other auto shows such as Detroit, New York and Paris.

Lincoln Navigator

AP

The Navigator exterior is said to strongly telegraph the lines of the 2018 model of Lincoln’s full-size luxury SUV, whose sales are less than half what they were a decade ago. But you can probably forget about its gull-wing doors and telescoping steps. The interior is a cornucopia of connected infotainment tech, while the nearly three-tonne vehicle’s engine, a 3.5-litre twin-turbo V-6 used on current models, is uprated slightly to 400 horsepower.

Genesis New York

AP

Hyundai’s premium brand debuted the hybrid luxury sports sedan concept last March at, you guessed it, the New York show. The sportiness of its coupe-like lines are underscored by the large vent behind the front-wheel arch and sharply sculpted flanks. The interior features a 21-inch floating curved screen that displays driver instruments and infotainment options, which the company says addresses some of the negative aspects of the increasing tech burden found in luxury vehicles. Power comes from a two-litre diesel engine-electric drive combination.

Cadillac Escala

General Motors

The Escala sedan concept shows off the next generation of the brand’s design language for upcoming production vehicles. Current models’ sharply bevelled edges have been softened and front and rear lighting treatments have been updated. The interior blends luxury with the latest in electronics. Power comes from a four-litre twin-turbo V-8.

Acura Precision

Getty Images

The Precision concept is another example of auto makers’ struggle to make the increasingly tech-heavy cockpit more user friendly. It’s all about a more intuitive “human-machine interface.” Instead of clusters of buttons and knobs, the Precision’s driver would use a single console-mounted curved touchpad to control most functions on its two screens. The fierce-looking Precision is a low-slung pillarless sedan with clamshell doors each hung from single massive hinges. It’s no accident if you see aspects of the new NSX in the Precision because the concept’s lead designers worked on Acura’s hybrid supercar.

Mitsubishi GT-PHEV

Reuters

Mitsubishi’s concept, whose Canadian debut was at the Salon International de l’auto de Montréal, may hint at the next Outlander, except for the impractical clamshell doors. The GT kicks luxury up a notch, offering a sporty but rugged all-wheel-drive grand tourer. The plush interior features a horizontal dashboard that Mitsubishi says makes it easier for the driver to sense changes in the GT’s attitude, presumably while on some stump-jumping adventure.

Nissan Vmotion 2.0

Petrina Gentile

The Vmotion 2.0 is another showcase for an auto maker’s direction in connectivity and autonomous driving wrapped in sexy, faceted sheet metal. Its front-end design already shows up on existing Nissan models such as the Murano crossover and Maxima sedan. Tech features include Nissan Intelligent Mobility, which aims at zero emissions and zero fatalities. ProPILOT technology allows some autonomous driving-support on urban roads and intersections.

Infiniti QX50

Infiniti

The QX50 concept looks like it’s ready for production, and probably is. At least it’s a strong indicator of what the next-generation of Infiniti’s compact crossover will look like. The cabin is pushed forward and the sharply creased sheet metal removes any hint of flabbiness. There’s autonomous-driving technology on board geared to ensuring the driver retains control of the vehicle, the company says. Power comes from a variable-compression two-litre turbo four-cylinder gasoline engine – the current model has a V-6 – said to offer the torque and efficiency of a diesel.

Subaru VIZIV-7

Jeremy Sinek

VIZIV is Subaru-speak for Vision for Innovation which, in this case, defines the Japanese auto maker’s vision of next year’s replacement for the slow-selling Tribeca SUV that was canned in 2014. Characteristically, for Subaru, the mid-sized VIZIV eschews swoopy design in favour of chunky, squared-off styling cues that leverage its reputation for ruggedness and safety. Subaru offered no drive-train details or what the interior might look like. While the production version due for 2018 may not be styled quite the same, it will be Subaru’s biggest model and its flagship.

Lexus LF-FC

Toyota

The LF-FC was first shown at the Tokyo Motor Show in 2015. But Toyota clearly thinks it’s still relevant to demonstrate its commitment to offering hydrogen fuel-cell electric vehicles in the “not-so-distant future.” The fuel cell powers the rear wheels but also supplies juice to two electric motors in the front, making it functionally all-wheel-drive. The four-seat sedan’s styling, featuring the luxury brand’s massive signature grille, is meant to be rakish and sporty, with handling to match. The interior is nicely detailed and includes a system of controlling functions with just a wave of the hand without touching the panel.

Lexus UX

Toyota

The UX compact crossover concept is from Lexus’ design studio in the south of France and debuted last fall at the Paris show. It exudes a no-nonsense stealth-fighter vibe, with sharp exterior angles. The interior features minimalist webbed front seats while back-seat occupants are treated to a lounge-like ambiance, all aimed at well-heeled young urbanites. The UX also serves to show off Lexus’s kinetic seat design – a concept within a concept. Its webbed netting is made of environmentally-conscious synthetic spider silk, said to offer superior shock-absorbance but able to mold to your body shape and be kinder to your spine, to make long drives more comfortable.

Toyota

Aston Martin Am-RB 001 hyper car

Aston Martin


Hyper cars are for those for whom ordinary super cars are too tame. There's no firm definition, but usually they feature million-dollar price tags, thousand-horsepower motors and top speeds above 320 km/h. The AM-RB 001 is a collaboration between British luxury car maker Aston Martin and the Red Bull Racing Formula 1 team and it's legendary tech chief, Adrian Newey. Its carbon-fibre body incorporates"unprecedented levels of downforce in a road-legal car," which should translate into incredible road-holding. And the reported numbers are stupifying: A 1,000-hp V-12 engine would rocket a car weighing about the same as a Toyota Yaris to 320 km/h in about 10 seconds. A limited production run of 175 cars (plus 25 track-only models) is planned starting next year with a $3-million (U.S.) asking price.

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