What's a concept car? It's a one-off prototype with futuristic tendencies. Concept cars have been around almost as long as auto shows, though they have gone by different names. Early on, they were called “idea cars,” then “dream cars” in the 1950s and 60s.
Concept cars make auto shows worth going to. Automakers spend huge amounts of money to make us fall in love with their ideas: the show cars are heavy on chrome, futuristic gadgets, and layer upon layer of glittery paint. Despite their cost, many are destroyed shortly after they leave the show circuit, so that the designs and technology they embody won't find its way into the wrong hands.
Concept cars on display in Detroit included Audi's R8 V12 TDI, the BMW X6 ActiveHybrid, Saab's 9-4X biopower crossover, Lexus LF-A roadster, Mazda Furai, Ford Verve and Cadillac Provoc.
The Audi R8 V12 TDI has the same supercar performance as the gasoline powered R8, but with a clean diesel engine. The diesel-powered R8 V12 accelerates from zero-to-sixty miles-per-hour in just over four seconds. Top speed is over 200 miles per hour.
To keep the car light, engineers made extensive use of a graphite and iron mix, and aluminum engine components. Each bank of cylinders gets boost from two turbochargers: intercoolers cool the air charge to enhance performance.
The bodywork is art in motion. Aluminum side blades are similar to those on the R8 production car. A glass covered engine compartment behind the passengers shines bright after dark, illuminated by white, light-emitting diodes.
Special LED headlamps in front and taillamps in the rear shed beams of light close in color and intensity to daylight. On the inside, an aluminum center console and instrument panel are the visual highlights, along with Audi's signature flat-bottomed steering wheel.
The Mazda Nagare concept cars pay homage to forty years of the Mazda rotary engine together with the manufacturer's racing heritage. The Furai, unveiled in Detroit, is one of a series of Nagare concepts that also include the Ryuga, shown last year in Detroit, and the Taiki from the 2007 Tokyo Motor Show.
A 450-horsepower rotary engine powers the closed-cockpit Furai. Top speed is 180 miles-per-hour. The car's carbon tub interior is covered with materials similar to passenger cars, since the concept is supposed to bridge the gap between race and street cars. On a similar note, electronic components typically located on the passenger side of race cars have been moved so that the Furai can hold two people. The car runs on a blend of ethanol and gasoline.
Honda's CR-Z sports car concept is a gasoline electric hybrid. CR-Z stands for “Compact Renaissance Zero.” The idea is to rethink the compact car in light of today's advanced fuel technologies. Honda first introduced the CR-Z at last year's Tokyo Motor Show.
The Lexus FX-A roadster combines high luxury with high performance. Powered by a V10, 500-horsepower engine, the FX-A has a top speed over 200 miles-per-hour. Like its coupe counterpart, the roadster sits low to the ground: it is only four feet tall. A speed-sensitive rear spoiler keeps the car's rear wheels firmly planted on the ground.
A “F” logo on each front fender marks the car as one of Lexus' “Circle F” or Flagship prototypes. The logo was inspired by the Fuji Speedway, which served as the test track during the car's development.