Detroit Auto Show – Sporty Designs, Driverless Tech, and Smart Bikes

Toyota FT-1

The Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas earlier this month and the Detroit Auto Show, happening through this week, share some common themes. High-tech is spilling over into the automotive industry, with wireless internet, GPS, and myriad entertainment and communication devices now standard dashboard features.  

But surprisingly, this year’s auto show is more about the design and styling on vehicles rather than fancy gadgetry. Here’s a look at the top trends:

Blending classic and futuristic. Toyota brings some excitement to the show floor with its new FT-1 concept car. The FT— which stands for “Future Toyota”—is reminiscent of a Formula 1 racecar with its long nose and oversized wheels. Interesting design elements include an engine that’s visible under a glass hood, an extendable wing, twin storm-drain exhausts, and large air intakes in the front and sides of the vehicle.

Although the actual FT-1 concept car can’t be driven, gamers can experience its handling on PlayStation 3’s Gran Turismo 6 (GT6) real driving simulator.

While Toyota adds some futuristic touches to a classic racecar design, Porche’s new 911 Targa is reminiscent of the 1965 original. Not really a full-on convertible, and not quite a coupe, it features a fixed rear wraparound glass window and a retractable roof panel.

Light-weight materials. Ford has replaced steel with aluminum on its F-150 truck, resulting in a whopping 700 pound weight loss. A lighter vehicle means improved fuel efficiency, braking, and acceleration. Ford’s kitting out its larger vehicles with aluminum first. Smaller vehicles will have to wait.

Power and performance. The Lexus RC F sports coupe has all the classic exterior features—like the spindle grille—with an extra kick. This Lexus has an eight-speed automatic transmission and a 5.0-liter 32-valve V8 engine with 450 horsepower and more than 383 pound-feet of torque.

Diesel makes a come back. Diesel is widely accepted in Europe, but in the U.S. diesel cars are often still thought of as noisy and dirty – and although they are actually very clean and provide good fuel economy, they don’t have the same street cred as the Leaf or Prius. Car manufacturers at the auto show are determined to obliterate the bad rap, with General Motors, Chrysler, and Volkswagen all offering great diesel vehicles.

Driverless-ish. The buzz around driverless cars is relentless. But the technology won’t be a mainstream reality for some time. At this year’s auto show industry experts are focussing more on next-generation cruise controls that will allow you to “drive” without actually having your hands on the wheel. Five years from now we’ll likely be able to drive hands-free while the cruise control system keeps the vehicle centered in the lane and alerts us to danger.

Good-bye electric car, hello electric bicycle? Just last year electric cars seemed destined to make a big splash, but this year the vibe isn’t so electric (sorry). Although Tesla has a presence at the show, it hasn’t announced any new products, and the recent recalls of its charger adaptors is just another sign that the technology is still hampered with setbacks.

But perhaps the e-bike by Smart (owned by DaimlerAG) can bring electric back. These bicycles are available this spring at US Mercedes-Benz dealers that also carry Smart cars. At a cool $2,950, they’re clearly meant for the Mercedes crowd.

Other bikes on the show floor include one from Lexus for an even more staggering $10,090. Only 100 of these carbon filter frame bikes have been produced so far, but Lexus hopes to build and sell more in the future.

Image courtesy of Toyota

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