Ten cutting-edge concept cars set to make the leap to production
By C.C. Weiss
July 10, 2013
The recent rumor about a possible production version of the Pininfarina Sergio concept got us thinking: What other wild, stylish, high-tech concept cars are coming to market in the near future? Turns out, a lot. In fact, 2013-2014 may very well prove one of the best time periods in history for for recent cutting-edge concept vehicles to make the leap from concept to production. From electric and hybrid hypercars to reinvented daily drivers, these concept cars will soon be all over our highways and country roads.
2011 BMW i3
Before the month of July is out, BMW will debut the production version of its very first electric car. Referred to for years as the MegaCity Vehicle, before making its conceptual debut as the i3 at the 2011 Frankfurt Motor Show, the city EV will launch as the first member of the new BMW i sub-brand. The German automaker announced last week that it will reveal the production model live on YouTube on July 29.
In its current state, the i3" target="_blank">i3packs enough battery power to keep the 170-hp motor spinning the rear wheels for 80 to 100 miles (129 to 161 km). It has DC fast charging capabilities, allowing drivers to juice up to 80 percent battery capacity within about 30 minutes. Though it's lost some of the panoramic glass design of the original 2011 concept, the updated i3 Concept Coupe unveiled in LA last year still has oversized windows that provide a close connection with the world outside. The production i3 will be equipped with model-specific ConnectedDrive technologies, including dynamic driving-range mapping.
2010 Porsche 918 Spyder
Porsche jump-started the green supercar movement when it showed the original 918 Spyder at the 2010 Geneva Motor Show. The car looked like it might be a one-off concept at the time, but reaction from prospective buyers proved strong enough to convince Porsche to build it.
Porsche has shown several versions of the 918 over the three years since it debuted, and happily for buyers that plonked down the requisite US$845,000, the most recent version has upped the ante from 718 hp to 887 hp. Its performance specs have also improved, from 3.2 seconds 0-62 mph (100 km/h) and a 198-mph (318 km/h) top speed on the original to 2.8 seconds and 211 mph (339 km/h). Porsche announced the latest specs in May, and it appears to be sticking to its plan of starting production in September with US deliveries planned for before the end of the year.
2010 Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG E-Cell
As advanced and impressive as it is, the 918 Spyder won't be without competition when it hits the market. Originally introduced as the 526-hp SLS AMG E-CELL prototype a few months after the 918 debut in 2010, the 751-hp Mercedes SLS AMG Coupe Electric Drive is scheduled for launch this (northern) summer. As an all-electric car, the SLS AMG E-Drive's driving character is sure to be much different from the 918 Spyder's, but it's a technological flagship like the 918.
The €416,500 (US$550,000) car can hit 62 mph in 3.9 seconds on its way to an electronically limited 155-mph (249 km/h) top speed. The driver accesses all that performance while tucked inside the ever-intriguing gullwinged body.
One major disadvantage the E-Drive has compared to the 918 is that Mercedes has no plans of offering it in the United States. But we guess that's a disadvantage for those in the US, not the E-Drive itself.
2013 Spyker B6 Venator
Want to order an all-out exotic but hold onto the electric motors? The Spyker B6 Venator should leave you satisfied. Introduced at the 2013 Geneva Motor Show, the B6 Venator is designed to bring Spyker back into the spotlight as a crafter of "meticulously built automobiles."
We're loath to call a 375-bhp sports car a supercar, but if its yet-to-be-detailed performance falls short of super, the B6 will still be accurately described as a sports car dressed up in exotic supercar apparel. It looks and feels the part, from its wavy curves and aviation-influenced styling, to its classically appointed bull-hide leather interior. So even if it doesn't smoke-cloud to 62 mph in a flat three seconds, it's bound to make an indelible impression on driver and bystander alike.
While we're more inclined to believe a major automaker's time frame over that of a small, up-and-down firm like Spyker, we'll believe its early-2014 production plans until it says differently, or the time passes. It plans to get the car out to Asia, Europe and the Middle East first, with sales in the US beginning later in 2014 in the $125,000 and $150,000 range.
2012 Infiniti LE
Previewed as a concept at the 2012 New York Auto Show, the Infiniti LE is a more upscale version of the Nissan Leaf. Like the Leaf, it will have some competition from a GM series hybrid, the Cadillac ELR (discussed below). In the current electric and hybrid market, however, they won't be competing quite as closely as the Leaf and Volt were in 2010/2011.
Infiniti didn't provide all the details when showing the LE concept, but it did say that the powertrain boasted a 24 kWh lithium-ion battery pack and 240 lb-ft (325 Nm) of torque. Nissan executive vice president Andy Palmer recently told Autocar that the manufacturer is still planning to equip the LE with the wireless charging capabilities that were part of the concept. It plans for the LE to "become reality" in 2014.
2013 Toyota Corolla Furia Concept
The Corolla doesn't play in the big leagues with some of these other concepts, but the Corolla Furia Concept did manage to hold its own against the Chevy Corvettes and Acura NSXs of the 2013 North American International Auto Show. Toyota gave the Corolla a decidedly aggressive and angry disposition, transforming it from a commonplace commuter tucked anonymously into the strip mall parking lot to a car that makes you step back and ask aloud, "What is that?!"
The 2014 Corolla that Toyota introduced last month keeps more of the Furia's edge than it loses, including the loud paint, which is now purple rather than orange. It's still the same lovably simple but effective worker bee, and doesn't have any exciting new performance or tech, but it definitely flaunts a new look that should broaden its appeal with buyers.
2009 Cadillac Converj
It took quite a while, but the Cadillac Converj concept that GM showed at NAIAS 2009 became reality at this year's Detroit show in the form of the ELR. In that four-year interim, the EPA tested the Chevy Volt; the Volt launched on the market; and GM tweaked the plug-in hybrid hardware that underpins both the Volt and ELR.
When compared to the Converj, the ELR gets the slightly larger 16.5 kWh lithium-ion battery introduced on the 2013 Volt. On the other hand, as the Volt did when it went from concept to production, the ELR loses a few miles of all-electric range, down to an estimated 35 (56 km), from 40 (64 km) on the Converj. We like crazy concept interiors as much as anyone, but the ELR's Opus semi-aniline leather, carbon fiber and CUE interior is a definite step up from the white sci-fi interior of the Converj.
Cadillac said in Detroit that it will begin ELR production by the end of the year, with sales to follow in early 2014.
2012 Tesla Model X
Tesla has always done things a little differently than the traditional auto companies. In the case of the Model X, it introduced the crossover at its headquarters last February, between big shows like NAIAS and Geneva. The car will come in both front- and all-wheel drive versions, and since it's a crossover, we're most interested in the latter, which puts an electric motor on each axle for 50 percent more torque and a 0-60 mph (96 km/h) of under five seconds.
The Model X doesn't look quite as sporty as the Roadster or Model S, but it does look more like a sporty hot hatchback than the average CUV. The rear "Falcon Wing" doors are a unique feature that only add to its visual appeal. They're designed for more than just looks, too, letting the kids free in the tightest of Christmas-time parking spaces and providing step-in access to the second and third rows.
The Model X is available for pre-order now with 60- and 85-kWh battery packs, and Tesla plans to begin deliveries next year. It says that prices will be in line with comparably equipped Model S cars.
2009 BMW Vision EfficientDynamics/2011 BMW i8
The 2014 i8 is expected to hit the market early next year, and we'd be surprised if the production i8 doesn't follow the 2011 i8 Concept and 2009 Vision EfficientDynamics (VED) concept in debuting at the Frankfurt Motor Show in September. While the i3 will appeal to drivers looking for a zero emissions city commuter, the second member of the i family will provide a mix of sports car performance and hybrid fuel economy.
The i8 Concept has a 220-hp three-cylinder engine over the rear axle, combined with a modified version of the i3's e-drive system up front. That combination doesn't quite push the i8 to 918 Spyder-levels of performance, but it does offer an intriguing combination of performance and efficiency. BMW says that the 2+2 can accelerate to 62 mph in under five seconds while boasting fuel economy figure of 104 mpg (2.7 L/100 km), including 20 miles (32 km) of all-electric driving. Another interesting feature are the i8 Concept's laser headlights, which are set to be a first for a production vehicle.
In addition to the original VED and the 2011 i8, BMW showed the i8 in convertible form last year.
2012 Mercedes-Benz Concept Style Coupe
An evolution of the Concept Style Coupe revealed at Beijing's Auto China 2012, the all-new CLA-Class is an entry-level Mercedes aimed at younger buyers. The car isn't quite as visually interesting as the original Concept Style, but Mercedes still insists that the mid-size four-door's look is avante-garde.
When the $30,000 CLA-Class hits the market in September, it will come powered by a 208-hp, 2.0-liter turbo four-cylinder with seven-speed dual-clutch transmission. A 4MATIC all-wheel-drive version will hit the market next year. The CLA will include some of the latest Mercedes technologies, such as mbrace2 connectivity and Apple Siri integration.
Our photo gallery provides an in-depth look at each of these concepts and, where relevant, the various iterations presented prior to production. See how each transformed from fanciful concept to full or near showroom reality.