For decades, automotive engineers and designers alike used concept cars as a way of letting their imaginations soar, often with stunning, sometimes removed and impractical visions of what the transportation of the world could one day be like.
For the last ten or fifteen years however, automakers have tended towards more rooted, practical concept cars that demonstrate their intended design language of the near future, showcasing technology that we can expect to see in production vehicles in a few years’ time.
But at the Shanghai Auto Show this week, General Motors unveiled an all-electric self-driving concept car that reminds us of concept cars of days gone by. Super-futuristic with looks that would be at home in any cult sci-fi classic, the Chevrolet FNR uses exotic electric vehicle technology and the kind of self-driving technology that one day GM hopes will make it into its production cars.
Developed by GM’s Pan Asia Technical Automotive Centre joint venture in Shanghai, the FNR reminds us a little of a cross between the light cycle developed for the 2010 Tron: Legacy film and the fully-autonomous Audi RSQ Concept car that featured in the 2004 adaptation of Sir Isaac Asimov’s I, Robot.
Like the Mercedes-Benz F105 autonomous concept car we saw earlier this year, the Chevrolet FNR features a long, sweeping windshield that sweeps up and over the car from front to rear with little regard for such things as a conventional hood or luggage space. And while that design language may seem alien today, it makes some sense: with an all-electric drivetrain, there’s no need for a large engine bay up front, while fully autonomous technology and advanced intelligence means there’s little need for the large cumple zone of today’s vehicles.
It follows then, that the passenger compartment can take up pretty much all of the car, with the car becoming something of a lounge on wheels.
That analogy carries on inside, where the front seats can be swiveled through 180 degrees during autonomous drive to face the rear, recreating the seating arrangements of both horse-draw carriages — where someone else was doing the driving — to some of the earliest cars.
Access to the inside of the FNR is via a pair of so-called ‘dragonfly’ doors. Hinged about the same axis as the wheels, the rear doors open up and over the rear axle while the front doors — hinged in a similar way from the front — lift over the front axle.
As for the powertrain? In typical concept car fashion, GM are rightfully vague about specifics, but say the FNR makes use of magnetic hubless wheel electric motors and a wireless inductive ‘auto-charge’ system.
In the future of the FNR, it seems all the roads are capable of inductive charging, perhaps allowing you to recharge your car’s battery pack as you go.
Autonomous drive technology comes courtesy of a roof-mounted radar system, as well as a fully interconnected smart on-board computer system. Capable of driving in manual — or ‘conducted’– and autonomous driving modes, the FNR uses iris recognition to identify the driver and its occupants in a flash of functionality we’d imagine would be at home in the twenty-third rather than twenty-first century.
Of course, the FNR is never going to make it into production — at least not for some considerable time. But as concept cars go, we can’t help but feel a little giddy at the possibility of the somewhat impractical yet completely consuming vision of the distant future.
Don’t you agree?
You can also support us directly as a monthly supporting member by visiting Patreon.com.