A Warm, Friendly View of Future Mobility
Not a Camry
Unveiled at the 2017 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Toyota’s Concept-i aims to showcase the Japanese auto maker’s vision for the future of motoring. According to Toyota, the Concept–i’s minimalist, space age design and on-board artificial intelligence (AI) system create a warmer and friendlier user experience.
The Concept-I, designed at Toyota’s CALTY Design Research in California, features an onboard AI system called “Yui.” Toyota said Yui will create a bond between car and driver, adapting over time as it learns about the user.
Similar to a concept created by French auto manufacturer Peugeot, Yui can sense the driver’s mood and make adjustments accordingly. However, unlike Peugeot’s system, Yui can make a recommendation based on the driver’s mood (or state of mind), and even take over control of the vehicle, guiding the passengers to their destination.
Yui is also able to display messages on the Concept-i’s bodywork:
- The front end of the car shows the current drive mode (automated or manual),
Just saying “hi!”
- The exterior door panels include written greetings to those entering the cabin (such as “Hello!” in whatever language you speak), and
- The rear end can display a number of vital messages for those driving behind the Concept-i (including “Watch out!”).
Maintaining the theme, Concept-i’s minimalist interior is also designed to enhance user experience. It utilizes a single 3-D, full-color, widescreen head-up display to communicate vital information to the driver. Yui can get this information to the driver using light, sound or even touch, the automaker said.
Not much to see here, but ready to interact
Screens on the center console have been eliminated, and even wing mirrors have been replaced with cameras that project a view of the blind-spots onto the rear window.
Somewhere between an autonomous vehicle and an AI butler, Concept-i is still very much a concept and has not even begun road testing. However, it does give a glimpse at where Toyota believes the automotive industry is going.
Unlike Google, Toyota’s vision seems to still includes a driver as Concept-i comes with pedals and a steering wheel and can be driven in either manual or autonomous mode. Toyota seems to be focusing more on user enjoyment or “Mobility that is warm, friendly and revolves around you.”
Despite Toyota’s conviction that Concept-i is about fun just as much as innovation and user experience, there is very little mention of the Concept-i’s drivetrain. Electric motors will most likely power the vehicle if it is put into production, but potential power numbers and range have yet to be announced.
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GM Applies For ‘Corvette E-Ray’ Trademark
Will Chevy plug in a future Corvette?
What do automotive spy photographers do when they’re not scouring the countryside or peeking over fences at proving grounds to grab an illicit photo of a future car? Apparently, Detroit-based spy guy Chris Doane scours the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office website. In doing so he stumbled across a nugget—the hint of a potential Electric Corvette.
Buried in the pages were two trademark applications filed by General Motors on December 16, 2015—numbers 86850510 and 86850500. One was for “Corvette E-Ray,” the other for “E-Ray.”
Of course, most everyone assumed that this was a confirmation that Corvette is planning an electric model, which sent Vette fan forums into frenzy overnight.
However, I wouldn’t place too much stock into GM’s application. Car companies are awarded dozens of trademarks and patents every year. Everything from almost production-ready concept vehicles to flying cars are locked down, just in case it becomes useful in the future. Or, perhaps the company is merely protecting the E-Ray name before someone else claims it.
Case in point; this past summer GM registered “Corvette Manta Ray.” When that was revealed, speculation was immediate that the name was verification that the decades-old rumors of a mid-engine Corvette would be a reality. I’ve heard no mention of it since, have you? Most likely it is just a name that GM wants to protect.
Perhaps more revealing that Chevy has its eyes on an electrified Corvette is a November 16, 2015, patent filling. It details a gasoline-electric hybrid powertrain that relates to a similar “Hybrid Powertrain and Modular Rear Drive Unit For Same” that GM has had for some time.
More Questions Than Answers
Odds are pretty good that the “E” in “E-Ray” does stand for electricity. But that just leads to plenty of questions. Will the Corvette go pure electric? Will it be a standard hybrid or plug-in hybrid? When, with whatever powertrain is selected, will it arrive? And the list goes on.
But the notion of a Corvette Sting Ray with electric motors did get me wondering.
The current C7 (seventh generation) model doesn’t seem to be a candidate for hybridization. It’s packaged extremely tight with little wiggle room for bulky batteries and electric motors.
No room for electrics this time around
Car and Driver’s technical director, Don Sherman, did throw out a possible solution. He suggested, “hanging a motor/generator onto the rear of the differential,” while also adding a compact lithium-ion battery in the trunk. But that would require major changes to the exhaust system, as well as eating into the car’s already small 15 cubic feet of cargo space.
A long shot option for the C7 is to gut the innards, replace them with a battery-electric drivetrain and present it as a concept. Sounds easy but the platform wasn’t engineered with that in mind.
The next-generation C8 is already in the works and this gives engineers the leeway to fashion a new Corvette with a variety of powertrains, gasoline as well hybrid and electric. That seems logical, but then again, this is the auto industry. Perhaps an electrified Vette would be a stand-alone model. How about an all-wheel drive E-Ray with 400 horsepower in-wheel electric motors on all four corners?
It’s Gonna Happen
The Corvette has been lauded as a supercar for half the price or less, and Chevrolet is not about to abandon its legacy of screaming V-8 performance. But a hybrid or all-electric model will help to meet upcoming emissions and fuel economy standards. Plus, it will add some topical green cachet to a marque known for consuming large amounts of gasoline.
Throwing some electrons at the Vette wouldn’t break new ground. Tesla produced its electric Roadster starting in 2008 and sold around 2,000 units by the end of production in 2012. And with the Ferrari LaFerrari and Porsche 918 Spyder hybrid supercars making huge waves, it is no wonder Chevrolet is considering dipping the Corvette’s toe into the electrified realm.
Further validation that motors and batteries are here to stay are in evidence with Acura’s new NSX hybrid with three electric motors, Audi’s all-electric R8 E-Tron Quattro, Aston Martin’s production-possible RapidE pure-EV concept and Porsche’s nod of approval for the 600 horsepower Mission E electric sports sedan.
And it’s not as if Chevrolet lacks electric vehicle experience, The second-generation Volt extended-range hybrid has already garnered high praise, while the all-electric Chevy Bolt EV with a “200 miles or more” driving range was shown in production form at the 2016 Consumer Electronics Show and a week later at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit.
While it may or may not use the E-Ray name, an electrified Corvette will happen. What type of powertrain and when will it arrive are the unanswered questions for now.
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