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Chicago Auto Show 2012
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Concept Cars – A Design Engine Analysis: Chicago Autoshow 2012

Winter time in Chicago usually means miserable colds, icy wind, and crass attitudes, but it also means the annual Chicago Auto Show has arrived, giving us all a reason to get out of our winter dens and to venture over to McCormick Place to see the latest and greatest our transportation giants have to offer. Walking into the show, I was immediately overwhelmed with the sheer magnitude of the showrooms with over 1.2 millions square feet of shiny metal cars. You’re going to probably need more than one day to really soak it in. Wrap-around front and rear lights, smooth continuous body styling, LED lighting, Eco-hybrid engines, and matte paint finishes were definite trends on the floor of the autoshow. With all the major car manufacturers showing off their new line of vehicles, it’s the concept cars that really get the car enthusiasts engines revving. Concept cars are all about what the car industry sees as future trends, colors, and styles that the perceived consumer wants. These concepts are a good gauge of what we will be seeing two or three years from now. There were many notable cars to describe, which will be discussed in later articles, but this article will focus on the major car concepts you will see referenced in the images below.

Lexus LF-LC

Hands down, the crown jewel concept car of the Chicago Autoshow (at least for me) was the electric, cherry-red Lexus LF-LC hybrid coupe. My head is still trying to come to grips with what I was looking at — which left me wanting to know more about this vehicle. I was not the only one wowed by the presence of this vehicle. On the second day I went back to the Autoshow, I had to two fellow designers that practically got vertigo viewing this vehicle. The clean, swooping fighter jet-styled body really changes shape as you view it from different angles. The sweeping curves engage the viewer to walk around the vehicle to see where those curve features are tied into the shapes on the other side of the vehicle. The trapezoidal-pinched front-end was styled after the F22 Raptor in afterburner mode. There are plenty of hungry air intakes for and aft to feed the powerplant, tame airflow, and cool brake rotors. The lights on this vehicle are feature ‘L’ shaped daytime runners with dot matrix fog and rear signals. The triple light saber bundle looking head lamps are part of an air intake and were uncovered on this prototype. The rear taillights looked like hot toaster elements that tunneled infinitely inward with the mirror-on-mirror repeating effect. The cockpit featured multi-layered analog and LCD large readouts with a plethora of in-steering controls. You simply have to see this vehicle to believe what you’re looking at. I only wish I could hear the roar of the Advanced Lexus Hybrid Drive engine.

Click the thumbnails below to check out the Lexus LF-LC:
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Cadillac Ciel

Another standout concept was the Cadillac Ciel (French for “sky”) convertible concept which exudes over-the-top luxury and elegance true to brand name. The car has a squared-off, old woody, boat-shaped, Cabernet Red body which is just over 4 feet high at the windshield. The convertible sported huge 22” rims and concept Bridgestone Potenza tires that reflect the rear shape of the trunk in the tire tread. The luxury interior has Italian Olive wood accents carved from a single tree with supple leather seats and a built-in humidor. The hybrid convertible interior even hosts aromatherapy climate control and has pull-out cashmere blankets for the rear passengers. The one-off vehicle is powered by a hybrid twin-turbocharged 3.6L that uses lithium ion technology and will have a combined 425hp output. The only thing Grandpa needs here puffing down the highway is a hot tub and sauna.

Click the thumbnails below to check out the Cadillac Ciel:
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Chevy Code 130R

The Chevy Code 130R concept was a welcome addition to the compact four-seat coupe class. The stout design was very clean and simple with a hot metallic red paint job and 20” matte gold anodized rims. The side view evoked a BMW 325 profile with a Camaro-like front-end. The vehicle will boast a 1.4L Ecotech Turbocharged 4 cylinder 6 speed that shuts the engine off at stops and gets an estimated 40mpg. If slated for production, the Code 130R will be priced in the low 20’s.

Click the thumbnail below to check out the Chevy Code 130R: The second concept car from Chevy was the TRU 140S which has low-slung exotic curves revealed by a mellow matte white finish. This car has some really nice lines but was a little awkward in a 3/4 front view which made it look out of perspective. The car has the look of an exotic sports car with large 21” performance chrome wheels but supposedly is priced to NOT take out a second mortgage. I really liked the lines of this concept from the side and back perspectives. The rear-end showed a subtle crown crease reflecting the cars hood and grill. The TRU 140S will sport the same engine as the Code 130R with a 1.4 Ecotech Turbocharged with 150hp and 40mpg.

Click the thumbnail below to check out the Chevy TRU 140S:
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KIA’s line of production vehicles really looked slick and cohesive, which made the concept vehicles shine even more. The KIA TRACK’STER was a snappy fresh take on the compact rally car. The overhead linear-striped lighting of the exhibit really showed off the styling of body curves, not unlike the zebra striping that all of us design geeks use to analyze 3D surfaces. The TRACK’STER has a smooth low-slung roof line that integrates into a back spoiler with a one-piece windshield and side windows, giving it a fast forward look. The hot rim and ground effects accents make this car look ready to rip some dirt roads. The front-end has a wide open grill, hungry for air with some overkill fog lamps. The rear has cool, integrated exhaust ports, and the rear signals are hidden under the tinted black hatch glass to give it a very minimalistic look. The powertrain will be a 2.0L Turbocharged 4 cylinder pushing out 250hp to the electronic all-wheel drive.

Click the thumbnail below to check out the KIA TRACK’STER:
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Toyota NS4

Toyota had two concepts this year with the NS4 hybrid sporting a low-slung roof and cabin-forward design. The front trapezoid-shaped grill has a floating lower spoiler and plenty of grill for air intake. The car was finished in a beautiful hot metallic plum paint and has low profile LED day runners and slim head lamps, reminding me of Iron Man 2. The roomy interior has Tron-like LED accent dash and accents throughout. The 4 swan doors opened at a slight upward angle allowing easier access. The NS4 will be powered by Toyota’s next gen Hybrid Synergy Drive promising more mileage out of those precious drops of petrol.

Click the thumbnail below to check out the Toyota NS4:
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Toyota FCV-R

Toyota’s other hybrid concept was the FCV-R which flaunted a very vibrant sky-blue, pearlescent metallic finish. This car looked nice and sleek from a rear perspective, but when it turned to face me, I was mildly taken aback. The front of this car just really didn’t appear like it integrated into the rest of the body and looked like just an addition. Again, the front incorporated the trapezoidal trend, but the overkill LED runners in the air scoops looked more like they were bug catchers. This car was very awkward-looking, and in my opinion, it was the least impressive in the concept show.

Click the thumbnail below to check out the Toyota FCV-R:
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The KIA GT really caught my surprised eyes with a ramped-up, cool exotic sports concept that you would not have expected them to design. I was really impressed with the smooth design, reminiscent of the Porsche and Jaguar coupes. I got back to the studio and examined my pictures and had to do a double-take, thinking this car was a Jaguar or Lotus until I saw the KIA emblem on the hood. During my second visit to the Autoshow, I had to show my designer friends, but they had unfortunately pulled the GT out and shipped it to Canada for a show. The GT has front-to-back gold trim roof accents that really show off the low profile sweeps and 4 suicide doors. Another trend in the Autoshow was bulky side view mirrors being replaced by small, low-profile side camera mounts, which the GT boasts. The front-end shows a wild head lamp that incorporates the front air intake that wraps back onto itself to cool down those hot rotors and tires. I was puzzled on how KIA managed to make this front-end part, but it sure did look hot. The large rims have matte black, carbon fiber, propeller-like cooling flaps that integrated well with the ground effects runners. The tires will be powered by a rear-wheel drive 3.3L V6 with 390hp to keep your head back in the seat. I would really like to see this car go into production so I can take it for a test drive.

Click the thumbnail below to check out the KIA GT:
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Volvo YOU

Volvo came out with a fresh new concept in the Volvo YOU, although the name maybe not so fresh. The You has beautiful smooth lines and a front-end that is definitely a departure from the squared-off lines of its early models. The hood has a unique raised plateau feature with a crisp line and a hint of a center crown. The headlights are very minimal making them appear a bit out of place with the grill reminding me of the robot Gort in ‘The Day the Earth Stood still.’ The sedan concept also has suicide doors like the Cadillac Ciel and KIA GT. The spacious interior has auto fold-down shift lever and floating seats that are mounted to a middle beam. The back-end has a smooth fast-back coupe look and has unique translucent conducting rear signals. The You will be powered by a 4 cylinder front-wheel drive with Flywheel KERS (Kinetic Energy Recovery System) that is linked to the rear axle.

Click the thumbnail below to check out the Volvo YOU:
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Chevy Sonic Zspec

Last but surely not least, we have another Chevy concept in the Sonic Zspec. This matte white, compact rally car was full of sharp aggressive details and looked ready to rip off the floor. The low-extended roof line reminds me of a stretched out CRX. This sporty little car has a mean front look and has red pinstripe front and rear lights which tie into the red pinstripes on the polished black powdercoated rims. The line will be aimed at the customized aftermarket add-ons that the consumer will be offered in three different packages. With the blacked out windows, we are unsure of interior design; and at the time of this article, the powerplant was still TBD.

Click the thumbnail below to check out the Chevy Sonic Zspec:
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So after ranting about just the concept cars, you can understand that there is much more going on at the 2012 Chicago Auto Show. After rifling through the whole show in under 3 hours, I was compelled to go back and soak in more of the overwhelming details I over looked. Plus, I wanted to go face the Lexus LF-LC and see if I faired any better. Check back here at for more articles on the Autoshow covering other topics like the supercar class, muscle cars, and styling trend features.

Until next time, “May the Road Rise with You”.

Article Written By: Joel Koster, Maya, Alias, Rhino, and Adobe Instructor at Design Engine

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