If this year's Paris Motor Show taught us anything, it's that in a European market struggling with a crippling downturn, it's best to look toward the future.
Let's check out some of the tech shown in Paris that'll change drivers' relationships with their cars.
By tech, of course, we often mean designs built around the concept of saving dirty fuel, or replacing it with electricity (that itself may come from dirty fuel). From Ferrari's lightweight Carbon Fiber chassis to Toyota's super lightweight FT-Bh, sometimes the solutions are ones gearheads can embrace as adding lightness,
And Audi e-Gas? Who doesn't love a car that you can make your own fuel for.
Yet designers also delivered fascinating new materials studies and tech designed around making the drive more fun, not just more efficient.
Audi e-Gas Concept
A car that runs on fuel you can make at home? It's the ultimate energy solution for on-the-grid survivalists (a lazier subgroup) and nerdy DIYers. It's all about methanation, bitches. That's a process that uses electrolysis — by way of grid electricity — to create hydrogen, which, when combined with carbon dioxide creates methane. You can use that homegrown methane to power a combustion-based vehicle, with minor modifications. Audi's multifuel solution in its concept A3 means it can use both gasoline and the gassy stuff. Sounds like total bullshit? Think of it as a relatively easy-to-implement stopgap measure for when OPEC decides it's done playing nice and cranks the price of oil up to infinity.
McLaren P1's Formula One Aerodynamics Tech
It may be in the category of cars aging rock stars will crash into bridge abutments, but the McLaren P1 and unicorn cars like it — cars that boldly push the aerodynamics envelope like Chuck Yeager kicking it in the Bell X1 — will accelerate advancements in active aero. Aerodynamics being one of the key pillars to the future of the car, along with reduced weight and increased thermal efficiency, the upshot is more sports cars that get great, everyday fuel economy without skimping on power and performance. And in the future, skimping will be banned by decree of President Ayn Rand's Cryogenically Frozen Head.
The Ridiculous Weight Savings of the Toyota FT-Bh
A regular economy car that weighs under 2,000 pounds? That's umpossible. Or is it? Toyota shaved 25 percent of the weight off its Yaris by making a shell out of — not Druid-hewn carbon fiber pressed in a magic autoclave, like some fancy supercar — but regular old high-tensile steel, rolled out like a penny at the county fair, along with dabs of aluminum and magnesium. The speedo is made from special electrically-conductive paper, too. Never mind that it's a hybrid that, with the drag coefficient of a greased football, gets more than 100 mpg. It's a systems-engineering exercise that may never see daylight, but will inspire other incremental tweaks to eke out efficiency gains.
The Awesome Materials Science of the Peugeot Onyx
Among so-called economical sports cars that take a bullet for fuel efficiency, you can't argue with 700 hp. The Peugeot Onyx is a banner car for the possibilities of combining material science to reduce weight and take advantage of the efficiency and massive torque of a diesel engine. It's no surprise this concept came from Peugeot, which provided Audi with an able rival in the diesel-powered Le Mans prototype racing sweepstakes, until hard economic times forced a shutdown of the factory team. It's powered by the same 3.7-liter turbocharged diesel V8 as the erstwhile 908 Le Mans racecar. Still, the Onyx hearkens a day when sippy oil burners will share space at the police impound lot with gasoline-powered sports cars.
The Volkswagen GTI Concept's Variable Ratio Electronic Steering
The current GTI's got one of the best electronic steering systems available: quick, accurate with great feel and feedback. Here in Paris, VW gave word it would incorporate variable ratios into the next-gen GTI. I'm scared to death imagining the possibility that they'll piss off the e-steering gods and end up with a sloppy, ill-feeling mess. Then again, why wouldn't it be even better than the Honda S2000's system that pioneered it back in 1997? So why are we including such old tech? Because this kind of thing predicts how continued advancements in sensors and software will bring better driving experiences via efficiency-creating gear — like electronic steering — that has, in the past, made driving feel remote and shitty.
BMW's New, Three-cylinder Modular Engine
Building lots of different cars is a pain in the ass. That's why carmakers would love to make as many parts of their cars modular and scalable. That means, for example, if a company like BMW, designed all of its engines — three, four and six-cylinder configurations — on the same, 500cc cylinder, they can extract economies of scale up the chain. The result is more efficient production and (if all goes well) better cars. While technically a plug-in hybrid, the BMW Concept Active Tourer introduced the new turbocharged three-banger, which will likely see duty both for motive power and as a range-extending engine for the company's new i line.
Carbon-fiber Chassis of Ferrari's Enzo Replacement
Ferrari's made big commitments to aluminum, even allowing Alcoa into its hallowed Maranello halls to build a core-supplier plant to provide ample lightweight metal for Ferrari's corral. But big al's just not good enough for the upcoming, 900-hp, hybrid-powered Enzo replacement. Dipping into its F1 kit bag, Ferrari created a chassis that's 20 percent lighter and 27 percent stiffer than the Enzo's. And they'll need it to offset the increased weight from those friggin' batteries.
Audi's "Multimaterial" Space Frame
From the materials-science portion of today's lesson in boring shit that'll make you love your car, comes Audi's heady combine of aluminum, carbon fiber-reinforced polymer and fiberglass-reinforced polymer to create a lightweight space frame for its Crosslane Concept. The carbon-fiberesque bits are the next wave after Audi's early adoption of aluminum-based space frames in its cars. The rest of the car, including structural elements are all lousy with the carbon stuff, though some of the weight savings are offset by the hybrid battery pack, giving the targa-topped SUV a curb weight of more than 3,000 pounds.
Lexus LF-CC's Touchscreen Mania
Remember when you had to touch actual stuff? Forget those days grandpa. The future is about touch screens every damn where, especially in your car. The Lexus LF-CC concept's huge multifunction screen may look over-the-top now, but just wait a few years when you're staring down the barrel of a giant, glowing console screen that'll make switching things on and off as intuitive as whatever device you have in your pocket right now. You'll thank us for warning you. Buttons? Switches? Get a horse.
BMW C Evolution Concept Scooter
In the fuel-crunched future in emissions-regulated urban dystopias, you'll be spending more time on public transportation or on one of these. You'll do it gladly, if just to save your hard-earned gasoline allotment for Miata Weekend at Spring Mountain racetrack. Even better, the C Evolution concept is both electric and is no slouch in the performance department, according to BMW, and can hit a top speed of 75 mph. The battery pack storage area is a stressed member for weight savings, rigidity, handling benefits and the fun of referring to your "stressed member" in conversation.
Mercedes-Benz's 740-horsepower Electric Insanity Machine
Mercedes stuffed its beefcake warrior SLS to the rafters with electronic gew-gaws, hoo-has and weapons-grade electronica, and turned it into a half-million-dollar supercar for very early adopters. What's the best thing about people who will drop a half-mill on a proof-of-concept sports car? It's that is that some day you'll be driving one for a fraction of that price.