Once moist, meaty humans are no longer expected to be performing the actual task of driving, the fundamental way cars are designed can be changed pretty dramatically. For an autonomous car to really make sense, it needs to become a mobile room. And that’s exactly what Chrysler is showing with their concept car for CES: a futuro-box called the Portal concept.
Fundamentally, the Portal is a one-box sort of minivan, just a little bit shorter than their current Pacifica. It’s got an electric drivetrain, with a claimed range of 250 miles, but, remember, this is just a concept car, so those numbers are likely generated ex recto.
The most interesting thing about the Portal is the fundamental design, especially the door design, which utilizes four sliding doors, sliding in opposite directions, so each side opens like an elevator. It’s actually a pretty fantastic way to handle a large opening in a vehicle like this.
The car has a sort of hexagonal motif going on, defined by the large hexagonal door, um, portal. The rear tailgate area is a hexagon as well, wrapping around the corners of the box enough to create yet another hexagonal open area on the roof.
The result is a sort of honeycomb body design, with silver diagonal structural elements and black window areas. Hexagons and honeycombs, especially with the sort of rounded, chamfered edges like these, have become a sort of visual shorthand for futuristic high-tech stuff. It actually works quite well here.
The interior is said to be completely reconfigurable, which is crucial for the mobile room concept, and Chrysler’s PR suggests the interior of the car is a “third space,” with home and work being the first and second spaces. I bet the toilet is the fourth space, and the closet you sneak into to sob without anyone seeing you is the fifth.
The basic concepts here are strong and quite practical, especially for a concept car, but, being a modern concept car, shit does start to go off the rails.
First, Chrysler describes it as a “next generation family transportation designed by millennials for millennials,” which is a sentence that is probably making you wince right at this very moment, and they suggest that the Portal will use facial and voice-recognition technology to customize settings for individual users, which is a little creepy.
There’s also bile-inducing integrated selfie cameras, and an audio system that’s somehow designed to work in zones, so you can hear your Sex Pistols without bothering your mom next to you who prefers the more relaxed stylings of GG Allin.
All that Millennial pandering and face recognition and integrated selfie bullshit is the usual concept car frippery. But the fundamental design of this as an autonomous car is quite good, and I’m looking forward to seeing how this feels when we get a look at it in person at CES.