Old name, new ideas
Buick Riviera concept generates attention in Shanghai
By Derek Price
In the world of concept cars, there are basically two categories: the kind that are ready to show up in your local dealer's showroom, and the kind that are created for pure imagination.
To be clear, this car falls into the second category.
It's the Buick Riviera concept car that General Motors unveiled in China recently, and — while it's not going to appear at your local Buick dealer any time soon — it is perhaps the most talked-about vehicle from what is quickly becoming the most important car show in the world: the Shanghai Motor Show.
Part of its appeal is that the design is just so stunning. It's the kind of car that childhood dreams are made of, with gullwing doors, futuristic styling and a low-slung, sexy shape that you never see on the road today. GM pulled out all the stops for this concept car because China is a critical market for the Buick brand. In fact, Buick sells a whole lot more cars in China than it does in the United States, making it a great market for showing off a dream-inducing supercar just for fun.
The excitement around this car goes beyond it's pretty, classically inspired styling that draws on Buick's rich history here in the United States. It's also for GM's forward-thinking designers to imagine what features cars might have in years to come, including:
— A plug-in hybrid drivetrain that charges wirelessly. Instead of literally plugging into an electric wall socket, which is all the rage among eco-minded cars today, this concept car can charge via a "sensory recharge panel" that receives power when you park over a special pad.
— Four-wheel steering, a suspension that is controlled by electromagnetics and air springs for the ultimate in comfort. These are all real-life technologies in use today, but they've never been combined in one production car before. The Riviera imagines that mixture.
— Better mobile internet systems than today's cars. It uses 4G LTE signals from cell phone networks to offer information on traffic, weather and news, and it uses iPhone-style touch gestures to control it.
— A high-tech safety system with 10 video cameras and 18 sensors that work together to project a holographic image on the windshield in front of the driver.
My favorite part of this concept car, though, is how it ties all these futuristic elements into a car that still respects Buick's history. Even its famous name, Riviera, is pulled straight from the Buick history books. The brand's famous waterfall grille design, for example, not only looks great on the Riviera's sleek nose, but it also uses electronic shutters that can close off the airflow at high speeds, which improves aerodynamics and fuel efficiency on the highway.
Even Buick's iconic portholes are turned into charging ports for powering up its electric drive system.
To me, this is exactly what a great concept car ought to be. It's exotic enough to make you imagine a different automotive world, but not so esoteric that it loses its link to the past.
(Derek Price is a newspaper editor and freelance writer living in Texas.)
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