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Smart is the new sexy and design engineering is the new rock and roll

Tue Jan 03 22:00:00 EST 2017

In this afternoon’s press conference from Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) at #CES2017 the presenters weren’t executives or marketing people, they were the design engineers who had been tasked with designing a vehicle that millennials would want and that would provide them with an alternative “third place”.

The concept that was unveiled, called the ‘Portal’ has been developed to reflect the needs of millennials, who do not look for the same things from their automotive experience that former generations did. They want smart, not fast. Having said that, the Portal is electric with the considerable torque you’d expect from an electric drive train.

Flexibility and configurability are at the core of the design, with seating from one to six available, and configurable, future proof BYOD (bring your own device) connectivity. Connectivity is at the center of the development of what they refer to as the ‘vehicle as a hub’. Systems in the car, including sound, are zoned to allow multiple entertainment mediums to be used simultaneously.

The design team identified a number of traits displayed by their target audience to inform their development. One was experience over device. Millennials value experience over things, they want products that deliver a great user interface, not something that just looks good. They are also cost conscious. Millennials are savvy shoppers and want value for their money. But perhaps what they value most is their time. Devices or products that save them time are highly valued.

The Portal does not look like a sports car, inside it barely looks like a car at all. It’s a vehicle with a flexible space (the third place) that offers a configurable experience that can grow and adapt to the users needs.

Of course it’s packed with just about every technology imaginable from the electric drive train to the connectivity, the use of 3D graphics on touch screen display and the artificial, contextual intelligence that operates the systems that provide autonomous or assisted driving. Displays on the outside allow the panels to change color so you can tell you friend or ride share passenger what to look out for. And of course the car is social, with the ability to work with any social media application.

This design didn’t happen in a bubble, and the team recognized and praised their technology partners, companies that count themselves in the world’s largest and most creative technology brands.

The Portal is a concept car at this point, but it provides a glimpse into the future of vehicles as the automotive industry sees it. Doubtless some of this technology will find it’s way into the mainstream very soon, whilst some will take longer.

One thing is clear, vehicles are changing radically as is our relationship with them, and the automotive and electronics industries are embracing that change as an opportunity.