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Dreams on Wheels: International Concepts at the 2011 Los Angeles Auto Show +VIDEO

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Special To The Auto Channel
Republished with AIADA Permission
Story By Marty Bernstein
Contributing Editor AIADA


LOS ANGELES - Concept cars are a multi-million dollar investment for automakers. As the “cool” cars that seldom make their way into mass production, they are designed and hand-crafted to capture the attention and accolades of both the public and the media.

In the past, automakers have shied away from displaying their concepts at the Los Angeles Auto Show. However, with the profile of the LA show on the rise, this year six companies – BMW, Kia, Jaguar, Land Rover, Subaru, and Volvo – presented eight separate concept vehicles that ranged from elegant to electric.

The BMW i3 and i8 Of the eight presented, only BMW’s i3 and i8 are currently scheduled for mass production. BMW unveiled both vehicles during the show’s media week with a trailer for the latest Mission Impossible installment playing as the film’s lead actress, Paula Patton, exited the i8. According to BMW, both urban vehicles define the term "cutting edge" in their design, materials, and technology. More importantly, they are an aggressive response to personal mobility needs that can meet the demands of stringent fuel economy standards in the coming years.

Watch the original i-Concept introductory press conference

The i8 – which is the successor to the BMW Vision Efficient Dynamics vehicle featured in the latest Mission Impossible film – is a sleek, low-slung silver and glass sports car with flip up doors. The i3 – previously known as the “megacity vehicle” – is more compact for congested city driving and features a similar color scheme with large glass doors that open “coach style” (i.e. the rear doors open in the opposite direction from the front).

Richard Kim, a senior automotive designer at BMW Group DesignworksUSA and the principal exterior designer of both of BMW’s i vehicles, spoke with AIADA during the LA Auto Show. “This was different because it wasn’t a ‘next generation’ car,” he said. “It was going to be the first generation of this car of this type. The ‘mega-city-vehicle’ was the briefing. Just thinking about what it means to live and drive in an urban environment . . . like New York or even LA. And we were to think of it in that way with an open mind, and sketch around a few key words. It was different. Very different.”

The design process began with blank pieces of paper - literally. “We use the latest, greatest, and best technology with computer surfacing, milling, stereo lithography,” said Kim. Even so, “there is a certain artisan, hand hewn quality that will never go away. We are still drawing and sketching on paper. And we are still, in the old world sense, craftsman. We mix that in with the new technology and it works quite well. People might think we just plug it into a computer that does it for us, but no, there’s still a lot of hand work; it’s the artisan approach and quality.”

Watch the i3 & i8 promo video

When asked about the results, he said, “Our walls were filled with sketches. There was a lot of variety, a full bandwidth of ideas. Anything that would help your life in a city environment† and that might enhance the driving experience in an urban setting. We were able to pick and choose all these great ideas and bring them together. Result? Quite perfect designs.”

   • SEE ALSO: 2011 L.A. Auto Show Unveil of the i3 and i8 Concepts

There were other “dreams on wheels” on display at the LA Auto Show. They included the Jaguar C-X 16, a stunning example of a potential replacement for Jaguar’s famous E-type. Land Rover brought its DC 100 and DC Sport SUVs, which take the iconic Defender model to a new design level while remaining true to the vehicle’s rugged DNA.

Watch the Jaguar C-X 16 concept promo video

Kia displayed its GT, which was a hit at the recent Frankfurt Auto Show and received a similar reception in LA. The design represents a new direction for the Korean brand and is the brain child of Kia’s design chief, Peter Schreyer.

Watch the full Kia media presentation at the 2011 L.A. Auto Show including the GT concept introduction

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Subaru BRZ Concept STI

Subaruís version of the Scion FR-S, the BRZ Concept STI was a media favorite. From every angle, the coupeís design statement is futuristically fast. Finally, Volvo brought its You Concept (introduced at the Frankfurt Motor Show), boasting smooth lines that may represent a significant shift in design focus for the brand. Will this be a farewell to the boxy shapes of the past that are loved by millions? Time will tell.

Watch Subaru's L.A. Show press conference, featuring the BRZ Concept

• SEE ALSO: Volvo Concept YOU at 2011 Frankfurt Motor Show