• Oct 20, 2010
Nissan iV concept – Click above for high-res image gallery of all 2010 LA Auto Show Design Challenge entrants

The LA Auto Show is once again knocking at the door, and with it comes the annual Design Challenge competition. This year the competition has extended invitations to Japanese and German design studios, in addition to all of the manufacturer-supported studios in Southern California, making it a much more global contest.

The theme for this year's Design Challenge forces designers to envision vehicles that are at once both kind to the environment yet stylish and exciting to drive at the same time. The catch? Each vehicle concept must weigh no more than 1,000 pounds, seat four adults, be efficient and safe and provide a rewarding driving experience. Sustainable materials, highly exotic designs and a vision of the future are expected from the entrants, and they all certainly delivered.

Nine automakers in total have answered the competition's call. General Motors, Honda, Mazda, Maybach, Mercedes-Benz, Nissan, Smart, Toyota and Volvo have all stepped up to the plate, and the results are visually stunning. At the same time, each is though provoking because the designers have each given insight into what technology they believe will possible in the future.

Take a look at the Design Challenge entries, which we have lined up for you after the jump and in the gallery below.

[Source: LA Auto Show]

Cadillac Aera

Cadillac Aera

The Cadillac Aera (Aero + Era) launches Cadillac's philosophy of "Art and Science" into new territory by taking an innovative and stylistic approach to ultra-light weight vehicle design. Aera is a 1000 lb, 2+2 touring coupe, with a range of 1000 miles before refueling; attributes achieved without compromising size, capacity and safety.

Optimum efficiency, minimum parts
Aera's highly advanced body structure utilizes a 3D lattice, mono-formed frame. This polyhedral structure is similar to configurations found consistently in nature, e.g., inside the grouping of bubbles. The structure is formed from unique, alloy-utilizing, semi-solid freeform manufacturing, creating a naturally strong, extremely lightweight frame. All major body parts, including interior components, are essentially "grown" into a single part lattice structure.

Renowned Cadillac smoothness and quietness are accomplished using the harnessed power of compressed air via a highly efficient Pneumatic Drive System (PDS). Its 10,000 psi composite air storage tank has ample capacity for a 1000 mile range. Flexible, pressurized air cells in the exterior skin, similar to material developed for the NASA Mars Rover airbags, enhance passive safety and interior comfort. The flexible polymer skin optimizes aerodynamics and functions as an ultra-lightweight alternative to conventional body panels and glass.

Additional technologies include an All-In-One (AIO) wheel system, combining rotary actuator propulsion, steering and suspension functions. A drive by wireless system decreases the mass of electrical components. Vehicle to vehicle communication (V2V) promotes active safety.

The Cadillac Aera embodies a stylistic, lightweight, minimalist approach to long distance luxury touring.
Design Team
Frank Saucedo – Director
Phil Tanioka – Project Manager
Jussi Timonen – Vehicle Designer
Brent Wickham – Concept Strategist
Shawn Moghadam – Layout Designer

Honda Air Concept

Honda Air Concept

The Honda Air concept is a vision of the future of lightweight and alternative fuel performance vehicles; a coastal cruiser for the aggressive lifestyle. Inspired by the modern roller coaster as well as skydiving wing-suits, the Air is powered by a compressed air and pneumatic regulator system. It utilizes turbo vacuums and external air-flow to regenerate tank pressure for extended range and increased boost for an estimated 100 miles. The chassis doubles as the master tank and all components, including seating, are mounted to the central chassis/tank to eliminate redundant structure and reduce overall weight.

Vegetable based polymer panels and fairings protect occupants, maintaining the solid Honda method; safety for everyone. The Air's cockpit and package maintain the aggressive human packaging of a modern roller coaster aimed at maximizing the open air experience. In order to reduce weight and increase dynamic performance, a hub-less wheel and drive system eliminates the use of heavy drive train components. Glass reinforced seating panels, urethane tire composition and skeletal sub-frame components combine for drastic weight savings. Using a Honda generator / air compressor at home or tire filler at your local filling station, the main tanks and reserves can be filled quickly and safely.

At just under 800 lbs., the powerful anthem of pneumatic propulsion and a character unlike any zero-emission vehicle exemplifies Honda's concept of fun to drive. The pow[air] of dreams.

Maybach DRS

MAYBACH DRS - "Den-Riki-Sha" (electric powered rickshaw)

Gracing the Roads of Tomorrow
A radically new car culture will arise in the near future, which is aligned with modern architecture, infrastructure and nature. An astonishing variety of future automotive designs will grow, commensurate, with newly available energy sources, drive systems and alternative production methods. Light, transparent designs with sculptured elegance and an extensive range of comfort and safety options are finding their way into a new eco-conscious world.

The MAYBACH DRS "Den-Riki-Sha" (electric powered rickshaw) embodies these attributes and leverages the traditional values of the classic "Jin-Riki-Sha" (human powered rickshaw), which originated in Tokyo circa 1870.

Breathtaking beauty, ingenious luxury and technical brilliance characterize the sophisticated development of the "DRS." This MAYBACH is the first worldwide NMV (Naturally Manufactured Vehicle). Its production process is unique: Per a highly perfected and complex metamorphosis, a readily developed car is born out of a coded DNA-cocoon. Organic intelligence, aligned with advanced bio-mechanical engineering skills, created this special process being designed for a limited number of exclusive vehicles. A futuristic composition of ultra-light construction with a unique luxurious Exterior & Interior expression.

Powered by a self balancing electric drive unit and controlled by an onboard computer that is plugged into a mega city's transport infrastructure, the MAYBACH DRS delivers a smooth, luxurious journey cross town. To extend its range, this human-electric hybrid allows pedaling power to be supplemented by the driver. Meanwhile, the passengers enjoy the journey in their glamorous surroundings.

MAYBACH traditionally pointed the way to a modern era of luxurious mobility – the "Den-Riki-Sha" continues this heritage, gracing the roads of tomorrow.
Design Team
Holger Hutzenlaub
Hiroshi Yajimar
Hideki Takahashi
Yong Won Lee
Toru Nakano
Teck-Koun Kim
Masahide Yamada
Daniel Schlapp

Mazda MX-0

Mazda MX-0

-adjective: having no measurable quantity or magnitude
-noun: the lowest point or degree

Zero weight:
Mazda's long-time commitment to low weight is driven by the belief that effortless cornering and acceleration should be at the heart of every car we design. Our featherweight icon -- the MX-5 Miata, tipped the scales at a little over 2,300 pounds in its first generation. Starting with the MX-5 as a benchmark, the design team has carried out a systematic process of reduction and consolidation. In this process, we have redesigned each component in the MX-0 to carry out the functions of several MX-5 components, effectively replacing a multitude of MX-5 parts with fewer, simplified ones. Innovative lightweight materials have been used extensively to obsessively lower weight.

Zero carbon:
Aimed at the global market of 2020, and with projected volume of 500,000 units annually, the MX-0 would have positive effects on the world's environment and economy by way of less energy consumption and minimized use of raw materials. High-volume, automated manufacturing of sustainable, inexpensive composites coupled with clean-running drive trains are the key to both low weight and high-volume production.

Zero mass = maximum speed:
At the heart of the MX-0 is its purpose as a driving beast. Its ultra-light mass is pushed by high-torque electric motors. High power-to-weight is where a Mazda comes alive. Impossible acceleration and instant cornering is the result. It's more like flying than driving. Zero hindrance. Driving bliss.
Design Team
Derek Jenkins
Tim Brown
Minyong Lee
Carlos Salaff
Jacques Flynn
Greg Lee
Paul Muzio
Dave Coleman
Julien Montousse

Mercedes-Benz Biome

Mercedes-Benz Biome

Symbiosis: Light Technologies from Nature

The Biome:
The Mercedes-Benz Biome is an ultralight vehicle that utilizes technologies from nature to achieve unparalleled efficiency and seamless integration into the ecosystem.

Mercedes-Benz Symbiosis:
Mercedes-Benz Symbiosis is a system in which the vehicle becomes part of the ecosystem like the leaves of a tree. Symbiosis vehicles collect energy from the sun and store it in chemical bonds, in the form of a fluid called BioNectar4534. Mercedes has also developed technology to retrofit trees with receptors which can harvest their excess solar energy into BN4534. This creates an incentive to plant more trees and collect more energy, while also helping the ecosystem. The vehicle can be composted after its lifespan is complete or used as building material.

Partnership With Nature:
The Symbiosis vehicle forms a seamless part of the ecosystem through green technologies. Most of the energy used to power the vehicles comes from the sun. It is stored in a lightweight grown material called BioFibre. It is much lighter than metal or synthetic composites, but stronger than steel when mature. It is grown in the Mercedes-Benz Nursery through proprietary DNA. The customer's specific desires are genetically engineered into the Star and the vehicle grows when this combines with the Seed capsule.

Mercedes-Benz Nursery:
All Mercedes-Benz Symbiosis vehicles are grown in an ecologically sustainable nursery, using primarily organic materials.

Growth from Two Seeds:
The interior of the Biome grows from Mercedes-Benz DNA in the front star, when it fuses with the seed. The exterior grows from the rear star, creating the shape. The wheels are grown separately from four unique seeds.

Technologies from Nature:
Mercedes Benz Symbiosis vehicles release pure oxygen into the environment, helping urban areas to meet air quality standards.
Design Team
Hubert Lee
Christopher Rhoades
Nicolas Garfias
Alan Barrington
Daniel Kim
Benjamin Messmer
Jack Luttig

Nissan iV

Nissan iV

In 2010, the innovative Nissan LEAF is introduced as the first mass-market electric vehicle (EV), planting seeds for Nissan's vision of a zero-emissions future. Fast-forward to 2035: EVs and the green energy infrastructures that power them have matured into a fully sustainable system, bringing this dream to life.

Infused with Nissan's heritage of sports and performance, Nissan iV is a high-performance EV inspired by nature's intelligent beauty and crafted by human ingenuity. The iV is a super-lightweight sports tourer that showcases "organic synthetics," a revolutionary manufacturing technique in which automotive parts are cultivated like agriculture in a 100% sustainable, carbon-neutral process.

Less is more. Every detail of the Nissan iV is engineered toward renewable, lightweight strength and maximum efficiency. Featuring an interwoven organic frame, iV's chassis material is synthetically grown and formed into a stunning, aerodynamic shape. Derived from fast-growing ivy and re-enforced with spider silk composite, the biopolymer frame is flexible and ultra-light, yet extremely robust. The spacious, panoramic cabin comfortably seats four adults and is constructed from an innovative photovoltaic material that weighs 99 of kinetic energy spent.

Nissan's patented concentric hub-less in-wheel motors not only propel iV, they do triple-duty by functioning as the vehicle's steering as well as its suspension system, via magnetic levitation and propulsion. Concentric magnetic rings amplify rotation with each outer ring to boost high-speed performance and provide independent wheel control for ultimate handling and maneuverability. Inspired by schools of fish and their fluid movement, Nissan's pro-active Safety Shield™ renders collisions a thing of the past and reduces weight by eliminating the need for heavy structures (bumpers, beams, airbags, etc.).

Through industry-leading technology, Nissan iV maximizes the driving experience by eliminating excess. Nissan fulfills a deep nostalgia for the joy of driving with a strikingly beautiful EV that can deliver electrifying, agile performance with zero-guilt.

Our mantra: Innovation For All.
Design Team
Alfonso Albaisa
Yoshihisa Akiyama
John Cupit
Robert Bauer
Randy Rodriguez
Ryan Campbell
Ken Lee
Hirohisa Ono
Hiren Patel
Steve Moneypenny
James Cronin
Matt Wilson
Ann Ngo

Smart 454

Smart 454 by Weight Watch Technologies
(454kg is about 1000lb)

West coast fun and innovation meets German technology, design and grannies' hand knit socks.

Manufactured by incredibly high-tech robots that look as friendly and cuddly as our grandmothers, the Tridion-frame (chassis) is knit by our "Smart Granny Robots" (otherwise know as SGRs) out of carbon fibre. The knitting can create complex shapes and forms, enabling the geometry to be optimized in strength and weight.

We use different materials for each individual part to give every piece of the car its own specific properties and look. Each part is manufactured with the exact material necessary for an optimal balance between weight and function. Windows, fenders and bumpers are all made of recyclable plastics with ingrained colors. The roof is a thin, but highly durable recycled textile that comes with different prints and weavings.

Construction of the WWT carbon fibre wheels with integrated suspension are very lightweight and make it also impossible to run a flat tire. Our unique SGR technology allows for truly unique looking rims and the best lightweight technology in a rim.

The modular "clip-on" construction principal allows easy and endless customizing: a typical WWT of Sindelfingen and smart signature. The doors, roof, engine and drive-train are also very easy to remove or exchange, allowing for perfect functionality, looks, fun and the best tuning for any occasion.

Lightweight, fun and clever: Smart, the WWT from Germany.

Hand knit socks and grannies have never been so much fun...
Design Team
Mr. Emiel Burki
Mr. Sylvain Wehnert
Mr. Gabriel Nemeth

Toyota NORI Concept

Toyota NORI Concept

Building on Toyota's leadership role in creating eco-sensitive vehicles, the NORI concept challenges us to look ahead and create a clever vision that addresses fuel economy, emissions, green materials, new design and manufactured technology, and transforms it into an emotionally appealing design solution.

As the majority of current generation automobiles consist of a chassis covered by attached body panels, the NORI concept presents the idea that the body and chassis are one, as a PODULAR form, designed to be strong, light and beautiful. Bioplastics technology is created using "nori" (the Japanese word for seaweed) combined with a carbon fiber weave for strength. Woven into the PODULAR form are solar cells that capture and generate supplemental solar energy. As a holistic solution and new design aesthetic, NORI reduces weight and the number of parts while capturing and generating energy.
At the onset of the DESIGN process for each PODULAR form is a collaboration between designers and engineers, utilizing a "real time" design envelope to ensure the perfect balance of strength, light weight and design aesthetics. This process eliminates traditional design and engineering conflicts of form vs. function, and allows the design/engineering process to come to fruition at the same time.

The PODULAR forms are grown at factories located nearby the sea. Seaweed grows prolifically, and using it as a bioplastics source is an effort to minimalize the impact on the food chain (corn/soy etc) that has previously been used for bioplastics. The solar cells are embedded as part of the growing/manufacturing process.

PSI's (partial shape insets) are utilized to shield or expose passengers to the elements and address vehicle regulations (such as covered wheels), while serving as a new form of personalization. The color/graphics of NORI can be changed through an electronically generated data charge sent into the surface. There are no doors: ingress/egress is achieved by stepping over and into NORI's PODULAR form.

NORI utilizes four electric wheel motors and a removable battery pack.
Design Team
Craig Kember
Erwin Lui
Kevin Hunter

Volvo Air Motion Concept

Volvo Air Motion Concept


A vehicle lighter than a Formula 1 racing car... Experiencing the adrenaline rush of carving through the canyons with up to three friends... Not using a drop of gasoline... Now just imagine if these dreams could be brought together in a single vehicle.

Tipping the scales at under 1,000 lbs. the Volvo Air Motion Concept makes these dreams a reality and delivers this in a beautiful Scandinavian body. Designed like a clam shell and sculptured from ultra light carbon fiber.

Minimizing weight and complexity, while maximizing driving enjoyment, is the philosophy behind this vehicle. Thousands of fewer components are employed than in a traditional car, thanks to the powerful, yet simple, compressed air motors that replace a heavy internal combustion engine. The motors cool down under load rather than heat up, thus removing the need for heavy cooling systems. An integrated approach to designing the chassis, interior and suspension also contribute significantly.

To compress the air needed for the centrally mounted air tank, Air Replenishment Sites are used. Powered by air turbines floating 1,000 ft. in the air, they harness the power of the wind and convert it to electricity to provide the compression.
Aimed at the driving enthusiast, by a company synonymous with safety and environmental care, the Volvo Air Motion demonstrates the beauty and purity of Scandinavian design and delivers a guilt-free, raw driving experience.

Introducing a new form of exhilaration. The Volvo Air Motion Canyon Carver.
Design Team
Chris Benjamin
Dean Bakker
Steve Goodrich
Bjorn Wessman
Doug Frasher
Dean Shaw

I'm reporting this comment as:

Reported comments and users are reviewed by Autoblog staff 24 hours a day, seven days a week to determine whether they violate Community Guideline. Accounts are penalized for Community Guidelines violations and serious or repeated violations can lead to account termination.

    • 1 Second Ago
      • 4 Years Ago
      Yeah the cars that are grown from "special" bio-mechanical techniques from pods or seeds or cocoons or whatever sound the most far fetched in this bunch. Not that it is impossible, just seems that most of the other concepts could beat them to market by say 50-100yrs.
      • 4 Years Ago
      I wish automakers would stop wasting money designing concepts that will never be built (especially government-owned GM).
        • 4 Years Ago
        Ha! Tell that to those people, back then, the ones that dreamt about walking on the moon or what it was like on the moon. Tell that to all those science fiction books to stop writing fiction and start doing non fiction.

        The inception of an idea is the best part. It's a starting point for people to wonder and inspire and convert more people into the vision and a starting point to make it happen. I think these designs are great!
        • 4 Years Ago
        There is nothing wasteful about investing in innovative thinking. What is wasteful is maintaining the status quo while the competition pushes technological and design boundaries. What a great outlet for designers who otherwise might spend their days designing door handles and gloveboxes! I did same as an intern architect - kept my imagination and design skills sharp with fun competitions in between hours spent on boring office buildings.
      • 4 Years Ago
      Why do I find the Mazda MX-0 the only one feasible/attractive?
      • 4 Years Ago
      Auto concept designers are such talentless derivative idiots. They've been soo busy tracing each others work that they haven't released this swoopy scribble crap lost its appeal back in the 80s.
      • 4 Years Ago
      When you take a look at what Detroit produced from, say, the 50's to the 80's, and compare it to what the Russians produced in the same period, you begin to get a sense of why these design exercises are necessary.

      No, of course nobody expects any of these concepts to reach production (or even the physical mock-up stage--I'm assuming the Volvo and Nissan pics are renderings). That isn't the point. The notion is to get designers to stretch and engage in some pure speculation, in the hopes that when the technology DOES begin to catch up, these designers will be ready to apply it in imaginative ways.
      • 4 Years Ago
      So the cars grown from seeds in giant car-farms are cool, but hubless wheels are the deal breaker?
      • 4 Years Ago
      I like the Caddy and the Nissan

      though Nissan growing that shape form synthesis is way way into the furutre
      but the design I can see being an Arial Atom competitor - please do make
        • 4 Years Ago
        I'm just rather amused that Nissan can introduce a car called the Leaf, then a concept that appears to have been made OF leaves...

        These are all pretty fanciful on a lot of levels, but a strong theme is the idea of lightweight bio-materials. THAT probably does have some merit.
        • 4 Years Ago
        Yeah, I like the Caddy & Nissan too, as well as the Honda. I think that Nissan's "grown" car is pretty freakin' cool!
        • 4 Years Ago
        I'm not sold on the Caddy or Honda - they seem a bit overly fanciful, to the point which I can't see myself in either of them.

        I like the look of the Mazda best, but find the Benz is nicely styled.
      • 4 Years Ago
      I'm OK with the hubless wheels - they can be manufactured, and used, however inefficiently.

      What I'm not happy with is the reliance upon lightweight, superstrong unobtanium for the cars, unless the point of the response is that the challenge itself is a flawed, so of course, you'll get a silly answer...
      • 4 Years Ago
      Seems like a lot of the stylists have been smoking "renewable materials" before pulling the entries together.
        • 4 Years Ago
        Here in LaLa land, those 'renewables' are about to become legal...and you thought driving the 405 was slow before!

        Don't we really have these wonderful hi-mileage/low weight machines now? They are sold under the names R6, R1, VRF, CBR, Ninja ZX-10R, etc...
      • 4 Years Ago
      They'll be more common if anybody commits to in-wheel motors.
      • 4 Years Ago
      These designs exist to inspire, not to dismiss or frustrate others thinking about practical use. These cars CAN be made, but of course they would not be cost effective at this time. These designs are about the future, the possibilities.

      Getting frustrated or pointing out the impracticality of production made vehicle is not the point, nor does it need to be stated.

      The point here is inspiration, soak it up.
      • 4 Years Ago
      I love this stuff!!! Cadillac and Nissan pretty cool.
    • Load More Comments