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Concepts are dead, long live concepts.

With accelerated production cycles and reduced budgets, wild design concepts were thought to be a thing of the past. But with automakers exploring electric power, concepts are in again as designers explore the design envelope — and try to get consumers interested in a promised new era of electric vehicles.

Infiniti QX Inspiration Concept 

What it is: The minimalist QX follows its sister Q Inspiration concept sedan that debuted at last year’s show. Where the sedan previewed Infiniti’s innovative variable-compression turbo gas-engine technology, the QX debuts the brand’s electric architecture. The batteries hide in the floor, allowing for a lounge-like (if entirely sci-fi), roomy interior. The egg-like body is daring in its lack of common features like a grille — though the side gashes look like they were punched in by a forklift.

Payne’s take: Infiniti promises that half its 2025 sales will be electric, which seems ambitious given that its EV sales today are nearly nonexistent. Still, like the Teslas and the Hyundai Kona EV before it, the QX Inspiration is another intriguing design study of cars without gas engines. NBA megastar Steph Curry broke the internet after posting video of a QX delivered to his driveway.  

Nissan IMs Concept

What it is: Not to be outdone by richer bro Infiniti, Nissan brings its own EV concept to the show with chiseled features and a lower, longer sedan profile than the QX Inspiration ute. The IMs sits on big 22-inch wheels (designers love those), while a monster 115-kWh battery and two motors put 483 horsepower to the ground with all-wheel drive. Range is estimated at 380 miles.

Payne’s take: Nissan has been more aesthetic of late with the Murano concept and stylish Altima sedan. The IMs is a huge step beyond those renderings with its simple, Cadillac-like design. This is an old-fashioned, sci-fi dreamboat right down to its yoke steering wheel.

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GAC Entranze Concept

What it is: From China’s fifth-biggest automaker, the battery-powered autonomous Etranze Concept isn’t so much a car as it is a family pod on wheels. GAC says the three-row cockpit is inspired by an airline fuselage. Particularly striking is its use of cork in the interior — part of the concept’s vow to use sustainable "green" materials.

Payne’s take: The Entranze joins a group of four more-familiar production vehicles at GAC’s display as the Chinese brand pushes toward a 2020 product launch in the U.S. Three of the vehicles are already in production in Asian markets: a three-row SUV (which should be the first volley here), compact ute and minivan. Concept designer Pontus Fontaeus is an industry veteran who previously worked on interiors for Ferrari and Volvo.

Lexus LC Convertible Concept

What it is: Toyota’s luxury division teases a Roadster version of its halo LC sports car. With 22-inch wheels and white leather seats with yellow stitching, the Convertible brings even more drama to Lexus’ sexiest vehicle. With a 2+2 configuration like the Coupe, the rear seats are nevertheless even more cramped by the foldaway top — think of them more as a storage shelf. With the Coupe starting north of $93,000, expect the sure-to-be-production convertible to top the six-figure mark.

Payne’s take: The Darth Vader grille of the Lexus has been the centerpiece of the brand’s dramatic, polarizing design direction. It ain’t pretty — except on the LC sports car, where it fits nicely with the car’s organic lines. The LC Convertible adds more curb appeal by going topless, though the added weight will make this already-heavy cruiser even porkier. Still, if Lexus equips the Roadster with the same growling, 471-horse V-8 as the Coupe, the Convertible will make beautiful music with the top down.

 

 

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