Auto shows are great for getting a glimpse into the future of the car market but, unfortunately, the coolest, most imaginative, most innovative concepts and designs often remain on the drawing board. Indeed, the automotive industry is a tough business and there’s only a small segment of the market willing or able to splurge on limited-production ultra-luxury cars. So, here are six futuristic concept cars we wish we could buy right now.
The ultimate litmus test for whether or not you’re living in the future is whether or not there are flying cars zipping through the skies. Well, here’s some good news: We’re getting really close. The TF-X from Terrafugia (pictured) will be a street legal plug-in hybrid car that has collapsible wings, retractable propellers, and is capable of driving and flying on its own in the event of an emergency.
Let’s face it: Electric cars are the future. There will, inevitably, be a time in which fossil fuels are too expensive and precious to waste on grocery store runs. In the meantime, however, super-efficient gas-powered vehicles will be a trend. And this is one trend that can’t catch on soon enough.
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Sure, steampunk has become a popular aesthetic amongst sci-fi aficionados, but could steam-powered cars really play a role in the future of transportation? It’s a long shot, but in a future where efficiency and fuel conservation are primary concerns, odd alternatives like steam could play a role.
Smartphone on Wheels
Increasingly, car companies are working to close the gap between the technology on the road and the technology in our pockets—but they still have a long way to go. Concepts like the Toyota Fun-Vii, however, show a glimmer of that interactive, intelligent, driving future.
Everyone loves the growl of a powerful super car, but we all have to admit that one design does not suit every application. Life in a city, or habitual short-trip driving demands a very different vehicle than, certainly, the race track. This growing use case presents different requirements, though, than even the majority of sedans. Microcars are a smart solution to these real-world problems.
Maybe I’ve just watched “Back to the Future” too many times but the latest design from Ma.-based Terrafugia, the maker of flying aircrafts that also work as cars, looks like all that’s missing is Doc and some plutonium. The next-gen TF-X will be a street legal plug-in hybrid car that has collapsible wings, retractable propellers, and is capable of driving and flying on its own in the event of an emergency.
When I talked to Terrafugia co-founder and CEO Carl Dietrich about the highly anticipated Transition, Terrafugia first street legal plane, four years ago, Dietrich said the fuel-efficient vehicle promised to both revitalize under-utilized regional airports and alleviate traffic congestion (video).
Just getting on a commercial airplane is tough enough these days, so it’s no surprise that Terrafugia has taken so long to navigate regulatory hurdles. Earlier this year, it cleared a major one when the FAA classified the Transition as a Light-Sport Aircraft, which means drivers don’t need a pilot’s license, just FAA certification in this category. While the company has been working on getting the Transition in the air, Terrafugia hasn’t stopped designing.
That’s where the TF-X plan comes in. Unlike the two-seater Transition, this new street-legal aircraft will seat four and run on electricity. That means the engine will recharge the batteries in the air or it could be plugged into a charging station on the ground. According to Terrafugia, the vehicle will also have electric ground drive and electric power assist for takeoff and landing.
Other cool features include retractable wings and the propellers that open from two motor pods. Initially the propellers point up for takeoff, then the motor pods tilt forward until the vehicle cruises and after that the propellers can fold in. The TF-X will have a non-stop flight range of at least 500 miles, and is expected to be able to automatically avoid other air traffic, bad weather, and restricted and tower-controlled airspace, according to the website, as well as implement an emergency auto-land at the nearest airport, if the operator became unresponsive. See more details in the Youtube video.
The vehicle will also have extensive safety features such as a parachute system to prevent it from crashing horribly should something go seriously wrong. Terrafugia indicated that learning how to safely operate the TF-X will take the average person five hours; a light-sport aircraft certification takes an additional 20 hours.
Before you get your hopes up, the TF-X will likely be in development for eight to 12 years and cost way, way more than a new car. According to the company, Transition owners will have the first shot at purchasing these vehicles when they do get produced. Nevertheless, I look forward to the day when we hear drivers turn to their passengers and say, “Roads? Where we’re going, we don’t need roads.”
Image: A rendering of what the TF-X could look like in the future. Credit: Terrafugia