Smart is the New Sexy… and Design Engineering is the New Rock & Roll

In yesterday afternoon’s press conference from Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) at CES 2017 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 configuration 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 making 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 that informed their development. One was experience over device. Millennials value experience over things and 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 user’s needs.

Of course it’s packed with just about every technology imaginable. Starting with 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.

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.

One response on “Smart is the New Sexy… and Design Engineering is the New Rock & Roll

  1. Liam Gee

    Where we are—on the cusp of a world of self-driving majority—is an area of exciting opportunities of exploration. Two areas I’ve enjoyed researching are the divisions between people who care more about the destination and people who care more about the journey. These are fundamental differences between vehicle/transportation/mobility enthusiasts and the rapid increase in technology has been the source of major improvements. The faults of the internal combustion engine, and the vehicles of yesteryear, can be referred to as a vehicle having soul. For what could be more relatable as a person to a machine than a car whose exhaust hiccups or whose heart rumbles a little too roughly?

    In a world where vehicles are becoming more and more automated, with a trend towards electric and away from RPM’s, where does the “soul” of the vehicle go? In 20 years, does car culture as we know it today get relegated to vintage cars&coffee meets? Can we find personality in vehicles that are effectively sterile in their perfection? These questions may not impact those who care about how they move from point to point, but may be significant for those who care more about how in between those points they move.

    I see parallels between Fiat/Chrysler’s Portal concept and of a project at Emily Carr University. A friend and colleague of mine Diderik Westby (dsaw.no) is working on his thesis project (sedric.no) that explores the experience of the self-driving car, and what that means for a car-centric culture.

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