Published on www.automobilemag.com
January 13, 2016
Bubble-car madness was nowhere to be found at the 2016 Detroit auto show. In fact, the weirdest thing of all may have been that the most-talked about offering was a Buick. Wandering the halls in search of the truly oddball, only three candidates present themselves for judgment: the VLF Force 1, the SSUV Concept, and a rather pushy seat.
Sitting in the Cobo concourse outside the show halls at this year’s Detroit auto show is a vehicle called, quite simply, Super Sport Utility Vehicle Concept.
Built on a Jeep Wrangler platform in partnership with Unique Fabricating and Advanced Automotive Technologies, the SSUV Concept was designed to show off a range of LINE-X materials and coatings, which are used all over the vehicle, from the exterior rock guard coating to the floor pans and even the seats.
While the LINE-X technology applied throughout the vehicle — especially the sprayed-then-molded foam parts composing most of the interior — is actually really cool from a geek’s standpoint, the draw here is the insane body on that Wrangler frame. Fortunately, it looks like the SSUV isn’t all hat and no cattle: there’s an air suspension under the rig that can raise it up to 6 inches for greater ground clearance when seriously off-road.
Considerably less likely to deliver the goods, however, is the VLF Force 1. Based on another Chrysler product — this time a Dodge Viper — and powered by an 8.4-liter V-10 engine, the Force 1 does much to tug on our well-oiled heartstrings. But even with Bob Lutz standing behind the project, and a Henrik Fisker design, we can’t help but feel the most tangible thing that’s likely to come from its creation is the $100 million lawsuit Fisker filed against Aston Martin last week.
While neither weird nor especially exciting on its own, there is one other notable off-beat item at this year’s show: a not-so-simple seat. A front seat from the all-new Mercedes-Benz E-Class, to be specific, and one equipped with PRE-SAFE Impulse Side. It’s a new system that jostles the passenger with a burst of air in the side bolster to improve the kinematics of a side-impact crash, nudging the occupant into a more favorable position/trajectory. Once it does its magic on the occupant, it replays the surprised expression on the facing screen — in slow motion. Surprisingly forceful, completely non-obvious, but also brilliantly simple, the new system will surely be one of the fan favorites for public day attendees if Mercedes decides to make it available.
And that, winter-loving gear heads, is as weird as it gets at Cobo Hall this year. No tiny electric cars circling a basement track, no art-meets-commentary mobile sculptures, not even any wacky foreign-market hybrids or electrics. But man, you should really check out that Buick.