Detroit News auto critic Henry Payne talks truck wars, Chinese vehicles, and electric and autonomous vehicles at the 2018 Detroit auto show with Detroit News autos team writers Ian Thibodeau and Nora Naughton. Tom Gromak, The Detroit News


Concepts once ruled auto shows. Flights of fancy looking into the far-off automotive future. Hydrogen-powered cars. Hybrid-electric supercars. Self-driving cars. You know, sci-fi stuff. Well, the future has arrived with production vehicles offering the future today — the Honda Clarity fuel-cell car, the Acura NSX supercar, the autonomous Chevy Bolt. Who needs concepts? Well, designers do — and so they continue to proliferate on the floor to give you a look at where their brands are headed.

Infiniti Q Inspiration concept

What it is: “The concept is meant to demonstrate future technologies and will not be available for sale,” reads Infiniti’s press release. But its technology is not far off. This is a mid-size sportback sedan with dramatic new design language for Nissan’s luxury brand. The efficient variable-compression, turbo engine technology has already been introduced in the QX50 Infiniti SUV. The semi-autonomous ProPilot assist driving system is already in the 2018 Nissan Rogue SUV.

Payne’s take: From the sleek, sportback exterior to its minimalist interior and wrap-around digital instrument display, the gorgeous Q concept shows the dramatic effect Tesla has had on luxury makers. With one exception. The Infiniti is not an electric vehicle, but a cutting-edge demonstration of how a variable-compression combustion engine can provide better torque and less fuel consumption — without the compromises of a battery-powered vehicle.

Lexus LF-1 Limitless

What it is:In 1989, Toyota’s new luxury division debuted its flagship LS 400 sedan at the Detroit auto show. Nearly 30 years later comes the LF-1 Limitless as a concept previewing an SUV flagship, as the market has shifted to high-riding crossovers. The LF-1 offers an intriguing hint on where the polarizing spindle grille is headed. Inside, the controls are (encouragingly) steering-wheel focused, with paddles for controlling speed and buttons for shifting.

Payne’s take: From its slavish Mercedes-like design on its 1989 LS original, Lexus has definitely created its own unique design direction for the 21st century. The car also hints at the brand’s Chauffeur” autonomous driving capabilities. Limitless apparently refers to the drivetrains offered — Lexus says anything from gas to hydrogen to electric.

Nissan Xmotion concept

What it is: Xmotion is the SUV follow to the Vmotion sedan concept Nissan showed here in 2017. Similar in size to the brand’s sleek, hot-selling Rogue sport-ute, the chunky Xmotion predicts a much more aggressive future for Nissan’s utility vehicles. Maybe the template for an off-road adventure-ute like the dearly departed Xterra?

Payne’s take: The Xmotion’s exterior — Xterior? — is a design preview, but the interior is good ol’ fantasy. Festooned with seven video screens, the X imagines bringing all the technologies we love on our smartphones and laptops into the car: fingerprint ID to start the engine, gesture controls, even a digital assistant in the form of a Japanese koi fish.

Read or Share this story: