Named for a strikingly futuristic 1934 sedan, the new Chrysler Airflow Vision Concept is meant to give us a glimpse of what’s coming from the Detroit automaker – though what it describes as a “sculptural design concept” focuses our attention on what’s inside as much as its exterior.
Parent Fiat Chrysler Automobiles is teasing our interest with a series of renderings released ahead of next week’s Consumer Electronics Show where the SUV-style concept will make its debut. It seems all but certain that the digital interface in the Chrysler Airflow Vision Concept will strongly influence FCA’s next-generation Uconnect infotainment system.
But the CES concept also raises the question of whether the automaker is getting ready to add an SUV to the line-up of the struggling Chrysler brand — which barely has enough products these days to be noticed by consumers. The fact that it uses the underpinnings of the Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivan suggests it could readily be brought to market.
A Jeep it is not. While the Airflow Vision Concept has a chunkiness to it, the prototype features a steeply raked windshield linked to an equally aggressive back end by a coupe-like roofline.
Massive tires add a sense of ruggedness. One of the more curious elements of the design: fenders that wrap around the wheels almost down to the ground, as if the designers had spent a lot of time watching the old Tron sci-fi adventure over and over and wanted to recreate the film’s Lightcycle.
“The wheels are inspired by mechanical elements of an electric motor and give the sense of motion similar to the internal mechanisms of a watch,” the automaker says.
Slit-like headlamps are linked by a narrow running light bar stretching across the nose of the Airflow, while a racetrack-style light bar, borrowed from Dodge, rather than Chrysler, stretches across the rear end.
As is quickly becoming the norm with electric vehicles, there’s no conventional grille. But there is a small air intake under the light bar, with additional intakes down below. Considering the way today’s automotive market is moving, it would seem likely that Chrysler has opted for some form of electrified driveline. But whether its all-electric, hybrid or plug-in, well, we’ll have to wait for the automaker’s CES news conference to find out more.
Slipping inside, one discovers very, very few traditional controls. Instead, we find an assortment of screens running virtually the full width of the instrument panel, including one replacing conventional gauges visible through the squared-off steering wheel.
“Using a menu-based format, screens can be personalized, simplified and grouped to individual needs and interests,” the automaker explains in a statement accompanying these renderings.
“Offering multiple display screens, the user can access needed information and determine how it’s displayed. Information on the screens can be shared with all passengers by swiping, allowing each passenger to participate in the experience. Customization and personalization are key, whether driving or acting as a co-pilot.”
The Airflow Vision Concept may use the same floorplan as the Pacifica Hybrid but it features only four pedestal-mounted bucket seats, translating into a business-class layout. It is a simple but elegant design that adds color-adjustable ambient lighting and some traditional luxury touches, such as stitched leather and suede.
Considering the relatively weak market response to Alfa Romeo, which former FCA Sergio Marchionne had envisioned as the company’s prime luxury brand, one can guess if the Airflow might signal an interest in reviving Chrysler as the company’s highline marque.
Of course, the upcoming merger with France’s PSA Groupe has thrown everything into flux. So, the infotainment system’s user experience, or UX, may turn out to be the clearest insight of the future the Chrysler Airflow Vision Concept offers us.