Chrysler’s self-driving, electronic concept at CES targets millennials

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BRENT SNAVELY (DETROIT FREE PRESS)

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Fiat Chrysler Automobiles unveiled a new, semi-autonomous electric vehicle designed for millennials with families at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas early this month, that also provides a window into the automaker’s vision for a future filled with self-driving vehicles.

Called the Chrysler Portal, the vehicle shown at CES was “created by millennials for millennials,” according to the automaker and provides interesting insights into the automaker’s possible future direction.

The vehicle is only a concept — not a production vehicle — so it’s unclear if the company will ever produce and sell it.

That said, FCA provided seven different press releases to select media outlets that outline the vehicle’s possible powertrain, specifications, design, technology and engineering — demonstrating a level of thought and research that goes beyond many industry concepts.

Inside, FCA’s concept presents a dizzying list of potential in-car communication technology that was largely designed and imagined by teams from the automaker and Panasonic.
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They include a passenger-to-passenger intercom system, an interior camera for group photos, an emergency vehicle alert system, facial recognition for vehicle settings and vehicle-to-vehicle communication systems.

The car was introduced by a quartet of millennials on the design team who stressed the ability to customize the vehicle, its environmental benefits and its upgrade-ability to possible autonomous driving in the future.

Emilio Feliciano, user experience designer, said the team talked to millennials worldwide for ideas to make the Portal especially useful for that age group. Engineers cherry-picked important technologies so that the Portal is a “next-generation vehicle that serves as a hub for your life.”

Interior designer Cindy Juette described the vehicle’s color options as warm and “like your favorite go-to sweater.”

Strategy for self-driving cars
FCA’s decision to showcase the vehicle at CES also provides an important window into its strategy for self-driving vehicles. Until now, FCA’s only publicly known involvement in self-driving cars has been its agreement to provide 100 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivans to Waymo that are specifically designed to host Waymo’s self-driving car technology. Waymo was, for eight years, known as Google’s self-driving car project.

The automaker, credited with the invention of the minivan in the early 1980s, also said the Chrysler Portal is aimed at making sure FCA remains an innovator when it comes to vehicles designed for families.

“FCA is a leader in family transportation and it was essential that we fully explored the idea of what a vehicle could look like for this emerging generation,” Tim Kuniskis, FCA’s head of passenger car brands, said in a statement.

The company declined to say if it considers the Chrysler Portal to be a minivan, SUV or crossover, choosing instead to say it’s “an interpretation of a next-generation vehicle.”

The vehicle, which seats six, has a number of high-tech sensors that allow it to be classified as a semi-autonomous vehicle under industry standards and is designed so it can be upgraded to fully autonomous driving, if desired.

The Chrysler Portal would get its electric power from a lithium-ion battery pack, mounted underneath the floor that is rated at about 100 kilowatt-hours (kWh.) Fully charged, the battery pack gives the Portal an estimated driving range of more than 250 miles and is propelled by a single electric motor driving the front wheels.

That compares with a 238-mile range for the Chevrolet Bolt, and 289 miles for the Tesla Model X — two electric vehicles that are on sale now. The three-row Chrysler Portal would be larger than the Bolt, but not quite as large as the Model X.

The concept vehicle also has unique, sliding doors that provide a barrier-free entry nearly 5 feet wide when both doors are open. The barrier-free entry is possible because the pillar that normally separates the front seats from the second row is incorporated into the doors.

FCA said its designers wanted to re-imagine how an automotive interior should be laid out. A low, flat floor and smaller engine compartment helped designers craft a vehicle with 180 cubic feet of space.

“Designers envisioned the interior of the Chrysler Portal concept as a ‘third space’ for users that comfortably bridges the transition between the office and home and promotes sharing inside the vehicle,” FCA said.

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