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Dream Machines

Those who know me well will tell you my one dream in life was to be a product planner.

Those who know me well will tell you my one dream in life was to be a product planner. Check that. I wanted to be the product planner. No interminable meetings, followed by weeks of sweat and toil, and topped by a wholesale rejection–or better yet–“refocusing” of my concept until it was so much mush. I wanted to set the tone and direction, and no one was going to tell me otherwise...Which is no doubt why I’m a journalist today.

This hasn’t stopped me from continuing to dream about the cars and trucks I’d like to see built. For Lotus, I suggested the “M134”concept, an efficient sport sedan that was small on the outside, roomy inside, and was built around an extruded aluminum chassis. The 2,600-lb. four-door would have used the Lotus V8. The “entry-level” model had a V6 pulled from the V8. A coupe and convertible were also mooted. With its double floor, the M134 could support a number of seating heights and storage possibilities, as well as a relatively low, one-box “monospace” variant with seats that folded into the floor when more space was needed.

A spate of concepts arose out of a back-door project for Volvo, and built on my unshakeable belief that interior style and utility are deciding factors in future vehicle purchases. My pride and joy was a cross between a minivan and SUV, built around the company’s S80, that literally woke me out of a sound sleep. It had fold-away seats, a high-performance 4wd system (a front-drive version also was part of the plan), a roll-out load floor that could double as a ramp, and two staggered third-row seats angled slightly toward the center to improve leg room.

Those seats were of the “occasional use” variety, though comfortable in their own right, and could be stored against the interior side panels if the driver decided not to remove them completely. The middle pair of seats had lower cushions that folded into depressions in the floor, and the seat backs could be folded flat on top of them. The floor indents also allowed the seats to be mounted lower than usual without sacrificing comfort, which kept overall vehicle height within reason.

In addition, a pair of aluminum floor rails let the passengers slide the removable center console fore or aft. The base stayed attached to the rails, but the upper section could be unlocked and replaced by a computer game station, refrigerator, cooler, or other accessory. Each could be removed for use outside the vehicle by snapping it into a folding wheeled carrier.

Obviously, neither concept moved forward, but to my fevered mind they showed what could be accomplished with a solid initial concept. And by judicious mixing and matching, the folding seats, rolling load floor, and sliding center console could be shared with the vehicle’s platform mates. In short, this made it possible to introduce a new concept, extend the scope and reach of the platform, upgrade the more traditional offerings with shared features and technologies, and reduce the risk should it take time for the public to embrace the new vehicle.

I’m certain ideas like these are created every day around this industry. Unfortunately, those in the position to evaluate them are too busy protecting their turf to listen. The so-called “lines of communication” become minefields for those dumb enough to think “not invented here” applies only to ideas coming from outside the corporation. As a result, the companies are unable to benefit from fresh thinking.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to get some rest. There’s this killer SUV that keeps popping into my head, and a really stylish coupe concept that does away with many of this body style’s disadvantages.

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