Tucked away in a nondescript commercial building in Fountain Valley, Calif., dozens of designers, engineers, and craftsmen have toiled secretively for months on a project that offers a glimpse of the way we may be driving 15 years from now. Their hangar-like workspace belongs to GFMI Metalcrafters, a company that for decades has built many of the most important concept cars to hit the auto show circuit. Laboring furiously in its password-protected workrooms, these teams have been assembling a car so far ahead of its time that some of the technologies and materials it requires don’t exist yet.
Meet the Chevrolet-FNR, perhaps Chevy’s most unusual concept car to date, and a stake-in-the-ground statement from Chevy’s parent, General Motors.The FNR is a fully autonomous—that is, self-driving—electric vehicle, developed as part of PATAC, a joint venture of GM and Chinese automaker SAIC Motors. It’s a family-sedan-cum-techno-infotainment solution aimed squarely at China’s youth market, consumers who characteristically respond better to smartphones than sheet metal. Chevy unveiled the FNR (it stands for “Find New Roads,” the brand’s tagline) on Monday at the 2015 Shanghai motor show; Fortune got a sneak peak at the vehicle as it prepared for its debut.
这款名为雪佛兰FNR的车型，可能是雪佛兰迄今为止最不同寻常的概念车，也是其母公司通用汽车真正掷地有声的力作。这款全自动（即自动驾驶）电动车，是泛亚汽车技术中心研发的成果之一。这个中心是通用汽车和上汽集团的合资企业。这既是一款专为中国年轻人群市场开发的家用轿车，也是一个技术及娱乐解决方案。 比起汽车来，这群消费者通常对智能手机更感兴趣。在周一开幕的2015年上海车展上，雪佛兰揭开了FNR（这三个字母意为“找寻新路”，是该品牌的口号） 的神秘面纱。在其首次亮相前的准备阶段，《财富》杂志有幸率先一窥这款概念车的真容。
Chevy hopes that the FNR will hook millennials, not just in China but worldwide, with the promise of a vehicle that will be part Siri, part BFF, and part Fitbit. “Everywhere in the world our time is constrained—commute time, work time, family time,” says Sharon Nishi, head of sales and marketing for Chevy’s operations in China. “Those are some of the things that inspired this car.” And in a departure from current trends in autonomous-vehicle development, Chevy envisions the FNR as a vehicle for the mass market. GM projects that by 2030—the hypothetical model year for the FNR—self-driving technologies will be prolific enough to have become less costly, and therefore feasible for a real-world family car. And its executives think autonomous vehicles have a particularly good chance of proliferating in developing countries like China, where cities and roads are crowding quickly, governments are eager to resolve congestion, and much infrastructure is yet to be built.
“Design is really important in China,” says Nishi—and appropriately enough, the FNR’s exterior projects futuristic muscle-car attitude. Motors housed in the rims of its massive, hubless wheels will power the car (once that particular innovation is fully developed). The FNR’s sculpted exterior panels are made from composites like carbon fiber to save weight, and designed with air intakes that add drama and aerodynamic flow to the overall shape. Double scissor doors open on each side like lotus blossoms. The crowning touch: Thousands of LED lights swathe the vehicle, illuminating it outside and in with a bright blue light, an ode to Shanghai’s famous evening light shows from PATAC advanced vehicle designer Cao Min and his team.
The interior, on the other hand, promises that driving itself can be an afterthought, if the user chooses. The FNR would allow occupants to sit back and enjoy the ride in motorized webbed seats that can read everything from heart rate and blood pressure to mood—and adjust temperature, speed, lighting, and even musical selections for those who want to work or sleep. Care to swap out the map projected on the oversized canopy and work on some spreadsheets? Simply swipe your hand over the gesture-controlled crystal ball in the center console to reconfigure the display. Of course, that’s assuming you’re in the car at all. The FNR could “run errands for you while you’re at work, or take itself to the dealer for service so you don’t have to,” says Mark Reuss, GM executive vice president of global product development.
另一方面，车内布局则给人这样一种感觉：如果用户自主选择的话，驾驶本身将会被抛在脑后。乘坐者可以舒服地躺在FNR的电动网状座椅上，尽情享受旅程。 这种座椅可以读取心率、血压和情绪状况，还能调节温度、速度、灯光，那些想工作或闭目养神的乘坐者甚至可以选择合适的背景音乐。想调出地图，投射到超大车 顶上，并处理一些电子表格？只需用手在中控台的手势控制水晶球上一划，就能变换显示内容。当然，这是假设车主完全置身车内才行。通用汽车全球产品开发执行副总裁马克•罗伊斯声称，FNR将“在你工作时为你处理琐事，或是自己开到经销商那里维修，为车主省事。”
That passivity can seem incongruous, given that the Chevy bowtie logo has always been associated with high-rev performance—think Corvette and Camaro. Some in the industry wonder more generally what will happen to a driver’s ability to enjoy a car’s dynamic capabilities in an autonomous world. According to Jeff Owens, CTO at Delphi, a leader in sensor technology, “If we get to a car that truly drives itself in all conditions, you’d be hard-pressed to program it not to follow the legal speed limit.” (GM says that for drivers who like an edgier performance experience, the FNR will be able to tighten its suspension and execute tight turns while hitting high but legal speeds.)
There’s much work to be done before cars come anywhere close to fulfilling the FNR’s fully autonomous promise. Autonomous-vehicle research has accounted for a significant share of the more than $7 billion GM has spent annually on research and development over the past three years. And like other manufacturers and suppliers, GM has gradually loaded more vehicles with active-safety technologies that are precursors to a car that could pilot itself—night vision, blind-spot alerts, lane-change warnings, adaptive cruise control, brake assist. Next year GM aims to be the first automaker to bring vehicle-to-vehicle communication—cars “talking” to one another in an effort to avoid collisions—to market, in a 2017 Cadillac CTS. “It’s a step-by-step progression—some of the things we introduced in 2010 and 2011 are now trickling down into our production cars,” says John Capp, GM’s global director of safety strategies and vehicle programs.
Other, more luxury-oriented companies, including Audi and Mercedes-Benz, are closer to putting autonomous vehicles on the road. But GM executives say that by 2030, that may not matter. “How will the consumer interface with and experience all this technology—will it really help, or will it become a secondary burden?” asks Bryan Nesbitt, GM China vice president of design. The automakers that integrate the tech most successfully, Nesbitt says, will come out ahead.
As integration advances, self-driving cars will generate myriad problems that will have to be solved. Industry experts are now debating who will own the data autonomous vehicles will generate; how to get cities, counties, and countries to agree on infrastructure standards and liability issues; and how carmakers can own a consumer’s experience at the brand level while offering near-complete personalization to drivers. Says EY automotive analyst Jean-François Tremblay: “Just as Nike is now a wellness company and no longer a shoemaker, carmakers are no longer just manufacturers but also mobility-service providers.”
Back at Metalcrafters last month, such macro musings seemed far away as the craftsmen raced to finish the prototype “build,” attaching the last of the thousands of hand-painted body panels and testing the more than 240 feet of LED lighting. At last, one technician delicately remote-controlled the 192-inch-long wonder into a specially built shipping container—its home until its arrival in Shanghai.