The Bologna motor show is also the Italian première of the Nea, a concept car that is also a veritable travelling companion: discreet and never pushy, but able to take you by the hand and guide you (literally) to your destination, help you and protect you from danger. A car you can talk to simply and naturally, as if you were talking to a friend.
All in all, a trip-mate. At any rate, that was the original design brief for the Lancia Nea's designers. They quickly got to work to translate this abstract philosophy into a set of highly innovative engineering features that are feasible to produce on an industrial scale and eventually destined to appear on standard production cars.
The end result is a distillate of user-friendly technology created for a single purpose: to ensure an unprecedented level of safety and comfort. This concept car is quintessentially Lancia because it consistently embodies brand values (wellbeing and quality of life on board, adaptability to the personal needs of driver and passengers, stress-free driving) with the spirit of innovation that has always distinguished past and recent Lancias.
Lancia is perennially aware of new social phenomena and their effect on the public. And the Lancia Nea anticipates needs that are still latent within the motoring world.
The Internet and the mobile communications boom have accustomed people to being able to communicate quickly and simply with the whole world. The new virtual community is making its own brand-new rules for living together and also creating different habits, ways of thinking and new needs. Nowadays, consumers are used to getting what they want at any time of the day or night. The new generation of customers can buy, visit museums and book aeroplanes, trains and hotels without having to queue for a minute. They take it for granted that they can communicate and work with a counterpart thousands of miles away without leaving their homes and offices.
These new needs and lifestyles are bound to be reflected in the way we build and use our cars. This has already happened in the field of safety, where significant improvements have been made in recent years. Occupant protection has been improved by introducing new devices and materials while virtual crash tests are now used to adjust body structure to perfection. In the field of active safety, sophisticated electronic systems have been introduced to improve vehicle handling and roadholding. Nowadays, attention is focused on this second aspect: we dream of a car that can not only minimise damage but actually prevent accidents by taking the driver's place whenever necessary.
Let's see how the Lancia Nea can meet all these requirements.
The concept car satisfies the need for communication with the outside world by bringing the world of telecommunications and information technology into the car. The technology has been made very easy to use and can also be updated continually as technology progresses. A few examples will suffice to describe the numerous possibilities offered by this car's sophisticated telecommunications system.
You are highly unlikely to end up in a traffic jam in a Lancia Nea because the navigation system, which is in communication with a provider, will indicate the route accurately, taking into account all information on traffic and alternative routes.
When on board this concept car, all the information you need is at your fingertips, because the Nea can do all the following: let you know how your shares are performing; pick out the news that is likely to interest you most from the daily papers; indicate the location of your favourite restaurant - and also remind you when a bill is due for payment, a policy needs renewing or birthdays and anniversaries are due. All your trip parameters are all set on an Internet web page: departure time, destination, route and so on.
The Lancia Nea's telecommunications microworld cossets everyone. The passengers too are provided with a portable computer connected to the on-board computer. This can be used to transfer data from their PC at home or work, log on to the Internet, send e-mails to their friends, watch DVD films, listen to music and store numerous CDs in the car's fixed memory.
Yet all this complex and sophisticated technology is also reassuring. On the Lancia Nea, any buttons and features that might distract you and make your life more complicated have disappeared almost altogether. This is because of voice commands, all you have to do if you want something is ask the car in your normal speaking voice.
The concept car meets general needs for peace of mind and safety by creating a virtual safety belt around the driver to prevent accidents. It is fitted with radar, TV cameras and sensors that continually monitor the area of manoeuvre through 360º and indicate any danger. The car also comes with sophisticated devices to help the driver in emergencies.
For example, the Nea brakes automatically or adjusts its steering to avoid obstacles. It maintains a safe distance in conditions of poor visibility by adapting its speed to that of the car in front. It engages four wheel drive when the road surface is slippery and steers all four wheels to make parking easier.
The new prototype offers a wide range of customisation opportunities to ensure maximum on-board wellbeing. All you have to do is walk toward it with your 'smart-card' (electronic key) in your pocket and the car recognises its owner. The windows go clear (they change colour due to the difference in electrical potential applied to both sides of the glass) and the passenger compartment lights up. The doors open at a slight finger touch on the pillar, while the seat turns outward for you to sit down and be welcomed into the car. Once you are sitting down, everything adjusts to your personal habits: steering wheel and seat position, lighting brightness and colour, interior temperature, control panel configuration and driving style. The door closes automatically. All that remains now is to start the engine by brushing the touch-screen and set off.
You can even call the Lancia Nea to let it know how many occupants to expect and ask it to set the air conditioner so that car conditions are ideal for everyone from the moment you arrive. You can even ask it to indicate its position if you don't remember where you have parked it.
The welcome that the concept car reserves for its owner is far from being the cold response of a machine. It is the emotional response of a true trip mate. The Lancia Nea takes the car from its isolation, brings it into the world and makes it more human: at least in terms of its responsiveness, ease of communication and simplicity of use.
The concept-car's originality is evident in imaginative, futuristic styling that mirrors its technological content. The car features strong lines and broad shoulders that suggest great strength. Its shape is also high and compact to adapt more effectively to town requirements.
The first thing that strikes you is the clear roof. This rests on the frame and sinks beneath the glass at the front of the car like a stick submerged in water. This interplay of visible and invisible, physical and virtual, is a distinctive feature of the Lancia Nea.
The grille is carved out of the bonnet. The self-adaptive headlights are arranged like the slats of a Venetian blind and accommodate all lighting functions within a single housing. When the car is parked, its electrochromic windows seem to disappear altogether because they blend in with the body colour.
The interior also features innovative solutions: cork trim conveys an impression of originality, quality and modernity. Other metals and fabrics reveal all the strength of titanium and the softness of cashmere.
At first sight, the passenger compartment is striking in its starkness and lack of redundant features. The floor is completely flat and offers a large available area that the chairs can move around on. The space itself is the luxury and new interior possibilities are created by exchanging the physical for the virtual (services and information).
In addition to a steering wheel and controls, the driver's area also houses a totem surmounted by a CD mastering unit and, almost hanging behind the steering wheel, a clear wave-shaped band within which four screens are apparently submerged.
The first, located immediately behind the steering wheel, displays the Nea's instruments and controls and most important driving functions. The other three relay live pictures from the exterior TV cameras.
The clear wave is made out of a smooth, impact-resistant gel (it offers psychological security) and gives the impression that the displays are floating in space. At first sight, it makes you think of the virtual interfaces so far only seen in science fiction films.Source - Lancia