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Michigan may well be home to the ‘Big Three’ US brands, but the North American International Auto Show held in Detroit this week had a strangely contrarian element.

The three most interesting concept cars – the lifeblood of any self-respecting motor show – were produced by brands with Japanese roots: the Infiniti Q Inspiration, Lexus LF-1 Limitless and Nissan Xmotion.

In fairness, the Americans didn’t exactly go all radio-silence: Fiat Chrysler was busy revealing the overhauled RAM 1500 truck and MY18 Jeep Cherokee; Ford showed the US Ranger and ‘Stang Bullitt, and discussed its EV plans; and GM premiered the vital new Chevrolet Silverado.

But the interesting concept metal came from brands either based in the Land of the Rising Sun, or reporting to them (Infiniti is a Nissan subsidiary based in Hong Kong).

Part of this is just down to the nature of the design cycle, plus the changing role of motor shows in the industry, as tech events such as Las Vegas’ CES steal much of the thunder and attention.

But there’s clearly an angle here, and it’s one that reinforces the idea that Japan’s auto industry is recovering.


Infiniti Q Inspiration

The company spiel:

“Previewing a new generation of Infiniti vehicles, the Q Inspiration Concept proposes how an innovative VC-Turbo powertrain, next-level autonomous drive technologies, and a unique human-centric interior could enrich the experience of drivers in the mid-size sedan segment”.

What it means:

An absolutely gorgeous four-seat, four-door GT, sporting an agry set of headlughts, F1-style lower bumper and bold grille, bleeding into a low glass roof that tapers-in above fat rear haunches. Giving way to a sleek rear with full-width tail-lights.

Like the exterior, the cabin features a minimalistic design. There’s a limited amount of physical buttons and dials, instead opting for widescreen displays and touch capacitive controls that span the entire dashboard.

It’s also a test bed for Infiniti’s Level 3 or 4 semi-autonomous tech and variable compression turbo engine. It could also morph into a Tesla Model S-rivalling EV from about 2021.

If the next Q70 looks even half this good, the relative minnow brand will make many more friends.

MORE: Infiniti Q Inspiration concept revealed in Detroit
MORE: Infiniti news, reviews, comparisons and videos


Lexus LF-1 Limitless

The company spiel:

“Lexus has advanced its stellar reputation as a premium automotive pioneer with the world premiere of the stunning Lexus LF-1 Limitless – a concept that debuts a new genre of luxury vehicle, the flagship crossover.”

What it means:

The company calls the look “molten katana” – fusing the shape of liquid molten metal with the sharp edges of a traditional Japanese sword, called a katana.

Above the lights is the big expanse of glass that extends over the rear seats to offer an uninterrupted view of the scenery thanks to that nifty split spoiler on each side.

Inside, analogue knobs and buttons have been removed in favour of motion-activated controls and a minimalist display directly ahead. The front passenger space is far more open, with even fewer controls and a wide unobstructed dashboard.

Lexus claims the LF-1 Limitless envisages fully autonomous driving – an area where the Toyota Group demonstrated its vision last week at CES – and says the production model could be powered by fuel cells, a plug-in hybrid powertrain, or be fully electric.

MORE: Lexus LF-1 Limitless crossover concept debuts in Detroit
MORE: Lexus news, reviews, comparisons and videos


Nissan Xmotion

The company spiel:

“In the Xmotion concept, we explored the more rugged and powerful side of Nissan Intelligent Mobility. Bold and powerful forms and proportions are, upon closer inspection, contrasted with aspects of traditional Japanese craftsmanship expressed in a contemporary way.”

What it means:

The 4.6-metre-long concept car previews a future mid-sized three-row SUV with rugged design, which could well fill a void in the company’s range between the X-Trail and Pathfinder, and take owners “to a national park or recreation area on a whim”.

At the same time, this show concept comes with precious few tangible tech details. There are no particular bold claims of Level 3 autonomy, and no mention of what drivetrain the concept’s theoretical production end-point will use. An e-Power hybrid would be an obvious guess…

The three-row cabin with a gap between each pair of seats (said to represent the imagery of a river, in designer-speak, replete with the centre console acting as a ‘bridge’) uses a traditional Japanese architectural wood joinery technique, kanawa tsugi – a scarf joint.

The displays and infotainment system can be controlled by gestures and eye movements, or by voice. Perhaps most interestingly, fingerprint authentication is used to start the car.

When the driver touches the fingerprint authentication area on the top of the console, the opening sequence starts, awakening the virtual personal assistant – which takes the shape of a Japanese koi fish. Okay…

MORE: Tough Nissan Xmotion concept revealed
MORE: Nissan news, reviews, comparisons and videos


Which of the three concepts above do you think is most compelling? Maybe you don’t like any of them! Tell us in the comments below. 

MORE: Detroit motor show coverage




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