Fiat-Chrysler’s new concept car is targeting millennials and their mobile thirsts

Chrysler-Fiat is touting a concept vehicle that resembles a minivan as being “designed by millennials for millennials.”

The Chrysler Portal was unveiled at a pre-CES 2017 press conference in Las Vegas, as the automaker tries to woo younger drivers today with a “fifth-generation of family transportation” who are looking for a “third space.”

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To make its point beyond just the guts under the hood, Chrysler’s on-stage presentation and walkthrough was entirely handled by a younger set of executives and designers. A video preceding the keynote showed three young children who looked about 10 years old talking about the automaker’s emerging focus in this area, as they approached the car off-camera.

It was a cutesy segue, yet it was the technology inside that appeared to promise a lot. Chrysler noted that one-in-three drivers over the next 10 years will be a millennial who is either starting a new family, or on the cusp of doing so.

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That formed the basis for the Portal, and to make it more amenable to the needs and wants of that growing demographic, Chrysler brought in young designers and engineers to put the car together. Terming it “fifth-generation” refers to how the Portal would be different from a station wagon, minivan, SUV and crossover.

Naturally, this is an all-electric vehicle with Level three autonomous driving, though a human driver could also take over. Sensors for laser, radar, vision and sonar will help the Portal drive itself. There are 360-degree cameras where rearview mirrors would normally be, and the doors have LED lighting on the outside that can change to any colour on demand.

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The dual purpose in developing the Portal was to maximize interior space, while offering an unparalleled level of connectivity and mobile integration. Meant to be a third space, meaning a place people go that isn’t work or home, it’s supposed to have the trappings to make riding it in enjoyable and even productive. Apparently, being that third space also implies that millennials may even want to spend time in there for no reason at all.

The seats are modular and adjustable in that they can slide fully backward on tracks to the rear or up front. This goes for all three rows of seats, and the rear ones can easily be removed outright. Backrests can all be lowered to make room. The doors are like “portals” that slide forward, backward or outward, depending on what’s needed to make room. The steering wheel looks like something out of a futuristic movie, and the idea is to make it completely collapsible into the dash in instances where the car is fully autonomous.

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Each passenger inside, including the driver, would have their own profile, where the Portal would know each person once they sat down using facial recognition and voice biometrics. It would then adjust and configure settings and driver information based on a cloud-based profile. Voice recognition would allow vehicle functions to go beyond what current infotainment setups offer now, like telling the car to open a specific door or save changes to a profile.

Audio is even zoned specifically to each user or section, where kids can watch something in the back, while someone in the middle can listen to music of their choice, for example. How the audio would be separated enough to sound spatial, yet distinct, is something I haven’t been able to figure out yet.

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Chargers and ports are abundant and everywhere, ensuring there is no need to fight or toss a coin over who gets access to a solitary USB port up front. Up to 10 docking stations were noted for charging and mounting phones and tablets.

The mobile element includes what Chrysler calls a “community display” that would be viewable and accessible to everyone in the cabin, thus allowing them to share content far easier than is currently offered in cars today. Shopping for goods or ordering food could be simplified for multiple users at a time — again, because the cloud-based profiles would help streamline the process.

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Much of what was described in mobile integration was general, not overtly specific. Content consumption from phones and tablets would be standard, though it seems Chrysler is either unsure of how habits will change in the future, or just not saying. Will content services integrate with the Portal in some way? Would payments work in a totally different way? Some key points weren’t addressed, but I will ask about them when I see the car again later during the show.

In any case, the Portal is something of a contradiction. It’s a new-look minivan aimed at a demographic that is not yet of age, with an assumption that the focus on connectivity, accessibility and the environment will be enough to win them over.

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It’s a concept, and it may not take a long time to determine how much cachet such a vehicle will have with those born between 1982-2001.