You will find practically everything at CES, from crazy kitchen gadgets to the latest concept cars, virtual reality headsets to an unending amount of computer hardware, and, of course, just about everything in between. Plenty of future automotive technologies were on display at the massive trade show this year, including supplier company Magna’s new Morphing Surfaces feature that physically changes the shape of a vehicle before your very eyes. Wait, what?
Yes, you read that correctly. As this product’s name suggests, Morphing Surfaces can alter the shape of a vehicle in real time. Think of this technology as the next step beyond active shutters, but instead of a dedicated grille that opens or closes, the body of a vehicle is what actually moves.
What’s key to making this work are special bendable surfaces, basically painted polycarbonate sections. Using the same sort of actuators that are already in production for conventional active grille shutters, this system bends the flexible plastic to alter the shape and aerodynamics of a car or truck. Magna demonstrated this on a mockup of a vehicle front end, opening and closing airway channels in the front corners and center section of a bumper. As demonstrated, these panels were either fully open or completely closed, though intermediate steps are an option if an automaker decides that’s best for a particular application.
Enhancing a vehicle’s aerodynamics is crucial to improving efficiency, especially with EVs where range is always a concern. According to Magna, in wind tunnel testing this technology can improve a vehicle’s aero performance by 10%, enough to boost the range of an electric vehicle by as much as 5%, which is nothing to scoff at.
“Magna is uniquely positioned to turn this vision into reality thanks to our extensive experience developing a suite of aerodynamic solutions and our systems approach to integration of advanced technology into vehicles,” said Grahame Burrow, global president of Magna Exteriors in a release shared with media. “Morphing Surfaces exemplifies the way Magna looks beyond today’s offerings and imagines what is possible around future vehicle designs,” he added.
Aside from bolstering efficiency, Morphing Surfaces can also improve a vehicle’s styling. Bending sections of the body to alter aerodynamics means a separate – and oftentimes unattractive – grille assembly is not needed to gain these important benefits. This is something automotive designers are sure to love as it will give them greater freedom.
Of course, Morphing Surfaces technology has plenty of automotive applications beyond just altering a vehicle’s aerodynamics. This could also be used to, say, open an EV’s charging port door or even reposition the camera mounted in a side-view mirror to get a better view in certain driving situations. Undoubtedly, automakers and designers will find myriad other applications for this innovative technology.
Magna’s Morphing Surfaces is still under development, but company representatives told EV Pulse automakers are interested in what they had to show at CES. It’s estimated this feature could make it into production for the 2027 model year, which, in automotive product development terms is a lot closer than it sounds.