Each and every year, different auto shows around the world are held as a way for auto makers to showcase their latest and greatest designs in upcoming automobiles. While most manufacturers showcase vehicles that are currently or are slated to be available, there are vehicles that do things differently. Many auto makers will use these shows as a chance to show off upcoming ideas and new developments, in the form of concept cars.
After each auto show, when everything is said and done and the excitement dies down, we’re left waiting, hoping for the latest concept cars to make it into production. However, we often find ourselves waiting quite some time, as very few concept cars make it even close to production. Why is this? With so much excitement shown for concept cars, would it not make sense for automakers to produce them? Not necessarily, and the concept behind concept cars is a slightly misleading thing.
First and foremost, the concept cars you see at major auto shows and events are never intended to be built. While it’s very easy to get excited for the wild concepts shown at events, these are concepts of ideas, not of vehicles. The main purpose of a concept car is to show what’s theoretically possible with vehicles, not what’s coming for vehicles. Automakers have different divisions working on different parts of a vehicle at any given time, so a concept vehicle is a way for all these ideas to come together at once and for automaker to brag in a way. Based on public response, certain ideas will be flushed out and will eventually make it into production cars.
So how do we tell overblown concepts from what will eventually become reality? The main area where concepts differ from production vehicles is in styling. Styling often takes a much more aggressive and bold approach for a concept vehicle so as a way to draw more attention to the vehicle. In some cases, bold, dynamic styling does make into the production version of a car. The BMW i8 has been widely regarded as a vehicle that took a futuristic concept and made it a reality. Some designs were scaled back, such as the original transparent doors, but overall the vehicle kept it sci-fi looks as a way of differentiating its electric drive and futuristic technology.
Tesla is another company that kept its styling cues as a way to make itself stand out even more than it already does. The largest market for automobiles today is in the SUV/Crossover market, and Tesla plans to capture this market with the upcoming model x. When the concept for the Model X was shown, it featured all your standard SUV design cues, with the addition of gullwing style doors that opened vertically for the rear passengers. Many thought this was simply a concept car gimmick, but with production well underway of the Model X, the gullwing doors have been confirmed. Tesla states it’s to make getting in and out of the vehicle easier in tight spaces.
Most concept cars do not follow through on their styling cues, opting instead to bring other ideas like technology or drivetrain options into reality. The Dodge Viper was brought out as a concept as to what an ultra-high performance vehicle from Dodge would look like. At the time, the car seemed like an odd choice. At the time of its inception, Lamborghini was owned by Chrysler. This is where the bonkers concept for an all-out American car with a huge 8L V10 powered vehicle came from. From concept to reality, the Viper kept its incredible powerhouse, and remains a favorite of many automotive enthusiasts to this day.
Nissan, known at this point for relatively tame vehicles, revealed a concept car based off their successful performance add on to their Skyline sedan, the Skyline GT-R. The new concept would be sold as a standalone GT-R, ditching the Skyline name. The first concept of the vehicle was unveiled in 2001, with a production concept not being shown to the public until 2007. After the release of this concept, the GT-R went into production as Nissan’s top performance vehicle, a title it maintains to this day. A NISMO version of the GT-R features 600 horsepower and a 0-60 time in the low 3 seconds. The production GT-R kept a familiar nickname given to previous models of Skyline GT-Rs – “Godzilla”. This was because the vehicle excelled at performance and was manufactured by a Japanese company.
Not All That Glitters…
Not all concept cars are success stories like the i8 or Viper. Sometimes, a concept is unveiled that appears interesting and gets built, only to be panned by consumers for being made. The early 2000’s saw a revival of retro designs, and every one of the big three automakers had a retro style car, all of which would go on to flop. The Chevrolet SSR was designed to be part truck, part muscle car, and to have styling cues based on an updated 50’s Chevy pickup truck. Ford rebuilt their Thunderbird model lineup, and Chrysler attempted to breathe life into their struggling Plymouth brand with the Plymouth Prowler. All three vehicles were commercial flops, with many dismissing the styling as ugly and the performance lacking. It’s not clear what decision led to these vehicles being built, but it certainly proved that an interesting design must be backed up by demand for a concept car to be successful.
Concept cars inspire us to think about the vehicles of tomorrow. Sometimes they flop, sometimes they bring us into the future sooner than we expected. It’s easy to become disappointed when a really interesting concept car doesn’t make it into production, but we can be thankful when some of the new ideas presented from automakers remain. In more recent years, more concept cars have become reality, so the future looks bright for interesting concepts.
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