By on March 30, 2021

It is auto-show season.

Or at least, it would be in a “normal” year.

Normally, we’d be in New York, bringing you all the concepts from the New York International Auto Show, usually held at the Jacob Javits Convention Center on Manhattan’s west side.

This year, with the world still mostly on pause, we’re at home, missing the sights and sounds.

But that gives us a chance to step back and reconsider something about auto shows: The concept cars themselves.

Many of you may already know this, but for some of you — particularly younger readers — it might be worth it to take a step back and have a refresher of the truth about concept cars.

For those of you who don’t remember the history of auto shows, there was a time when concept cars were glorious machines that previewed what automakers (and sometimes media) saw as a fantastic future. Even if many of these cars had to be pushed on and off stage.

Over time, the idea of the fantastical concept car preview a fantastical future has faded. Mostly gone are the days where a sleek concept was laden with technology that wouldn’t be on sale for years, if ever. Mostly gone are the days when the concept cars were so crazy-looking that one wondered how they could ever make production. Which, to be clear, most didn’t.

Concept cars were once meant to get attention at an automaker’s show stand. Some of the technology and mechanical features might eventually make it into production, and occasionally so did toned-down styling elements.

The game has changed due to cost and other reasons. Show-stopping concepts downshifted, becoming previews of next-gen cars. At first, these concepts were still a bit more wild than mild, but they were closer to production cars in terms of design, technology, and mechanical underpinnings than the concepts that came before.

Now, most concept cars are thinly-veiled previews of the production unit — if they exist at all. Sometimes, automakers don’t even bother with a concept, opting to simply take the wraps off a car that’s pretty much production-ready.

Those concepts that remain tend to hew closely to production plans. Maybe there’s a styling element here or a tech feature there that won’t make production, but what you see on the show stand isn’t terribly different from what you’ll eventually see on the showroom floor.

That’s a shame, since the wonderfully crazy concepts were great for driving attention to brands. Everyone from the automotive media to the average auto-showgoer could be wowed by a concept, and these show cars likely drove many a daydream.

Some radical concepts still exist, and we can’t wait to see them in person again.

That said, the truth about concept cars is that most are just boring now. Make concept cars great again.

[Images: Ford, Chevrolet, Chrysler, Nissan]

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8 Comments on “The Truth About (Concept) Cars...”


  • avatar
    JMII

    I think the lack of crazy concept cars comes down to the fact everything can be done via a CGI / VR type environments. In the old days you had to physically make something in the flesh to get a feel for it. Now an automaker could just generate a very realistic teaser video without building anything and get the same feedback or hype for way less money, time, effort, etc.

    • 0 avatar
      Lynchenstein

      I miss the 80s & 90s concept car days. It was crazy awesome, and I fantasized driving around in many of the never-to-reach-production whackymobiles from the pages of Car & Driver and Road & Track.

  • avatar
    GregLocock

    Really they were just clickbait for teenage boys and auto journalists.

  • avatar
    jalop1991

    Really, Ford? Dodge Neon says “Hi.”

  • avatar

    Last time I was at SF Auto Show it was a SUV/CUV boredom. Even Cadillac was not present. Yeah some predictable Camrys/Accords – but that is also definition of boredom. Probably it will be my last visit. I will not risk my life going to SF warzone to witness the death of the car culture.

    • 0 avatar
      Maxb49

      “Last time I was at SF Auto Show it was a SUV/CUV boredom. Even Cadillac was not present. Yeah some predictable Camrys/Accords – but that is also definition of boredom. Probably it will be my last visit. I will not risk my life going to SF warzone to witness the death of the car culture.”

      I agree. Automakers are destroying themselves. Most new vehicles are hideous. They look like they were designed by someone with untreated arthritis. I don’t believe for a minute that the automakers couldn’t get another Harley Earl, George Walker, or Bill Mitchell. They won’t. They think people fall for their marketing gimmicks or inferious products. We don’t.

  • avatar
    ToolGuy

    If you were a super-mediocre sports team, would you do a lot of trash talking before each game? Probably not. Yet this is the role of ‘concept cars’ from the legacy OEM’s.

    Refer to the five vehicles here and note the year each was ‘introduced’:
    https://www.gmheritagecenter.com/gm-vehicle-collection/index.html

    What is the point? [‘This is what we could do if we wanted to, but we’re not going to, so keep buying the actual crap we build?’ I don’t get it.]

  • avatar
    Lichtronamo

    What was laughable is that the car mags would continue to buy into the fantasy as if the concept was really headed for production as is, if only to sell copy. Ford had its Lincoln Continental concept and Ford 427 concept that essentially were styling exercises for the FWD Zephyr/MKZ and Fusion, or the Interceptor that was the same for the 2010 Taurus.

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