The Truth About (Concept) Cars

Tim Healey
by Tim Healey
the truth about concept cars

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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2 of 8 comments
  • ToolGuy ToolGuy on Mar 30, 2021

    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': 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.]

  • Lichtronamo Lichtronamo on Mar 31, 2021

    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.

  • Michael Charging more for less. Hmmmm
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  • 285exp The only people impressed with 5 figure EV tow ratings don’t tow.
  • Inside Looking Out So British company makes pickups in France to sell them in USA.
  • Ajla Also a conspiracy theory I believe is that Lexus vehicles which share an engine with Toyota products don't actually require premium octane fuel. I don't care what YouTubers or forum people say about it.