Where Have All The Concepts Gone?
Concept cars aren't what they used to be.
Web2Carz Senior Writer
Published: November 4th, 2011
Once upon a time, auto shows were full of fanciful concept cars that would never see the dim lights of a production line. Concepts like the 1964 Runabout from GM, the 1959 Cadillac Cylone, or the 1954 Atmos from Ford.
However, over the past few years, most concepts have been thinly disguised versions of future production cars. Automakers seem less and less willing to spend money on stylish concepts that due either to impracticality, cost, or lack of technological readiness, will not be produced.
In the old days, these concepts, no matter how outlandish, would hint at future technologies and sometimes at future styling. And occasionally, there are still concepts out there that do just that. But the days of the truly far-out concepts seem to be over.
The reasons for this are simple and make sense from an automaker’s perspective—spending lots of money on a non-running show car that does little more than look cool and preview certain future features makes less economic sense than producing a concept that previews an upcoming production model—especially since some of the future tech can still be showcased on a future model and then be taken away if it’s not ready for primetime once that car hits the streets.
Of course, the down economy has made this trend ever more present—automakers are tightening their belts, and when GM and Chrysler were being guided through bankruptcy, it was better from a PR perspective to focus on the next production models instead of designs that would do nothing more than make journalists and the public swoon.
While the reasoning may be sound, that’s still a bummer. We’re not just saying that as cranky journalists who are over-tired and underfed during press-preview days, hoping to break up the monotony of work by checking out some pie-in-the-sky concept that will let our imaginations run wild and remind us why we do this for a living in the first place. We think the public’s love affair with the automobile also suffers. Once, show-goers dreamed of a limitless future, including the flying car. Now, they look at what the market will offer in the short term, shrug, and go back to playing “Angry Birds” on their smartphone.
Car enthusiasts have been bemoaning the fact that young people tend to love their smartphones more than their cars, but maybe this wouldn’t be the case if there were more interesting concepts out there capturing the imagination. Too often, the few “wild” concepts on display now focus more on in-car apps than styling or performance, which only fuels the nascent desire to play with a smartphone instead of a car.
That’s not to say all concepts are currently bad, or that concepts that preview production cars don’t have a place. It warms the enthusiast heart to see a Camaro ZL1 concept or Dodge Challenger concept making its way towards eventually production, and it gives the automakers the chance to build anticipation among buyers. But we’d like to see more automakers afflicted with a stroke of imagination. We wish they’d open the purse strings and take a chance, budgets and pundits be damned.
We understand that money is an object, and we also know that automakers are wary of looking tone-deaf PR-wise during a time of austerity. To that we say, balderdash! Auto shows are all about escapism and what the future may bring. The public doesn’t just attend because a bunch of new cars are under one roof. How many show attendees are really in-market anyway? People attend auto shows not just because it’s something to do, but because they want to see cars and displays that they can’t see on a dealer lot.
So, please, OEMs of the world. We know your hiding some cool stuff behind the security gates in your various tech and testing facilities. With the auto show season starting anew this month, it’s time to bring it out into the light.Related Vehicles: ford