Concept cars – why bother?

Chevy and a host of other auto manufacturers gathered in Shanghai to show off their latest and greatest and most imaginative concept cars. Chevy unveiled their spiffy FNR concept car that features ‘dragonfly’ swing doors, motorized hubless wheels and front seats that can swivel 180 degrees so that passengers can chat while the car navigates itself.

It looks pretty cool – but then again, concept cars are supposed to look cool. They are supposed to make people stop and stare and drool over the sleek lines and futuristic spaceship designs. They are supposed to make you say ‘Damn! I wish I had one of those!’

Trouble is car companies have been rolling out concept vehicles for over 50 years or so and none of them have ever made it to the production lines. Every year we get a peek at what car designers could do if they really wanted to, but the companies behind those designs never seem to actually want to produce those fancy machines.

Maybe, after they show the concept cars to dozens of focus groups (no doubt mostly comprised of narrow-minded, fuddy-duddies) they decide that even though the general public may like the look of these flashy cars, they won’t actually buy them. Instead, we would all rather buy cars that look pretty much like last-year’s cars. That we would rather not stand out in the crowd – we would rather blend in.

When I was a kid I used to love looking at pictures of concept cars and I dreamed about owning one of those sleek and stylish marvels. But year after year rolled by and the dreams never became real. I suppose you could say that the cars of today incorporated some of the design elements from concept cars of the past but I bet there are 50 year old concept cars sitting in a warehouse somewhere that would still be considered revolutionary today.

Oh sure there have been some spacy looking cars that actually did manage to get mass produced. My father had an Opel GT that looked pretty sweet and the Dodge Viper was good looking too. Trouble was they weren’t built very well and had a tendency to fall apart. I always thought the Mazda Miatas were cool too (in a kind of reserved way). And there are a lot of Corvette fans out there who love the look of their rides. Then you have the Ferraris and Lamborghinis and other ultra-high-end machines, but even they have started looking a lot like each other. (Go ahead. List off a few dozen other ultra-cool cars that I overlooked. Sorry if I left your favorite off the list.)

So I don’t really pay much attention to concept cars any more. There’s no point. I know they are never going to hit the showrooms and they certainly will never hit the roads. They make me feel like the car companies are saying ‘See? We could make cars like this if we wanted to, but we don’t. So drool all you want today suckers but tomorrow you’re going to be buying a slightly different version of the same old crap because that’s what we do.’