Concept cars date back to the 1930’s, when they were first popularized by one Harley J. Earl. Working for GM as a design head, and later an executive, Earl’s first masterpiece was the Buick Y-Job, a two-door convertible. The prototype was actually driven by Earl himself for a few years before it was retired to the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan. The industrial designer turned concept car pioneer went on to design the foundational elements of the Chevrolet Corvette and the famous rear-tailfin design, first seen on Cadillac models in 1940s.
Another popular concept car designer was Karl Benz himself, who was of course also credited for designing the world’s first purpose-built automobile in the 1880s. The Car Engineer of the Century though was awarded in 1999 to the famous Ferdinand Porsche, founder of the Porsche car company.
Since then many other automakers have publicly displayed their most prized, and often most outlandish designs. In fact, many car enthusiasts often attend auto shows with concept cars being the focal point of their visit. From the futuristic and space-age to the contemporary, there have been many greats the industry has seen over the decades.
However not all concept cars have gone onto the production line, with auto show visitors and the press snubbing many along the way. From the hideously ugly to the inconceivably far-fetched, we’ve seen our fair share of duds along the way too. Here’s a look at 20 concept cars worth waiting for, and another 20 that shouldn’t have been pitched.
20 Worth waiting for: Buick Avista
The Buick Avista is a snazzy two-door coupe, also known as a grand tourer which was first announced at the 2016 Detroit Auto Show. With much of the interior components printed on popular 3D printer technology, the gorgeous exterior was wonderfully engineered and even more thoughtfully crafted.
Sharing a platform with the Cadillac ATS-V and Chevrolet Camaro, the Avista looks great, with Buick staking a claim to have a top-notch vehicle in the category.
As such, the Avista was awarded the “Best Future Concept” by Detroit News. Many would like to see these design cues sneak into future Buick Regal Sportback generations, and while GM is mute on the topic, we can secretly salivate until it becomes a reality.
19 Worth waiting for: Lexus LF-1
Lexus has been trying to shake off that old-person mentality to inspire future generations towards their dealership. Over the years we’ve seen a few great attempts at this, barring the ES series, which until 2018 has been a rather bland-looking car. Times are changing though at Lexus with their latest concept striking a great pose at the 2018 Detroit Auto Show.
Like other automakers, Lexus is continuing to refine its SUV fleet. The Lexus LF-1 Limitless concept adopts some interesting design language, with both a longer hood and wheelbase, similar in length to the new RX350L. It will however only seat four passengers.
18 Worth waiting for: BMW M8 Gran Coupe
Earlier this year BMW showcased the new 8-Series at the 2018 Geneva Auto Show, and unexpectedly, the automaker has now introduced the M8 Gran Coupe. This will be the first time BMW introduces the M-badge to the 8-Series.
The M8 Gran Coupe will likely be powered by one of two engine options: a turbo-charged V6 and turbocharged V8. The twin-turbo V8 is likely to make over 600-hp and 550 lb-ft of torque, which is a fair assumption considering it would need to overtake the M5.
On paper, the M8 will compete against the Mercedes-AMG CLS and Audi RS7, and we expect it’ll do 0-60 mph in 3.7 seconds.
17 Worth waiting for: Mazda Vision Coupe
Mazda has seen plenty of success over the years since their Zoom-Zoom branding came into play. The one vehicle missing from their lineup is a large coupe, certainly larger than the Miata. Introducing the Mazda Vision Coupe, a sublime-looking four-door luxury coupe that was first showcased at the Tokyo Auto Show.
As with all Mazdas, the design language resembles a predator sitting idle, just waiting to pounce. Mazda calls this design, Kodo. The vehicle’s interior is rather simplistic, with very minimalistic dials and gauges. There is no information from the automaker on specifications. Make no mistake though, a vehicle that looks this good will be sure to pack plenty of turbo-charged muscle under the hood.
16 Worth waiting for: Lamborghini Estoque
We’ve always wondered whether Lamborghini would ever come up with either an SUV or a four-door sedan. Well, we’ve already seen they are capable of an SUV with the recently-released Urus. Rumors are now circling of a potential sedan, which was first shown at the 2008 Paris Motor Show.
While Lamborghini dismissed claims of producing the car a year later, the timing may now be right with several other brands looking to a sedan.
The Estoque could also be the automaker’s first front-engine car, potentially housing a 5.2L V10.
Fun fact: the Estoque gets its name from a type of sword used by matadors in bullfighting.
15 Worth waiting for: Infiniti Q Inspiration
Another stunner from the North American International Auto Show in Detroit was Infiniti’s Q Inspiration mid-size sedan. Taking some design ideas from Tesla’s Model S windshield-to-sunroof line, the car is a real head-turner.
Infiniti plans to include its newly cemented VC-turbo engine technology into this sporty sedan, something it has already thrown into the new QX50. The variable-compression ratio engine enables the car to switch dynamically from high-performance to highly fuel-efficient, within a matter of seconds. Also included in the futuristic concept is Nissan’s ProPilot autonomous driving technology. By far its most striking feature is the glowing Infiniti logo, contained within the front grill.
14 Worth waiting for: Audi Prologue
First unveiled at the Los Angeles Auto Show in 2005, the Audi Prologue is a luxury coupe, which looks nothing like what you’d expect it to. While Audi could in theory have leveraged the A7 platform and removed a couple of doors, they decided to build a concept from scratch. Good call.
The car looks even better than a would-be A7 coupe, with a seamless front-to-back design, which we’ve now seen in the all-new A8.
Under the hood sits a 4.0L twin-turbo V8 that makes almost 600-hp.
Should Audi decide to proceed with production, it’ll be met with stiff competition from the upcoming BMW 8-series.
13 Worth waiting for: Cadillac Escala
When I first laid eyes on the Cadillac Escala concept earlier this year at the Canadian International Autoshow in Toronto, I was almost convinced I was looking at a production-ready car. Following the Cadillac Ciel and Elmiraj concepts from 2011 and 2013 respectively, this one seems the most likely to hit the roads.
Interestingly, this four-door hardtop coupe looks to be the first Cadillac since the Seville to reintroduce horizontal headlamps. The interior is a perfect blend of handcrafted seats, panels, and pillars to high-end technology, featuring a curved Samsung OLED screen. Powering the Escala is a 4.2L twin-turbo V8, expected to make 500-hp.
12 Worth waiting for: Mini Superleggera Vision
Mini does not shy away from unique design, so it was no surprise when they introduced the Superleggera Vision, a cute convertible concept.
Concerns that Mini would threaten parent company BMW’s 2-Series were quelled given its modest drivetrain: a 2.0L turbocharged inline-four, making about 200-hp.
The rear end of the Superleggera looks a far distance from traditional Mini design with a tailfin and pleasant-looking pair of brake lights. The front end, however, has Mini written all over it, with its signature oval-shaped headlamps. The typical Mini design language extends into the interior, especially with its circular center console. While this concept targets a small market niche, it could be a game-changer for a brand struggling to attract new customers.
11 Worth waiting for: Audi Q8
The Audi Q8 is yet another SUV in the German automaker’s lineup, making it #5, with a 6th soon to come (the compact Q1). The 2019 Q8 is a coupe-like SUV, which is slightly smaller in length than the Q7, but site lower and wider in stature. It is set to rival BMW X5 and Mercedes-Benz GLE in its more traditional drivetrain.
The five-seater SUV offers a strikingly different design from Audis of past, however, the inside is very much synonymous of an Audi: a perfect balance of luxurious design and high-end technology. Should Audi decide to throw in an S-badge variant, it could square off against the likes of the Bentley Bentayga or Lamborghini Urus, at a fraction of the price.
10 that should have never been pitched:
10 Should have never been pitched: Pontiac Aztek
GM first showed off the Pontiac Azrek in 1999 as a very futuristic concept SUV, which many declared a misstep by the American automaker. Not only was the vehicle ghastly-looking, GM got the pricing wrong based on their target demographic.
After three years of poorer than anticipated sales, demand waned drastically over the preceding couple of years until Pontiac shelved the vehicle in 2005.
The design played a big part in its demise, with many pundits complaining about the split headlight unit as well as the awkwardly sloping rear end.
The Buick Rendezvous, which many considered a luxurious comparable to the Aztek actually sold more units despite looking only moderately better.
9 Should have never been pitched: Buick Signia
Another vehicle that bore a resemblance with the ill-fated Pontiac Aztek was the 1998 Buick Signia, a concept which was first revealed at the 1998 Detroit Motor Show. From its horrendous interior, featuring a golf-club-shaped gearbox to the weirdly sweeping curves on the exterior, this was one poorly-designed concept. In fact, Diseno-Art, a popular design website declared the Signia “monumentally ugly”.
Not only were the design elements off-putting, the interior user experience was also poor. A non-starter for me is how Buick required drivers to log into an onboard computer upon engine start, simply in order to adjust the steering wheel, seats and climate control. Good riddance!
8 Should have never been pitched: Toyota A-Bat
Toyota is known for its consistently conservative design, and so it’s surprising they strayed from that benchmark to design the Toyota A-Bat in 2007. This horrendous compact pickup truck adopts a carlike unibody platform versus the more traditional body-on-frame.
The A-Bat features a hybrid drivetrain, featuring an inline-four cylinder engine pulling a majority of the weight.
Clearly, I am using the term “majority” rather mildly. If Toyota is taking design advice from Subaru, they may want to rethink that logic. The similarly-designed Subaru Baja lasted only three years, selling less than 30% of its anticipated volume. Stick to the basics Toyota.
7 Should have never been pitched: Volkswagen Aqua
When Volkswagen looked to external ideas for design, they found a 21-year old Chinese graduate who penned the design of the Aqua, a cross-terrain vehicle.
Inspired by a hovercraft, this Volkswagen design should have never seen the light of day.
Not only is the design far too futuristic (and impractical), the body gels poorly with its side and rear propulsion fans. And don’t even get me started on the gaudy side skirts, which inflate as needed. The power source for Aqua’s electric motors is technology that simply hasn’t taken off: hydrogen fuel. I sincerely hope to never see this prototype make it to production.
6 Should have never been pitched: Mitsubishi e-Evolution
Going based on the Evolution nameplate alone, I was inclined to take a peek at what Mitsubishi had in store. After all, the Lancer Evolution has been a true drivers’ car for over 20 years. Unfortunately, this is far from a sports sedan.
The e-Evolution is the Japanese automakers foray into an all-electric crossover, which promises over 350 miles of range.
Electric range aside, the design is a major leap for an otherwise bland series of designs from Mitsubishi, which is quickly falling behind its competitors across all categories. The rear end of the e-Evolution is by far the most ghastly, with a hideous protruding trunk lid. Let’s hope this stays away from production.
5 Should have never been pitched: Mercedes-Benz Vision SLA
Going back nearly 18 years, Mercedes-Benz introduced a two-door sports convertible dubbed the Vision SLA. It was based largely on the A-class platform, which was introduced just 3 years prior, in 1997.
Featuring a meager 1.9L engine four-cylinder engine, the tiny convertible was hoping to take on BMW’s 1-Series and Audi’s TT.
Fortunately for everyone, this design never made its way into production, with Mercedes-Benz eventually holding out for an A-class coupe. The fourth generation, A-Class is a neat-looking compact and something I would much rather see Mercedes-Benz evolving into a convertible. It looks a long way off the Vision SLA, thankfully.
4 Should have never been pitched: Dodge Super8 Hemi
First seen at the North American International Autoshow in 2001, Chrysler displayed the Dodge Super8 Hemi, an elongated family sedan. Everything about the design was poor, even by 2001 standards. The wraparound windshield and Z-shaped pillars looked out of place, as did tri-line etching along the doors.
The vehicle’s only saving grace was under the hood. The Super8 was powered by a 5.7L naturally-aspirated Hemi V8, producing 353-hp, and was reported to do 0-60 mph in well under 6 seconds. All that power is useless if people refuse to get behind the wheel of this absolutely absurd-looking sedan. Good riddance!
3 Should have never been pitched: Chrysler Imperial
In keeping with Chryslers, let’s draw our attention to the Imperial, a large luxury sedan inspired by its 1930s namesake. The Imperial was shown in the mid-2000s and measured nearly 20 inches longer than the Chrysler 300, with which it shared the platform.
One of the most striking features of the Imperial was its Rolls-Royce Phantom-like doors, and an attempt to treat the interior with an abundance of high-quality leather and wood grain. All that however counts for nothing if you cannot look past the exterior design, which lacked ingenuity and any semblance of style. Note to Chrysler: steer away from attempts at reinventing yourself by mimicking ultra-luxury cars as it could just lead to your demise. Oh, wait, that already happened.
2 Should have never been pitched: Citroen C-10 Coccinelle
Going back to the 1950s saw Citroen introduce the C-10 Coccinelle, which I can only describe as a larger Jetsons-styled space van. I tried, really. The car’s designer was the famed Andre Lefebvre, a French designer responsible for the ever-popular Deau Cheaveau. An aeronautical engineer by professional, Andre looked to bring future design to Citroen, following his brief role at Renault.
Given the teardrop-shaped design, Citroen branded the vehicle Coccinelle, which is French for a ladybug.
While the design resulted in a laudable 0.258 drag coefficient, a great achievement for its time, it came at the cost of sheer ugliness.
1 Should have never been pitched: Aston Martin Lagonda
According to The Verge: “Image taking an SUV, squashing it, then stretching it into a super sleek limo shape, and you’ve got the (Aston Martin) Lagonda”. I couldn’t have said it better myself. While many considered this remake of the four-door Aston Martin Lagonda from 1976 a masterpiece, I beg to differ.
From the ridiculously bizarre interior design and to its massive wheelbase, everything about the Lagonda shows just how little Aston Martin cares about seriously re-entering the segment. At least when Porsche first toyed with a four-door, they hit it out of the park with the Panamera. It seems 007 will need to wait for an Aston Martin SUV to shuttle his family around in.
Sources: The Verge, Diseno-Art, Detroit News