Motor shows are packed with concept cars, but are they just a bunch of shiny empty promises? Simon Hacker warns against anyone who claims they’ve re-invented the wheel.
1. Geneva marks the reveille call for another annual round of international car shows.
For such hungry media beasts as DieselCar, motor shows are our fast food joints, offering a smorgasbord of sensational new material for easy digestion.
Crucial to the news menu is the concept car. Usually garnished by impeccable females and served up with a soundtrack of pumping muzak, car makers spend more than a Swiss banker’s bonus each year on these forward-looking statements.
2. But while there are concept cars that indicate serious intent and direction, the show halls are also a showground for empty statements – ostensibly brilliant ideas that promise revolutions in eco-technology, new horizons for mpg and ingenious cupholder solutions.
But more often than not, ideas destined to remain as static as the models on show. In the absence of real cars actually scheduled to sell, concept cars make great space fillers – proof that the design department is doing something for its swish studios and fat pay cheques.
3. So what might set the alarm bells ringing this year? Press releases are usually the biggest revelation.
Take Toyota’s i-Road two-seat bike. “Toyota envisages its i-Road concept has the potential to play a significant role in reducing urban traffic congestion and air pollution.”
Note the lack of specifics; there’s always a lot of ‘envisaging’ in the concepts game. Contrastingly, Citroën’s Technospace concept is indicated clearly as the basis for the upcoming C4 Picasso MPV which will be with us later this year.
4. Clearly, visions of our automotive future need to be logical. So which concepts are you likely to bump into on 2013’s show circuit that tick that box? Not Peugeot’s Onyx, for sure.
This copper-bodied creation with a papier-maché and felt cabin makes a loud design statement but there’s more viability in a big bag of blue-sky thinking – a classic exercise in doing something just because you can.
Yes, it’s a working model, powered by the V8 diesel Peugeot used in the 908 Le Mans car, but even the maker admits it’ll never be developed for consumption.
5. Also resembling the doodles of a demented anorak, Kia’s Cross GT will be hawking its wares this year. Korean makers are masters of mad motoring promises, and Kia’s press statement sets the wibble radar on full alert:
“Inspired by nature, driven by technology, the Cross GT hints at the future of Kia’s design language in the form of a premium Crossover Utility Vehicle.”
By now, you’re probably getting your own sense of where not to waste time at 2013’s show stands. Bear in mind that if a car maker has hit on a genius idea for future production, the last place it’s going to reveal it is in a hall packed with rival designers and engineers.
6. So why do car makers feel an imperative to brag with these statements? For the answer to that, we need to look east, and to the fastest rising market: China.
Makers need to court this market – and if that means making wild promises, so be it. And from China itself, we have a whole new arena for conceptual chutzpah.
Behold the recently triumphed Guangzhou Auto E-Fit Concept, described by one pundit as “an unashamed and terribly executed rip-off of Mercedes-Benz’s Concept Style Coupé”.
In a manufacturing culture that thrives upon cloning of borrowed ideas, we can expect to see concepts aplenty from China that are little more than notice of intention to ‘borrow’.
But maybe that’s refreshing – at least that’ll mean concepts with built-in reality.
Rewind to 1940 and this is acclaimed as the world’s first concept: the Buick Y-Job.
It looked revolutionary, but was put together as an ego statement.
Crucially, the avant-garde shape was fashioned to enable Harley Earl, Buick’s design boss, to drive around Detroit in something shocking.