Each year we citizens of the Region flock to the city and pay the cost of a train ride or parking, food and beverage and finally admittance, all to see the cars of tomorrow at the annual Chicago Auto Show. These cars, known as concept vehicles, help shape the imaginations of future automotive designers and get consumers' appetites hungry for the next addition of an automaker's line. Yet we wait and wait, and the car finally produced is often stripped of all the fascinating "concept" features and no more exciting than a Buick Regal.
Why even bother producing these cars?
The first concept car, the Buick Y-Job, was made in 1938 under the direction of Harley J. Earl, for the sole purpose of testing out how the public responded to such a radical car. The car featured hidden headlights when not in use, a spare tire in the trunk and power windows. It even used smaller tires to help bring the overall height down to 58 inches, making it the one of the lowest cars on the road.
These may seem like not legendary or groundbreaking changes, but remember the year was 1938. These ideas were groundbreaking in a sense.
It is with these concepts that we gauge good design and innovations in the auto world and know how we want our next automobile to look.
The Buick Y-Job was the first time a manufacturer made a car and then asked the public what it thought. These simple ideas from that 1938 car can still be seen today.
One example: the grill, though not groundbreaking, was a new feature then but can still be seen in all Buicks. These ideas help sift through the bad and get to the good.
Concepts of today are doing the same.
The Chevrolet Volt was not a big winner when it was first put on display in 2007 at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. However, we all know what it takes to make a car come into the public realm again: a terrible economy and massive recession. Even the marketing coordinator at GM was not a big fan of the Volt, but when the economy started going down the tubes and bailouts were being handed out like tic-tacs at a garlic eating contest, GM changed its mind.
The Volt cleared way for new automotive body design and reducing the amount of work the car has to do while it drives.
Another concept that paved the way for other manufacturers was the VW Beetle redesign in 1994. The car was not exactly a technological advance, but it did segue to the new age muscle cars we have today. So, next time you settle in the warm leather engulfed seats of a Dodge Charger or a new Chevrolet Camaro, thank the Germans.
Then there is the 2009 Scion iQ. Though it is tiny and it still has not fully caught on for us in the Region, these cars are shaping, again, other automotive design. Designers and car manufacturers are thinking about not just power and efficiency, but also what specifically the buyer needs. Scion iQ marks an advancement from the idea that bigger is better to designs that are smaller and reflect what you actually need.
Concept cars serve not to show the public a car it will never have, but the features you may see in upcoming years. These concept cars are used to help make the transition for the public easier when a car maker wants to turn the wheel and take its company in a new direction.