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1938 Buick Y-Job, the first concept car.[1]

A concept vehicle or show vehicle is a car made to showcase new styling and or new technology. They are often shown at motor shows to gauge customer reaction to new and radical designs which may or may not have a chance of being produced.

General Motors designer Harley Earl is generally credited with inventing the concept car, and did much to popularize it through its traveling Motorama shows of the 1950s.

Concept cars never go into production directly; in modern times all would have to undergo many changes before the design is finalized for the sake of practicality, safety and cost. A "production-intent" vehicle, as opposed to a concept vehicle, serves this purpose.[2]

They are also known as prototype cars, but should not be confused with prototype race cars such as the Le Mans Prototype.


Concept cars are often radical in engine or design. Some use non-traditional, exotic, or expensive materials, ranging from paper to carbon fiber to refined alloys. Others have unique layouts, such as gullwing doors, 3 or 6 (or more) wheels, or special abilities not usually found on cars. Because of these often impractical or unprofitable leanings, many concept cars never get past scale models, or even drawings in computer design. Other more traditional concepts can be developed into fully drivable (operational) vehicles with a working drivetrain and accessories. The state of most concept cars lies somewhere in between and does not represent the final product. A very small proportion of concept cars are functional to any useful extent, some cannot move safely at anything above 10 mph.[citation needed]

Inoperative "mock-ups" are usually made of wax, clay, metal, fiberglass, plastic or a combination thereof.

If drivable, the drivetrain is often borrowed from a production vehicle from the same company, or may have defects and imperfections in design. They can also be quite refined[citation needed], such as General Motors' Cadillac Sixteen concept.[3]

After a concept car's useful life is over, the cars are usually destroyed. Some survive, however, either in a company's museum or hidden away in storage. One unused but operational concept car that languished for years in the North Hollywood, California shop of car customizer George Barris, Ford Motor Company's "Lincoln Futura" from 1954, received a new lease on life as the Batmobile in the Batman series that debuted in 1966 on the ABC Television Network.

Notable concept cars

Model Notes
Buick Y-Job Designed in the late 1930s by the famous General Motors designer Harley Earl. Considered by most to be the first concept car.
General Motors Le Sabre Built by Harley Earl in 1951, it helped introduce 12 volt electrics and the aluminum 215 ci V8 to GM.
Cadillac Cyclone Built in 1959, it is one of Harley Earl's last designs. Its futuristic styling was heavily influenced by 1950's aviation and rocketry.
Chevrolet Corvair Monza GT 1962 mid-engined experimental prototype.
Chevrolet Corvette Mako Shark Previewed the design of the 1968–1982 production Corvette.
Chevrolet Volt One of the first plug-in hybrid electric vehicle concept cars.
Ford Nucleon A nuclear-powered car.
Ford SYNus Reflects the modern obsession with safety.
General Motors Firebird A series of gas turbine-powered cars.
Holden Efijy Based around the Holden FJ, named the United States concept car of the year for 2007.[4]
MIT Car The Massachusetts Institute of Technology concept car with Frank Gehry.[5]
Phantom Corsair A 1930s concept car, developed by Rust Heinz.
Pontiac Bonneville Special Pontiac's first 2-seater sportscar that debuted at the 1954 Motorama.
Pontiac Club de Mer Pontiac's all stainless steel sportscar that debuted at the 1956 Motorama.
Porsche 989 Porsche's first 4-door car, a predecessor of the Porsche Panamera.
Rolls-Royce 1EX The first in a series of 'experimental models', the 1EX was built by Rolls Royce in 1919 on a 40/50 h.p. chassis to test and develop their cars. Individual EX models were produced for over 40 years ending with the 45EX in 1958.[6]
Volvo YCC The first car designed entirely by women.
Lancia Megagamma The prototype for the modern MPV (minivan).
Alfa Romeo BAT cars 1950s aerodynamic studies by Bertone.
Chrysler ME Four-Twelve Had a top speed of 248 MPH.
Mercedes-Benz F700 Its Pre-Scan feature allows you to not feel any bumps and humps on the road.
BMW GINA A fabric-skinned shape-shifting sports car.

See also

  • Glossary Index
  • Auto show
  • Car design
  • Future car technologies
  • Pre-production car
  • Production vehicle
  • Product lifecycle management
  • Proof-of-concept
  • Prototype
  • Serial production
  • Show car


  1. Edsall, Larry (2006). Concept Cars. White Star. ISBN 8854404691. 
  2. Chrysler "Jolts" PHEV Race; PHEV Ads; V2Green Acquired, Sep 24, 2008, CalCars (California Cars Initiative)
  3. Cadillac Sixteen, by Nick Hull, Detroit Auto Show 2003 Highlights, Car Design News, Inc.
  4. "Bold Holden wins top US award". News Limited (2007-06-22). Archived from the original on 2012-09-09. Retrieved on 2007-07-15.
  5. Concept Car w/ GM & Frank O. Gehry
  6. Mosher, David (07.10.2004). "Australian International Motor Show - Rolls-Royce Speech". Maybach. Retrieved on 21 May 2011.

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