Concept cars are designed to get the media and potential buyers revved up about a company’s upcoming models, designs, performance offerings, and plans. They’re often also used as an exercise for car makers to show what’s possible and what they’re capable of.
Sometimes, however, the concept is much rosier than the reality. Splashy designs, hyper-performance, and futuristic tech can get watered-down and lost in the production process. A striking design that sets hearts racing can end in a lackluster final product, model line-up, or design language that’s destined for disappointment. Here are cool concepts that promised big but delivered small.
2008 Mitsubishi Concept-RA
Mitsubishi showed up at the 2008 North America International Auto Show with a front-engine, four-wheel drive concept car that many speculated would become the next Eclipse.
The Concept-RA brought a 2.2-liter clean diesel engine, twin-clutch transmission and an aluminum space frame chassis to the party, but none of the technology, design or coolness ever made it to the already aging Eclipse. In fact, Mitsubishi left the Eclipse largely unchanged right up to its death in 2012. A shame, really, as the Concept-RA could have helped keep Mitsubishi relevant as other manufacturers pursued small, affordable sports cars.
2010 Audi Quattro Concept
The wicked Audi Quattro Concept dropped in 2010 at the Paris Motor Show and quickly became one of the big talking points of the exhibition. Meant to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the original Audi Quattro, it was essentially a light-weight, short wheel-base version of the company’s RS5.
With 402 horsepower and a six-speed manual transmission, the Quattro Concept promised to revive the legendary exhilaration of the original Quattro Coupe. Disappointingly, Audi decided to shelve the project, taking only some design cues to future models.
1976 Chevrolet Aerovette
The Aerovette was a mid-engined Corvette concept car born in 1969 that reached its final incarnation, with a small-block V8, in 1976. Featuring gull-wing doors and a low drag shape, the Aerovette looked poised to propel the Corvette into legitimate supercar territory. The concept, unfortunately, never gained enough traction and the project was killed off in favor of the traditional front-engined layout.
The C3 generation of the Corvette, of the same time, has since been called one of the worst generations. Just imagine what the Corvette would be now if they had bypassed the malaise-era Vette and gone mid-engine!
2011 Cadillac Ciel
The Ciel concept is what a Cadillac should be about. Design, presence, luxury, and comfort. The Ciel was a massive four-door convertible that debuted at the 2011 Pebble Beach Concours and was meant to showcase Cadillac’s intentions to return the brand to a premier luxury auto manufacturer.
Nothing in Cadillac’s lineup had as much visual impact, and unfortunately, their focus drifted away from becoming a premier luxury brand, and toward competition with BMW and Mercedes for mid-size sedan supremacy. The design was watered down for the full-size sedans, and the Ciel left everyone wondering what could have been.
2011 Citroen Tubik
Citroen was hoping to change their reputation in 2011 when they unveiled the Tubik concept car. It was a drastic change from their fairly generic transport trucks, and audiences fell in love. What young consumer wouldn’t want to own their own mini party bus?
Unfortunately for Citroen, when consumers took a closer look at the concept, they started seeing all the flaws. The seating layout, for one, wasn’t ideal for the driver or the passenger up front. Most importantly, the car wasn’t considered versatile enough for what modern car buyers wanted.
1995 Chrysler Atlantic
In 1995 Chrysler dropped a retro bomb in the form of the Atlantic. The car paid homage to the art-deco cars of the 1930s and to the legendary Bugatti Type 57 Atlantic. Interestingly, the Chrysler was powered by a straight eight-cylinder engine that was, in fact, two Dodge Neon engines put together.
The design proved polarizing, with most people either loving or hating hit. Even though this car was never meant for production, it did usher in the era of retro car design. For Chrysler, the reality that emerged from the Atlantic concept was the milquetoast Prowler and debilitatingly horrible PT Cruiser.
2011 MINI Cooper Rocketman
At the 2011 Geneva Auto Show, MINI brought the Rocketman concept to the launchpad. The design and execution was intended to be more faithful to the original Mini and bring the brand back to its roots.
At eleven feet three inches long, the Rocketman is only slightly bigger than the original car and thanks to lightweight construction was capable of 78 mpg. Sadly, the Rocketman suffered a failure to launch and MINIs’ offerings started to get bigger with more doors, more features, and luxury equipment that ended up making the brand’s cars anything but… mini.
2012 Mercedes-Benz Ener-G-Force
The Mercedes-Benz Ener-G-Force concept is a futuristic take on off-road law enforcement vehicles. Designed as an evolution of the Mercedes-Benz G-Wagon, the Ener-G-Force is a fuel-cell-powered bruiser that features adjustable suspension and a 360-degree topography scanner mounted to the roof.
It’s debatable if any law enforcement agency would go for such a vehicle, but its technology, design, and capabilities could have easily been adapted to the models in Mercedes’ existing portfolio. Tragically, nothing came of the concept, and the G-Class trucks are only available in “mall-crawler” trim here in the U.S.
2008 Hummer HX
Hindsight is always 20/20 and had GM’s Hummer brand followed through and built the HX concept, they could have sold a legitimate rival to the Jeep Wrangler. The HX concept was designed as a two-door, V6 powered slant-back off-roader with a removable door that was about the same size as Jeep’s Wrangler.
Destined to be called the H4, the rugged and customizable truck never made it to production. You can blame the financial crisis of the time, or four-dollar a gallon gasoline, but the Jeep fighter never materialized and the H2 and H3 Hummers never got the off-road kit that the HX concept promised.
2016 Buick Avista
The Buick Avista concept was a 400 horsepower, twin-turbo 2+2 coupe that debuted at the 2016 North American International Auto Show. It showed the world a side of Buick that had been missing since the 1950s, and the low-slung flowing design captivated imaginations. Could this be an America Aston-Martin? A beautiful grand touring coupe with state-of-the-art construction?
Sadly, no. Buick doubled down on questionable SUVs and bland sedans, with nothing from the Avista translating to any of Buick’s models. The chassis, GM’s Alpha platform, is common between the ATS-V Coupe and the Chevrolet Camaro but none of that fun went toward Buick.
2015 Lexus LF-SA
At the 2015 Geneva Motor Show, Lexus revealed a luxury sub-compact car called the LF-SA. Like the Smart car or the Scion iQ, it was meant to be an urban car that’s efficient, easy to park and filled with luxury offerings.
In reality, Lexus ended up taking a different direction and focused on larger sedans and SUVs, although the enormous grille has become a staple of the brand. A fun, small, luxury city run-about would have been a cool direction for Lexus, but the market for such a car doesn’t exist in the U.S. yet the market for enormous grilles does?
2003 Cadillac Sixteen
Sixteen cylinders, 13.6-liters of displacement, one thousand horsepower, four doors and two and a half tons of Cadillac opulence made the Sixteen concept car of 2003 the ultimate flagship model.
The Sixteen was long and sleek and could have been a legitimate rival to Bentley and Rolls-Royce, with a Bulgari clock on the dashboard and a Cadillac logo on the steering wheel carved out of a solid piece of crystal. No flagship model emerged, however, and the tedious lineup of Cadillac’s big sedans and SUVs continued with all the excitement of used dishwater.
2002 Lincoln Continental
The Lincoln Continental concept first appeared at the 2002 Los Angeles Auto Show. It was immediately recognized as an elegant tribute to the Continentals of the 1960s and a masterpiece of retro-futuristic design.
The Continental featured suicide rear doors and chiseled proportions. A four hundred horsepower V12 engine motivated the large sedan and it was one of the first cars to utilize fiber-optic lighting and LED technology. Despite the rave reviews, Ford chose to ax the production Continental after 2002, never incorporating any of the concepts designs or pizzazz. That’s the ultimate reality fail.
2012 Jeep Mighty FC
Jeep chose to unveil the impossibly cool Mighty FC (Forward Control) concept at the annual Easter Jeep Safari in Moab. It’s a throwback design to the cabover Jeeps of the 1950s and 60s with a modern drivetrain, off-road suspension, and trick portal axles.
With a pickup truck bed in the back, the Mighty FC is a utilitarian off-roader that could get you, and anything you wanted to carry, over just about any terrain imaginable. Sadly, the FC never made it to production and only portions of the concept became available in kit form. A disappointing reality check for sure.
1985 Ford Probe V
In 1985 Ford showed off the Probe V, the final incarnation of a series of aerodynamic design studies. The concept was styled by design house Ghia featuring a mid-mounted engine and sliding doors. Looking like a real-life Jetson’s car, the Probe V went on to directly influence the Ford Taurus/Mercury Sable and then the production Ford Probe which debuted in 1988.
That “aero-design” was something that Ford invested heavily in, and while it made the cars aerodynamically efficient, it didn’t make the Taurus/Sable anything more than a standard-issue sedan. The future looked good as a concept but the reality was very bland.
2005 Holden Efijy
Holden is Australia’s division of GM and the Efijy concept car is a tribute to the 1953 Holden FJ. Based on a Corvette chassis, the Efijy is powered by a supercharged LS2 V8 which is good for six-hundred horsepower. Despite being Australian in design and construction, the Efijy actually won the U.S. Concept Car of the Year Award in 2007.
While the Holden Commodore and Monaro got V8s and muscle car cred, not much else of the Efijy ever made it to production leaving the cars in Holden’s lineup looking and feeling rather mild compared to the concept.
2001 Suzuki GSX-R/4
In 2001 Suzuki went nuclear with a concept car that paired the best of its motorcycle technology with a high-performance open-wheel race car. The power came from the Hayabusa motorcycle and was capable of taking the concept to 180 mph. The chassis took influences from open-wheel race cars and promised race car performance in a street-legal car.
The GSX-R/4 was shown at the Los Angeles Auto Show in 2001, and while never intended for production, Suzuki touted the chassis engineering as a feature that would carry over to their street cars. That didn’t happen, and Suzuki’s car offerings were as disappointing as the concept car is exciting.
2002 Cadillac Cien
Cadillac and supercar are two words that usually don’t go together in the same sentence. But in 2002, at the Detroit Auto Show, Cadillac showed up with a V12 powered, F-22 fighter jet inspired, mid-engined supercar.
It was a wicked concept meant to celebrate the brand’s 100th anniversary. But in a disappointment to actual customers, there was nothing exciting that they could purchase. The Ciel was featured in several video games including the Gran Turismo series, but none of the tech, engine, chassis or fun carried over to actual cars, making the concept car pure vaporware.
2005 Ford SYNus
Ford was really thinking outside of the box in 2005 when they unveiled the SYNus concept car. They wanted to make a car that was tough on the outside, but soft and luxurious on the inside. What they created ended up looking like a bank vault.
Unsurprisingly, consumers didn’t want to drive around in a bank vault, no matter how comfortable the seats on the inside were. It was also undersized and not family friendly.
1997 Dodge Copperhead
Hot on the heels of the success of the Viper, Dodge brought the Copperhead concept to the North American International Auto Show in Detroit in 1997. Meant to be a slimmed down Viper-junior, the Copperhead had a two-hundred-twenty horsepower V6 driving the rear wheels. The Copperhead was focused on handling and driving pleasure, but Dodge canceled the project in 2000.
Instead of a fun-to-drive roadster, Dodge gave everyone the un-fun Avenger and Stratus. The engine and some of the mechanicals of the Copperhead were used in Dodge’s other models, but none carried the same zest and verve as the concept.
2011 Scion FR-S
We don’t want to say this is the car that sunk the ship that was Scion, but we’re not going to not say it, either. The company, which Toyota was using to attract younger consumers, was doing quite well for itself with small, economical cars when it decided it needed to add a sports car.
The FR-S concept car was a hit at auto shows, and Scion thought that would translate to sales in the real world. Then the car was released to the public, and it absolutely fizzled. It’s not that anyone was really wrong with the FR-S, it’s just that it wasn’t what Scion’s consumers wanted.
2013 Subaru Impreza WRX
In 2013, Subaru decided it was time to redesign the Impreza WRX. The small car had been a staple of their lineup for nearly two decades, but execs felt the concept was getting stale. Like the FR-S, the new concept reveal blew crowds away.
Then it was released and the truth came out. The new Impreza WRX wasn’t really that impressive, or that different from the old WRX. Subarau thought they had a winner on their hands, when really they had fool’s gold.
2005 Hummer H3
Making big cars small and fuel efficient was all the rage at the turn of the century, and in 2005, Hummer finally heard the call. They revealed the H3, a smaller version of their iconic car, which would be more planet-friendly.
The new H3 was not a hit. Hummer kept it in production for five years before finally giving up on it. The end of the H3, sadly, also meant the end of the Hummer brand, as General Motors announced its discontinuation that same year.
2003 Chevy SSR
Chevrolet wanted to create a fun new retro-inspired car in 2003 when they came out with the SSR. The odd-looking car definitely stood out, but not in a good way. While the idea of a convertible truck was quirky, it wasn’t exactly consumer friendly.
While reception to the car’s design was positive, that excitement didn’t translate to sales. The SSR stayed on the market for three years until Chevy realized it wasn’t worth pushing anymore without the public’s monetary support.
2008 Scion Hako Coupe
The Scion Hako Coupe was strange to say the say the least. Looking at it, it’s hard to tell exactly what the company was trying to accomplish with such a boxy, non-modern design. To call it an experiment is being nice.
The general idea behind the Hako Coupe wasn’t as strange as the car. Scion was determined to create new cars that appealed to young consumers. More correctly, Toyota wanted to design new cars that did that, and used Scion almost as an experimental branch to test the waters without hurting their own stock.
2009 Nissan Murano CrossCabriolet
The first Nissan Murano was released in 2002. Seven years later, Nissan brought the Murano CrossCabriolet to the market, a concept car that needed more time in the drawing room. In a rush to be innovative, Nissan ended up committed the biggest sin of auto making.
The CrossCabriolet was a convertible crossover, which was a radical idea in 2009. Nissan was looking to get ahead on the next big auto trend, and turning their biggest crossover into a top down cruiser seemed like a no-brainer. By 2014, the CrossCabriolet was sent to the auto heap.
2002 Lincoln Blackwood
The Lincoln Blackwood was a luxury pickup created to take a bite out of a growing market. Instead, it just confused the masses with its too small flatbed and pinstripes along the body.
When it was made available to the public, there weren’t many options for upgrades, and the pinstripes were mandatory. Lincoln made a projection of how many they expected to sell, and came up 20 percent short. It’s a good thing they ditched this car before it completely ruined their reputation!
2011 Chevrolet Volt
The Chevy Volt might be one of the most recognizable and popular plug-in cars today, but when it first came out, it was an epic disaster. Chevy did the right thing in 2011 by jumping on the electric plug-in bandwagon.
Looking to take Toyota and the Prius down a peg, Chevy rushed their concept to market. While the initial reaction to the car was enthusiastic, sales sagged and maintenance problems arose. We give Chevy credit for sticking it out through the storm though, and Volt is now the second best selling plug-in vehicle of all-time.
2006 Dodge Charger
Consumers were ecstatic in 2006 when Dodge announced the return of the Charger. The car had been a staple of the lineup for years before disappearing without a trace. The new Charger would respect the past, while bringing the car into the future as well.
Can you guess how that turned out? If Dodge had released the new Charger in 1999 when they actually announced it, it would have been a huge hit. Seven years later it became a much tougher sell, though.
2008 Toyota A-Bat
The Toyota A-Bat was a concept truck that the company made public in 2008. They swung for the fences with the highly stylized vehicle and left fans confused about what the actual concept of the car was.
The good news is that the A-Bat never went into production. Toyota got the message. If they were going to design a new pickup truck, it needed to look like a pickup truck, not… like something else entirely.
2001 Toyota Pod
This is a concept car Toyota definitely wishes they could take back. The Pod was a strange collaboration between the automaker and Sony to create the most futuristic car possible. What they ended up creating was… interesting.
The car was loaded with features, including stools instead of seats that could rotate 360 degrees and driving tablets instead of wheels. Did we mention it had an on/off switch that looked like a tail that wagged? Yeah, this car didn’t make it past the concept phase.
2001 Dodge Super 8 Hemi
The Dodge Super 8 Hemi attempted to combine the look of Dodge’s signature SUVs and trucks into one look. The awkward looking car was first shown off at the 2001 North American International Auto Show.
The reaction at the auto show was disappointment. The idea of the car was exciting, but the execution left a lot to be desired. The look of the Super 8 Hemi was one of Dodge mashing a bunch of different cars together and hoping for the best.
2000 Pontiac Aztek
From concept to production, not much changed with the Pontiac Aztek. The automaker had finally learned its lesson, and was ready to roll the dice with a highly anticipated car. The problem was the niche market Pontiac was targeting.
The Aztek was aimed at outdoors enthusiasts who loved camping. With that purpose in mind, the car was designed to make spending time in the forest as easy as possible. Spending time on the freeway or with family, however, was a much different story.
1997 Pontiac Rageous
While we would love to give Pontiac a break, we can’t ignore the Rageous. From the design of the car to the name, there was nothing to love in this over-the-top concept.
Pontiac built the Rageous like a Firebird but turned it into a weird hatchback with a drop-down tailgate. As one Pontiac employee described it, “It provoked the [deleted word] out of upper management. When Pontiac comes out of the closet, we really come out.”
2001 Honda Unibox
Yes, this is an actual concept car that Honda made in 2001. No, it never made it past the concept stage, and it’s pretty obvious why. Would you want to drive around in a six-wheeled, clear-bodied Honda?
We didn’t think so. Hopefully, Honda never had any real intention of producing this car. We don’t know anyone who would consider buying one, although with billions of people in the world, the chances of selling at least would have been likely.