Concept Cars from past Detroit Auto Shows

March 31, 2011
Concept Cars-the past ten years

The 2014 Detroit Auto Show covered almost a million square feet of show space at Cobo Hall. Some of that space was occupied by concept vehicles -- futuristic cars and trucks automakers want to show the driving public to gage their popularity and appeal. That included several electric cars, either fuel-cell powered, battery powered owns, and hybrids. Here’s a closer look.

After a handful of years of small electric and hybrid vehicles, designers went back to rethink SUVs and Crossovers, but several are high-mileage hybrids. There were also a few supercar concepts, as well as one economy model that can show drive-in movies on any plain white wall.

This year’s auto show had power plants bit for everyone: electric-only vehicles, gas-burning performance or economy, and a few hybrids of the two. And designers shoehorned those engines and motors into a wide array of slickly styled vehicles covering everything from micromini pickups to flashy high-performance supercars.

For 2011, car engineers had a go at SUVs, vans, and trucks, bringing them up to date. They also turbocharged a few smaller engines, getting more power from smaller packages.

For the second straight year, hybrids and all-electric cars dominated the automakers’ concept-car line up. They were also more functional than flashy. Several car companies, including Ford and Honda, decided not so show any concept vehicles. And several concept vehicles looked similar to current showroom offerings, at least on the outside.

A less flashy batch of concept cars for 2009 showcase a combination of energy-saving drivetrains and driver-centered electronics aimed at safety and comfort. No one at the this year’s North American International Auto Show was surprised to see a continuing focus on “green.” Despite a sour economy, automakers emphasized plug-in electric cars, hybrids, fuel-cell concepts, and clean diesels. But many ideas for boosting mpg seemed to target consumers trying to economize on gas rather than the green crowd. And while advanced electronics are eking more efficiency out of fuel-injection systems and transmissions, they are also playing a larger role in the passenger compartment for safety, navigation, and entertainment.

Some years it’s all about style. Other years, it’s performance or electronic wizardry. But this year, escalating energy costs and concerns about global warming have designers scrambling for the best technologies to wring the last drop of energy from their futuristic concepts. Here’s a look at some of the contenders for the green throne.

This year's concepts are mostly forward-thinking — with the partial exception of Ford's Airstream, a combination of Haight-Ashbury, sci-fi, and iconic design. Technology takes a front seat in this year's batch of concepts and Nature comes along for the ride (see the Mazda Ryuga). And the Chevy Volt debuts.

Carmakers are looking backward in time, at environmental impact, and even to aircraft, to spark consumer interest. But luxury is still king for many designers working to bring all the comforts of home, and then some, to our four-wheeled ego extensions.

Concept cars that make their debut here used to appear and disappear like rabbits in a hat, never to be seen again. But automakers are now turning some concepts into actual production vehicles at a quick clip. At this year's show, automakers didn't disappoint. Vehicles ran the gamut from a compact armored truck to a 500-hp sports car, promising an interesting future indeed.

If the North American International Auto Show in Detroit is any indication, muscle cars are still "in." Automakers paraded a variety of big-engine, high-horsepower concept vehicles. At least for the near future, it seems, vehicles that can lay rubber will remain part of American culture. To be fair, Toyota announced that electric/gasoline-hybrid technology will show up on its Lexus RX 330 SUV around 2005. The company also premiered the Fine-S fuel-cell concept, a four-seater sports car promising zero emissions. Ford Motor Co. debuted its Model U concept, a takeoff on Henry Ford's Model T, powered by a supercharged hydrogen internal-combustion engine with a hybrid-electric transmission. But clean-technology vehicles were minor announcements compared to the glut of supercharged, big-engine concept vehicles that dominated the show.

Car companies unveil a wide variety of show cars, including what would become the Chrysler Crossfire. There were also a reimagined Thunderbird and a VW van.

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