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What Is A Concept Car?

IMAGINATION VS. REALITY - Long before an automobile goes to production, automakers test the waters with one-off "What ifs"

Mar 22, 2018
Photographers: Toyota, Honda

Ok, so it's pretty clear from your reactions on social media and elsewhere to our GR Supra Concept car reveal story that a lot of you may not be totally clear about what a "concept car" is. Many acted like what Toyota debuted in Geneva was in fact the final version—the be all and end all—and either melted down or rejoiced over the unveiling. But guess what? The new Supra—or anything in the "concept" stage—is far from finished and ready for public consumption. So take a chill pill and read on.

To understand what a concept car is, you kinda have to know where it falls in the process of taking an automobile from idea to production vehicle—and that's pretty early. After a car company decides to build the thing—a decision that usually comes after market research and competitive benchmarking—the automobile is created as a sketch or in a computer, or both, where designers and engineers can flesh out their visions. Then company bean counters step in and squash those visions, tempering wild fantasy with the product's need to generate revenue and (hopefully) profit.

What is a concept car toyota ft1 concept car model Photo 2/128   |   What Is A Concept Car Toyota Ft1 Concept Car Model

Shortly after the car is generated in two dimensions (or three, as digital modeling goes these days) it becomes a concept, and for some vehicles there's an in-between step: the model. Clay models are what most think of, but we've seen them done in high-density foam and other materials as well. These can be scaled down versions of what the final form is expected to be, and along with the sketches and CGI and modeling, concept cars are part of the critical design stage of automobile development.

What is a concept car 2018 honda civic type r Photo 3/128   |   The Honda Civic Type R Prototype

Concept cars exist to persuade everyone interested—consumers, manufacturer executives, et al—that mass-producing a real-life rendition is worthwhile. From the concept stage or even sometimes overlapping the concept stage, prototypes are generated—that is, actual pre-production drivable iterations of the car, albeit not in finished form—and after that fine-tuning exercise comes the manufacturing step, when vehicle engineers take an even bigger role in the process, figuring out all the car's various tech, systems, and design and how they will synch together. Engineers also play a large role in figuring out how all the parts should be made and assembled efficiently.

What is a concept car FT 86 Photo 4/128   |   What Is A Concept Car FT 86

Launching the new vehicle is the last step in car development, and from start to finish experts seem to generally agree a new car can take about six years to develop and release, give or take a few years, much of that process out of the public's eye. For example, Toyota/Subaru seemed to push out their FR-S/86/BRZ pretty quickly, the first FT-86 concepts emerging in 2009 and FR-S/BRZ production commencing just a couple years later in late 2011. For the new Civic Type R, we saw a concept back in 2014 and production versions were on the market in 2017. And as for Supra—the FT-1 concept broke in 2014 and we're still waiting for the production version, which seems likely next year.

What is a concept car toyota ft1 Photo 5/128   |   What Is A Concept Car Toyota Ft1

Is there a way to spot a concept car without having to constantly read automotive news or follow OEM social media accounts? There is—kinda. For one, concept cars are almost always exclusive to major auto shows—think the motor shows in L.A., Detroit, Tokyo, Geneva, etc. The cars typically can be pretty futuristic looking, inside and out, meaning dramatic bodylines, custom wheels, modern head-/tail lights, that sort of thing. And honestly, a lot of concept cars feature styling cues you would likely never see on a regular production vehicle, elements like lowered ride heights and crazy aero.

So the next time a car company decides to resurrect your favorite model from the past, and you have a fit because their first stab at a concept car leaves you totally heartbroken—relax. It's just an exercise. Save your scorn for when the production version comes out and totally falls short of your expectations.

What is a concept car switch panel Photo 24/128   |   What Is A Concept Car Switch Panel
What is a concept car gr supra concept Photo 43/128   |   What Is A Concept Car Gr Supra Concept
What is a concept car center exit exhaust Photo 62/128   |   What Is A Concept Car Center Exit Exhaust
What is a concept car omp bucket seat Photo 72/128   |   What Is A Concept Car Omp Bucket Seat
What is a concept car civic type r front view Photo 91/128   |   What Is A Concept Car Civic Type R Front View
What is a concept car Scion FRS Photo 110/128   |   What Is A Concept Car Scion FRS
Bob Hernandez
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