Concept cars, trucks, crossovers and SUVs are always conceived with the words, "What if?"
A carmaker's visionary -- be it an executive, engineer or product planner -- gets an idea that is kicked around the water cooler, gains support and eventually gets the go-ahead from a decision maker. The ones that make it through the development process to take on a real form often find themselves on a pedestal at auto shows.
Scott Oldham, editor in chief of Insideline.com at Edmunds, says manufacturers create concept vehicles for three basic reasons.
It's a journey into the fantastic. Some concept cars are just for fun, like the first concept car, the Buick Y-Job in 1938. Some of their elements may become reality, but mostly they're just fantasy. They're used to increase company morale and spark the staff's imagination. "They used to call them dream cars in the 1950s," Oldham says.
To measure public reaction. Some concept cars are green-lighted for production based on the level of excitement and positive response at auto shows. The Dodge Viper went on sale in 1992 after starting a huge buzz at the 1989 auto shows. "A lot of time," Oldham says, "just to see what the public's imagination is ready for."
A first glimpse. Other concept cars are already earmarked for production in some form by the time they begin their auto show appearances. Oldham calls these "hidden production" vehicles, like the Honda Insight Concept. It premiered at the 2008 Paris Auto Show and went on sale the next year, basically unchanged.
Here are some of the concept cars appearing at auto shows this year that fall into the last two groups.