The smell of coffee, the buzz of people, the sound of conversation and debate – there’s nothing like a motor show.
We’re talking one of the big ones; Paris, Geneva, Los Angeles, Detroit – the bright lights and smooth metal are very appealing.
Talk to any of the public relations managers and their enthusiasm is infectious. As is the excitement of well-rehearsed engineers or design gurus.
You can see the love they have for their product, and when it comes to fruition, becoming a production car, motoring journos get pretty enthused, too.
But cut through the clever words in the press release and the marketing spin and things don’t hold up so well to inspection.
It was made ever more clear last month during the Tokyo Motor Show. There were so many concept vehicles, so many clever ideas that it was impossible to know where to look.
But cast your eyes toward Mitsubishi’s e-VOLUTION concept and you start to see that concept cars are a lie.
Put simply, the piece of metal (if you can call it that – there’s hardly any metal in it) you see on the stand doesn’t do what it says on the tin.
Among the images was a picture of the car hammering along, spray coming off the wheels, perfect lighting and plenty of Photoshop. And that’s the problem. To get the car moving, Photoshop is needed.
Why isn’t there an official image of the car driving along? Because it can’t.
A few years ago, we were able to see the Jaguar C-X75 concept car up close at a Jaguar-Williams launch event. After a bit of talking with a few people and a bit of prodding, we determined that the gas turbines the car came with weren’t real at all. They were simply pieces of plastic moulding.
The car could drive, thanks to a real motor hidden underneath, but it wasn’t at the speeds advertised. In fact, the concept car was limited to walking pace.
The Mitsubishi e-VOLUTION, likewise, says on the press release that it has a special yaw control system, that it runs super powerful electric motors and that there’s an AI voice coaching system that tells you how to improve your driving.
Really? Well, Mitsubishi, let’s fire it up and start the lessons. Oh, it can’t do it? What a surprise.
How many concept vehicles look amazing, but if tasked with actually accomplishing what they say they do, simply keel over?
Then there’s the Suzuki XBEE and eSURVIVOR concepts. Amazing looking SUVs, and as styling exercises they show that the company can do some amazing work. But let’s see the eSURVIVOR head into the bush. Not possible? What a shame.
Why do car companies insist on telling us what these concepts can do, but fail to deliver on their promises? If it’s just a styling exercise, then call it that – a style concept used to gauge people’s reaction to design language. But they keep saying these cars “have” this and “do” that when they clearly don’t.
It’s almost like concept cars are an embodiment of executive’s thought bubbles. You can see it in the boardroom now: “I want our future cars to be able to talk to us, to have transparent dashes and to be able to use VR”. Then the minions have to come up with a new design, they carve it out of clay, whack a coat of paint on it and a press release gets emailed, stating all of the CEO’s objectives.
Everyone just laps it up. Magazines and websites churn out a rewritten version of the press release, and no-one ever questions it.
Isn’t it time we start calling them out? Imagine a world where a journalist asks the car company to produce evidence that the technology they say is packed into their concept is in fact real.
Imagine a world where a demonstration of artificial intelligence is a part of the car show instead of just words on a page.
Imagine a world where the concept car that everyone says can go from 0-100kmh in less than two seconds actually does it, instead of someone saying it and then engineers madly scramble to make it happen, only to have to revise their real-world figures.
Let’s not hold our breath.
What bugs you about concept cars? Tell us in the comments below.