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Automakers have long used concept cars to experiment with radical new ideas that push styling boundaries. These exercizes in imagination often employ bold, futuristic bodywork to capture the public's attention. Though not slated for production, eye-catching concepts can influence consumer tastes and inspire elements that eventually make their way to showrooms.
Some of the most striking auto designs over the past decades have prioritized form over function. The very shape of the vehicle becomes a canvas for provocative lines and proportions. Flexing this creative muscle allows designers to envision vehicles not just as machines, but as art in motion.
Concept cars like the 1951 GM Le Sabre with its jet-inspired rear fins and the low-slung Alfa Romeo Carabo of 1968 demonstrated just how evocative auto styling could be. These iconic designs still turn heads today. More recently, the Mercedes-Benz Biome concept car ditches right angles entirely for sensuous, bio-inspired curves.
Automakers are also getting bolder with experiments in lighting design. Concept vehicles like the Audi AI: Trail and Volkswagen ID. Buggy feature matrix LED arrangements that can display customizable patterns. Expanding on this theme, the Hyundai Seven concept SUV employs hundreds of small LED panels on its exterior for a pixelated look that can display designs, animations, or even messages.
Color choice and textures further let designers play with our perceptions. The Volkswagen Futura concept is awash in Mystic Bronze matte paint that appears to change hue. Orange and green exterior finishes collided in a clashing visual statement on the Infiniti Qs Inspiration. Concept cars serve as a chance to break free from the usual palette of greys, silvers, whites and blacks.
Concept cars serve as testbeds for the latest powertrain technology and materials aimed at enhancing performance. Automakers experiment with innovative engine designs and alternative energy sources to push power and efficiency further. Though not ready for mass production, these pioneering propulsion systems provide a glimpse into the future of driving.
Electric vehicle concepts showcase advances in battery capacity, motors, and charging that expand the possibilities of emissions-free transportation. The Drako GTE concept boasts a colossal 6,000 Nm of torque generated by four permanent magnet hybrid synchronous motors. This allows it to rocket from 0-60 mph in under 2 seconds. Meanwhile, Volkswagen's ID.R racer employs an ultra-lightweight 500kW system to set EV track records.
Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles similarly use concepts to exhibit new hydrogen storage methods and fuel cell stacks. The Audi H-Tron Quattro concept can reportedly achieve 372 miles on a single hydrogen fill up. Toyota's Fine-Comfort Ride offers an entirely new take on fuel cell systems. It separates the fuel cell powertrain from the cabin to prioritize comfort and interior space.
Even gas-powered concept cars feature cutting-edge engines which point to possibilities beyond today's production models. Infiniti's variable compression ratio engine debuting in the QX Inspiration offers diesel-like efficiency from a gas motor. The Koenigsegg Gemera introduces tiny but mighty three-cylinder internal combustion engines aided by hybrid boost.
Concepts also provide glimpses of new structural materials. McLaren's speedtail body incorporates a carbon fiber and titanium weave for extraordinary rigidity. The BMW i Vision Circular foregoes traditional metal entirely, constructed from recycled plastic and other renewable materials to enable true circularity.
Wheels and tires may seem like mundane components, but concept cars highlight how even these fundamentals of driving can be radically reimagined. By rethinking the humble tire contact patch, designers hint at vehicles that grip, handle and ride like never before.
A key area of innovation is shape-changing wheel rims that optimize the tire profile for different conditions. The Michelin Vision concept introduces numeric motors that dynamically alter the diameter of each wheel. Lower profiles engender sporty handling, while taller sidewalls provide cushioning and float over imperfections. Jaguar Land Rover's Morphing Project utilizes similar adaptive rim technology. The vision is personalized wheel shapes for comfort, stability, efficiency or performance at the touch of a button.
Several concept cars also experiment with spherical tires that completely reinvent the contact patch. Goodyear's Eagle 360 tire design encapsulates a magnetic propulsion system inside a ball-shaped exterior. This spherical tire could rotate in any direction, eliminating the need for complex steering systems. GM's Autonomy concept car simplifies motion even further with just two spherical tires, one on each side. The ACTIV body balancing system keeps the vehicle upright.
Non-pneumatic tires present an even more radical departure from convention. The Bridgestone Air-Free tire uses a specialized resin spoke structure instead of compressed air. This eliminates punctures while providing natural shock absorption. Toyota's fine-comfort ride concept demonstrates the application of these airless tires. They team up with in-wheel electric motors to deliver silent, smooth operation.
Tweaking tread pattern and tire composition provides additional avenues for exploration. Continental's Conti Silent Eco tire uses a specialized subtread to reduce noise pollution from road roar. Goodyear's reCharge tire incorporates living moss in the sidewalls to soak up carbon as you drive.
Concept cars are vehicles of imagination, but the most fantastical visions still need to handle well on real roads. Automakers therefore utilize these design studies to experiment with trailblazing suspensions and steering. This push to maximize vehicle dynamics results in concepts boasting cutting-edge hardware that could revolutionize the driving experience.
A key area of innovation is active and interconnected suspension systems. Mercedes-Benz debuted what it calls E-ACTIVE BODY CONTROL on the GLE concept. This high-tech suspension can individually control spring and damping forces at each wheel. Interconnected hydraulics counteract pitch, dive, and roll, creating an ultra-stable platform. BMW's Vision M Next employs similar active technology, which the automaker dubs Adaptive Push Rod Suspension. This keeps the vehicle balanced during hard cornering, virtually eliminating body roll.
Italian supercar maker Lamborghini pushed active suspensions even further on its Terzo Millennio concept. Each wheel contains its own electric motor and can be precisely steered. This allows for revolutionary possibilities like having the front and rear wheels counter-steer at low speeds for tighter turning. The system even enables fully sideways driving.
Steer-by-wire concepts present another radical change that untethers steering input from a physical connection to the wheels. Infiniti's Qs Inspiration uses electronic signals in place of a steering shaft to control tire angle. This enables adjustable steering ratios optimized for parking maneuvers or high-speed stability. The Volkswagen ID Buggy concept takes this virtual steering idea off-road. An absence of linkages prevents kicks or jolts from terrain entering the steering wheel.
Automakers are also rethinking steering wheel design itself in concept cars. BMW introduced its "Advanced Steering Wheel" on the i Vision Circular. This unusual squared-off wheel incorporates touch pads and swipe areas for control inputs. The central display area provides speed, vehicle data and navigation. Jaguar's virtual interior concept does away with a steering wheel entirely. Instead, the dashboard surface acts as a massive touchscreen for steering via swipe gestures.
Lighting design plays a vital, yet often overlooked role in the emotional impact and functionality of automobiles. Concept cars provide designers free rein to experiment with lighting elements that not only showcase bleeding-edge technology, but also wink at possibilities for expressive new forms of visual communication between vehicles.
Matrix LED and laser arrays enable configurations impossible with conventional bulbs, transforming lighting into a dynamic, customizable styling element. The Mercedes-Benz Vision AVTR concept employs advanced matrix LEDs which resemble eyes, contributing to its emotive, living machine aesthetic. Audi's Skysphere concept incorporates 595 individual LEDs in the front, which can create interactive lighting sequences. Designers at the Stellantis group envision vehicles that display messages or designs using an entire "light skin" of LED panels coating the bodywork. This presents radical possibilities for self-expression.
Innovative lighting design also aims to enhance safety through clearer communication of intent between vehicles. Concepts such as Volkswagen"s ID. Light reference aircraft wingtip lighting with cohesive flows of color that indicate braking, accelerating or turning intention. Mercedes-Benz"s F015 Luxury in Motion loves this idea further with interactive projected symbols that warn pedestrians of imminent vehicle movements. Engineers could tailor messaging to be internationally understood regardless of language.
A less expected benefit of flexible lighting elements is reducing the visual impact of vehicles on surroundings. Matrix LEDs enable partially dimming the high beam projecting area to avoid dazzling other drivers, without sacrificing foreground illumination. Jaguar Land Rover"s adaptive beam technology previews intelligent, camera-controlled headlights that cast cones of light optimized to road conditions and terrain.
Of course, lighting innovations also aim to improve vision for the driver and passengers. The which Hyundai Mobis M.Vision concept pops up slim OLED panels in place of headlights. These panels are transparent when not in use, preserving aerodynamic flow. Mercedes-Benz"s Vision EQXX concept achieves a world record distance 747 km on a single charge aided by advanced LED matrix headlights that reduce energy consumption up to 90% compared to halogen bulbs.
The fashion and automotive industries have always shared a special connection. After all, clothes and cars both shape our public identities, acting as moving billboards that convey status, personality, and taste. This kinship comes alive in the niche world of couture automobiles - exclusive, handcrafted vehicles designed in partnership with iconic fashion houses.
Though not mass production models, haute couture cars provide a valuable platform for cross-pollination between luxury fashion and bespoke auto design. The clientele for such vehicles craves the chance to extend a beloved brand's aesthetic from their wardrobe into their garage. As Simon Hellar, an automotive engineer who collaborated on a bespoke Lamborghini Aventador with Dolce & Gabbana describes, "It provided the ultimate canvas for the client to express their jet-set lifestyle through exotic materials and fearless design details."
Materials straight off the runway find fresh applications in these one-of-a-kind vehicles. A Bentley Continental GTC customized by HermÃ¨s is upholstered in fine leather saddle stitching and lush cashmere-blend carpeting, nodding to the fashion label's equestrian roots. A Rolls-Royce Ghost crafted with Givenchy combines black leather with a trademark Bambi print lining the interior. Even technical fabrics like neoprene get luxury treatment, with a Chanel-inspired Aston Martin Vanquish swathing occupants in quilted neoprene upholstery.
These exclusive autos allow designers to translate iconic patterns, colors and shapes that define a fashion brand into a mobile form. The Karl Lagerfeld Mercedes SLR exhibits a monochromatic palette and linear contours reminiscent of the late designer's signature aesthetic. Say "Fendi" and a distinctive black and gold colorway likely comes to mind - prominently featured on their collab with Lamborghini. Meanwhile, mosiac-like insignia prints transform vehicles into bespoke fashion accessories.