Before the recession, automakers at auto shows regularly showed off futuristic concept cars, which seemed more about keeping the design departments busy than developing future products. When resources became scarce, concept cars largely became prototypes brought out to gauge public reaction.
Such is still the case, given the assortment of concept cars we saw during the most recent international auto show cycle.
Beginning with last year's Paris Motor Show, and running through Detroit, Geneva, and New York, automakers unveiled concepts that tended to be templates for new models. The reaction these cars received from public and press served as a focus group report for the automakers, giving them a good indication whether the concepts could be green-lit for production or sent back to the drawing board.
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One of the most exciting concepts was the Subaru WRX, mostly due to enthusiast interest in the next generation of this sporty and affordable car. Subaru did not say anything about performance specs when it took the covers off at the New York auto show, but the little sedan looked very athletic.
A number of small SUVs made appearances: the Volkswagen CrossBlue, Honda Urban SUV, Nissan Resonance, and Lincoln MKC. The spike in this type of car shows that automakers recognize the segment's popularity. Of these four, Honda said it had very definite production plans, while the Lincoln MKC seemed another likely candidate to enter showrooms. The Nissan Resonance looked more like a design exercise, but it carries a definite new styling language, which may find its way to new Nissan models.
The Volkswagen CrossBlue looked very intriguing, especially with its diesel-electric hybrid drivetrain. Although Volkswagen said it had developed the vehicle specifically for the American market, the vehicle is only likely to enter production if it can be built here.
At the Paris Motor Show, Nissan brought out the more outlandish Terra SUV, a fuel cell-powered vehicle. Nothing about the car looked intended for production, but it made for an interesting look at what Nissan might be making in 10 or 20 years.