Concept cars are designed and built to allow automobile engineers an opportunity to experiment with new features and body styles. They have traditionally pushed the boundaries of practical application, but the vehicle prototypes are essential to showcasing new design concepts and technologies in often radical ways.
Design director Thierry Metroz of the French luxury brand DS said, "A concept car is a development accelerator." Its role is to "test the new technologies that we imagine for the future and accelerate their development."
New concept cars are often displayed at motor shows, such as the Frankfurt Motor Show, one of the most significant events of the year. The exposure allows vehicle manufacturers to gauge the reaction of the media and the public before refining them for possible production.
However, concept cars are enigmatic in that some are futuristic and beautiful, others can be the most remarkable pieces of machinery ever seen, while others are just plain “lame ducks,” both in form and function.
Here are twenty of the ugliest concept cars that never made it to the production line.
20 Mercedes-Benz Bionic Car, 2005
Introduced at the Daimler Chrysler Innovation Symposium in Washington, D.C., in 2005, the Mercedes-Benz Bionic Car was modeled after a fish. Mercedes asked Ronald Fricke, head of the ichthyology department at the Rosenstein Museum in Stuttgart, to recommend one: "It was our idea to choose a slowly but steadily swimming fish, and the boxfish was the first option."
However, the ungainly fish-looking vehicle – with an extremely low flow resistance drag coefficient of 0.06 – never made it to production.
19 Scion Hako Coupe, 2008
In 2008, when the Scion Hako Coupe first made its appearance in New York, the response from the media and car enthusiasts was a unanimous, “ugh!”
It looks like one of those fiberglass kits that some golfers put on their golf carts to create a simulated Rolls-Royce, Model-T, or ’57 Chevy. Only, in this case, it resembles a mini 18-wheeler.
18 Tang Hua Book of Songs, 2008
The Chinese vehicle by Tang Hua with the odd name, The Book of Songs, is a miniature car with a small electric motor upfront and no trunk.
The yellow color reminds the viewer of a baby chick before it grows its feathers. The concept looks like something out of the 1988 animated comedy Who Framed Roger Rabbit.
17 Plymouth Voyager 3, 1989
Jalopnik called this minivan "The worst concept car of all time."
The designers at Chrysler created a three-seat mini car for day-to-day transportation around town that could be mated to a self-powered unit that carried five more passengers. When the two pieces were joined, the rear wheels of the car were hidden, making the vehicle appear as one piece and an airport car rental bus.
16 Buick Signia, 1998
The General Motors’ press release for the Buick Signia concept car in 1998 stated: “The Signia is an upscale family sedan with SUV attributes designed for modern families on the go. Features include… inset rocker panels that prevent slush or mud from dripping on your pants…flexible cargo space, including a powered floor that extends 15 inches out the back.”
Rumor has it this failed concept car was abandoned in a remote parking lot.
15 The Peugeot Moovie, 2005
The Managing Director of Peugeot, Frédéric Saint-Geours, chose this design as the winning entry out of 3,800 proposed projects participating in the "Design the Peugeot of your dreams for the near future" contest.
A 23-year-old industrial design student from Lisbon, Portugal, created the anomaly. It looks like one of those clear plastic toy capsules that fall out of a gumball machine when a coin is inserted into the slot.
14 Sbarro Autobau, 2010
Fredy Lienhard, Sr. is a Swiss racing driver who competed in Formula Vee and Formula Two during the 1970s and 1980s and drove a Lola Can-Am car in Interserie division 2. The Sbarro Autobau was created in his honor.
A high-performance Ferrari V12 engine powers this machine that packs 500 horsepower and is located in the rear. The concept car’s form is so odd, however, it could pass for one of those “hot wheels” fantasy vehicles that make no sense.
13 General Motors EN-V, 2010
Developed jointly by General Motors and Segway Inc., the EN-V is a two-seater urban electric concept car that can be driven normally or autonomously.
The EN-V was displayed at the joint SAIC & GM pavilion at the 2010 Shanghai Expo 1 May through October 2010. The odd-shaped vehicle looks like something from the future: a transparent Star Wars stormtrooper helmet and mask on wheels.
12 Volkswagen Polo by Colani, 1977
While the original VW Polo was a dull, boxy machine, sometimes referred to as the “square back,” this concept version is no improvement. Car designer Luigi Colani did away with all the hard lines, but the curves on this car are nothing like those seen on an exotic sports car.
The green color seems appropriate. The car looks like some rare insect complete with the grill holes that could be the compound eyes of a fly.
11 Packard Twelve, 1998
In 1958, Packard-Studebaker suspended Packard's manufacturing operations in Detroit. Years later, automotive engineers Roy Gullickson and Lawrence Johnson attempted to revive the brand. They acquired the rights and completed a concept car in 1998.
After nearly ten years and an investment of $1.5 million, the ugly all-wheel-drive concept was displayed at the 25th-anniversary celebration of Arizona Packards in Tuscon, in October 1998. The car never entered production, but the prototype sold for $143,000 at the Sotheby’s Motor City auction in 2014.
10 Lexus LF-SA, 2015
The oddly configured grill on this Lexus LF-SA makes the concept car look angry. With its snarling mouth open and the excessive number of teeth, this vehicle seems ready to attack.
The car is also too small for the Lexus moniker. Only eleven feet in length and no room for four passengers, the size might be more appropriate for a Smart Car.
9 Chrysler Imperial, 2006
Occasionally (or perhaps frequently), automobile designers will create a new model borrowing features from an existing highly successful design. In some instances, it's merely a sincere form of flattery, while for others, an obvious case of automobile plagiarism.
The 2006 Imperial concept car was clearly an attempt by Chrysler to duplicate the appearance of the Rolls-Royce Phantom. While the prototype used the same suicide door setup and proportions, the result was an ugly Imperial.
8 Ford SYNus, 2005
The Ford SYNus concept car was built with safety as its top priority. It was completely bulletproof, featured metal shutters for windows, and a lockdown mode.
The small car was based on a Fiesta platform, but the body shape simulated an armored bank car. While the front end was menacing, the back hosted ridiculous four-spoke spin handled doors. Just to look at the vehicle is enough to cause a sinus (SYNus) headache, or perhaps a severe migraine.
7 Plymouth Expresso, 1994
The term “expresso” is often confused with the Italian word, “espresso,” meaning a robust black coffee created by forcing steam through finely-ground coffee beans in a sophisticated machine made for that purpose.
The design team at Chrysler forced a bad idea through their prototype-making machine, but instead of achieving an exquisite result (like the café), they produced this toy-like contraption.
6 Nissan Pivo 2, 2007
Perhaps the most intriguing feature of the Pivo 2 concept car is maneuverability, as it gave the ability to spin the cabin 360 degrees, eliminating the need for backing up. However, access to the interior is via a single front-facing door similar to the BMW Isetta, placing the driver’s feet in the dangerous crumple zone.
The Pivo 2 is an electric vehicle with wheels at the corners giving it the look of a futuristic “people mover” from Disneyland.
5 BMW Lovos, 2009
A German design student created the BMW Lovos Concept vehicle, which features an exterior body made of 260 identical movable panels that integrate photovoltaic functions with air-braking.
The panels can be closed like the scales of a fish to create a smooth surface, or they can remain open to the environment. The weird vehicle looks like a Betta fish that flares its fins to intimidate its enemies.
4 Kia KCV-II, 2002
Kia designed the KCV-II concept car as a compact pickup utility type vehicle with a lot of flowing but bizarre lines and unusual silver body cladding.
To distinguish the car from its competition (who knows which cars it would compete with?), the company added scissor doors. It seems logical since other cars have them, such as the McLaren P1, Ferrari LaFerrari, and the Lamborghini Reventon.
3 Dodge Super8 Hemi, 2001
The Super8 concept vehicle is a combination of design elements from Dodge's past SUV and truck vehicles that don’t work well together. The 1950s-style curved windshield, the suicide doors, and the gigantic crosshair grille looks like it was built to push other vehicles out of its path.
The only redeeming feature is the Hemi engine.
2 Acura Advanced Sedan, 2006
According to Car and Driver: “While other companies explore alternative powertrains and colorful tires…the goal with this car…was to create an ultra-luxury sedan to compete with Bentley and Maybach in the year 2020. Apparently, Acura sees its future in Gotham City, where the goal of every driver is to scare everyone else on the road with a Dracula-meets-Batmobile horror show on wheels.”
The experts at Car and Driver said they preferred the Maybach for their future transportation.
1 Ford Mustang "Rambo," 1994
In 1994, Ford was desperate to revitalize the tired Mustang design, so the design team finalized the car’s styling to three distinct schemes, which bore the names of Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bruce Jenner, and John Rambo.
The Rambo shown here, featuring snarling front effects, was considered too hostile. Ford project manager Bud Magaldi described the car as a “Batmobile-type thing, very aggressive and gutsy and dramatic like a Stealth Bomber.”
The Rambo never made it to production.
Sources: carbodydesign.com, autowise.com, motor1.com, netcarshow.com