Any car fanatic or automotive professional would find it hard to resist the excitement and novelty of a good concept car. Despite rarely making it to full production in the same format, the concept car will often inspire the features of the final vehicle from new tech to the ultimate interior, and it’s a great way for OEMs to demonstrate their technical capabilities.
In today’s ever-changing, always demanding, and climate conscious society, the focus of concept cars is something quite different to years past.
Now we see the entire industry shifted to one huge key focus – sustainable solutions. This goes for the inside and outside and everything in between.
We’ve seen the introduction of hybrid vehicles move to fully EV with the need to increase range and capabilities, while Hydrogen is already on the horizon. All these are steps towards becoming fully carbon neutral. Taking incremental steps is important as there is no one quick solution to global warming in any industry. This is where the power of concepts cars comes in, allowing OEMs to test, trial and push the boundaries of the future of automotive.
Alongside sustainability, other trends coming through include increasing innovation in tech (e.g. gamification, healthcare), and car interiors playing a much larger role in the overall design of a vehicle.
Let’s take a look at the tech side first.
Tech inside vehicles has already moved on with the increasing intuitiveness of AI and voice controls. The CES Expo held in Las Vegas showcased the advances this area has made in automotive with EV’s and in-car tech dominating the huge electronics show. There was a lot of talk in autonomous vehicles and EV charging technology, Google presented themselves as an automotive company and even Sony launched a prototype of a new EV with Honda. The car cabin tech on display focused on augmented reality and virtual reality right through to in-car gaming.
With the next generation of the internet just around the corner, it’s no surprise the ‘metaverse’ is becoming a popular topic of conversation. This will have a huge impact on the automotive industry and could help concept vehicle development by allowing OEMs to first create a highly realistic virtual version of a vehicle. Soon people will be able to feel the interior materials, open doors and even drive the car like the “real” thing, all through a virtual experience.
Despite the sophisticated technology we see emerging over the next 5-10 years, surveys still indicate that the average buyer will always want to see the actual car they intend to buy, even if a larger portion of the sales journey has been carried out virtually. Likewise, it’s unlikely any OEM will bring major new launches to market without concept cars – meaning there is still very much a place in the industry for them.
The role of interiors.
Historically car design has been biased towards the exterior aesthetics of a vehicle, with the interiors being second in line. This is no longer the case and we see many concept cars focussing a lot more time and attention on the experience the interior will give the driver or passenger. Luxury, comfort and a more home-like feeling is where future interiors are heading. Alongside these requirements OEMs mustn’t lose sight of the need to source more circular solutions and materials.
Sustainable luxury is something we’ve talked about for a while and it’s a concept not many thought could be achievable until more recently. Now we see OEMs seeking interior materials with authentic, sustainable credentials from the very early concept stages. Designing responsibly from the outset is critical in pulling through sustainable interiors from concept to production.
So which concept cars have impressed the industry recently?…
Car Design Review announced the Concept Car of the Year 2022 as the hydrogen powered Hyundai N Vision 74. The car not only represents Hyundai’s vision for a sustainable future, but also perfectly combines performance and modern tech with design that pulls on the heritage of the brand. Simon Loasby, Vice President, Head of Hyundai Style Group, talked to Car Design News about the award and why the key to success in having fun.
Here’s a few other notable concept car examples:
- Audi AI:CON – all about autonomous driving https://www.audi.com/en/innovation/concept-cars/audi-aicon.html
- Mercedes EQXX – how to get the ultimate EV efficiency with sustainable materials- https://media.mercedes-benz.com/vision_eqxx
- Mercedes-Benz F 015 Luxury in Motion – autonomous driving together with luxury to create a comfortable, productive and homely space https://group-media.mercedes-benz.com/marsMediaSite/en/instance/ko/Overview-Mercedes-Benz-F-015-Luxury-in-Motion.xhtml?oid=9904624&ls=L2VuL2luc3RhbmNlL2tvL1RoZS1NZXJjZWRlcy1CZW56LUYtMDE1LUx1eHVyeS1pbi1Nb3Rpb24tRm9yZXJ1bm5lci1vZi1hLW1vYmlsaXR5LXJldm9sdXRpb24ueGh0bWw_b2lkPTk5MDY1NzMmcmVsSWQ9NjA4MjImZnJvbU9pZD05OTA2NTczJnJlc3VsdEluZm9UeXBlSWQ9NDA2Mjcmdmlld1R5cGU9bGlzdCZzb3J0RGVmaW5pdGlvbj1QVUJMSVNIRURfQVQtMiZ0aHVtYlNjYWxlSW5kZXg9MSZyb3dDb3VudHNJbmRleD01JmZyb21JbmZvVHlwZUlkPTQwNjMw&rs=3#prevId=7546502
We also asked the design experts from studiokurbos in Germany about their experiences, since their wide range of clients from OEMs and Start Ups to Tier 1s in the mobility sector is quite unique.
“We see a huge demand when it comes to sustainability topics in mobility”, says Andreas Kurbos, and adds “But besides looking far forward and experimenting with what is next, it is equally important to make sure that a partner (like ELeather) can prove that their materials are sustainable from the very beginning – and scalable. Because a concept car quite often also foresees a production car.”
Below is an example of studiokurbos and former Porsche designer, Tony Hatter, working closely together (on behalf of RUF Automobile GmbH) in the design development of the “RUF Bergmeister” sports car, which paid homage to the legendary Porsche 909 Bergspyder from 1968.
Concept cars are here to stay.
In an environment of intense commercial competition, the concept car is a way for OEMs to test the public’s response towards new designs, as well as creating some media buzz and favourable PR around the brand.
In the past, the concept car has been described as a ‘development accelerator.’ With the automotive industry moving away from standard internal combustion engine-powered vehicles and towards electric, hydrogen and autonomy, many manufacturers are embracing the spirit of the concept car to showcase future sustainable plans.
What does this mean to the interior materials?
The popular choice at the moment is new, alternative fibres such as mushroom, fruit or cactus used to create a leather-like product. But as we know from our discussion with CDN and the panellists where we debated sustainable luxury materials, leather still has its place in the luxury space. Also it’s clear from more recent articles in the press that despite the hype, new ‘sustainable’ material entrants are still too young to be validated for performance at the stable, and scalable level, required for the automotive industry.
Watch this space for the next generation concept cars that bring the true harmony of sustainable luxury, tech and performance to the market.