Building a concept car is the perfect opportunity for automotive engineers and designers to explore their wildest flights of fancy. Some concepts are intended to evolve into production vehicles. Some are simply proof of concept, or ways to show off an automaker’s technological advances. The one commonality is that they explore new and creative ways to answer questions facing the greater automotive community. Technologies seen for the first time in concept vehicles often find their way into production within a decade. Here’s a list of 15 of the most unusual concept cars to date, and the technology they introduced.
1. Mitsubishi Emirai: The Futuristic Assistant
Introduced at the 2011 Tokyo Motor Show, the Emirai was an EV concept meant to encapsulate the future of interactive driving technology. The futuristic two-seater pod of a car has no roof or doors.
It’s equipped with an image sensing assisted driving system, biometric control capabilities, a rear-projection touch screen and dashboard, and personalized settings based on biometric identification. Eighteen buttons on keypads mounted on the wheel and a touch display that can recognize characters complete the control scheme.
2. Nissan IDx Nismo and Freeflow: The Successors
The Nissan IDx was presented as the spiritual successor to the cult classic Nissan 510 of the 1970s. First displayed at the Tokyo Motor Show in 2013, the Freeflow was billed as a casual compact, while the Nismo was the sportier option, with a 1.6 liter turbo engine and more aggressive styling, including side mufflers and 19 inch wheels.
Jay Leno took the car out on his well-loved Jay Leno’s Garage series and thought it was fantastic. Unfortunately, Nissan has changed their production priorities and decided not to build a consumer version. The fans, however, are still hopeful that they have just postponed the production.
3. Audi RSQ: The Robot
The Audi RSQ was designed as a futuristic supercar for Will Smith to drive in the movie “I, Robot”. An incredibly ambitious product placement coming from Audi, the RSQ was designed and developed specifically for the film.
The greatest thing about it is that it is actually fully functional, with a twin-turbo V10 and 610 horsepower. Despite the vehicle’s radical, futuristic design, it can instantly be recognized as an Audi, and in fact served as the design inspiration for the Audi R8.
4. Takayanagi Miluira: The Steampunk Dream
This $75,000 steampunk-styled roadster was introduced in 2008. It’s an EV that uses lead-acid batteries, with a top speed of just 37 MPH.
But what really makes the car stand out are the styling touches; beautiful wood accents and a hand-built and vintage styled interior make the car a quirky passion-purchase for those looking for a unique way to get around town.
5. Yo-Mobil: The Russian EV
The Yo-Mobil was a planned Russian hybrid EV first introduced in Moscow in 2010. Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov had intended to invest $200 million into the project, in order to break the stereotype that Russia couldn’t create quality cars. The combustion engine of the concept vehicle was capable of running on both gasoline and natural gas, and was connected to two electric motors.
The vehicle was expected to be able to go 67 miles on a gallon of gas and have a range of 680 miles. It was never tested though, due to a lack of working models. Prokhorov pulled out of the project in 2014, after the weakening of the ruble, despite over 210,000 pre-orders, but made sure that the project continues by selling it the the state-owned Central Automotive Research Institute.
6. Citroen Tubik: The Space Van
Amazing concepts aren’t exclusively limited to cars, as Citroen Tubik confirmed. This incredible van was inspired by the Citroen Type H. The 9-seater vehicle was decidedly futuristic; the interior was modeled as a lounge space, with panoramic windows and full-length gull-wing doors.
The entire driver’s compartment is grouped into one unit called the Cyclotron, and the vehicle used an advanced four-wheel drive hybrid diesel drivetrain.
7. BMW GINA: The Shape-Shifter
The incredibly bold GINA concept vehicle was a shape-shifting roadster composed of an aluminum and carbon frame covered in a flexible, seamless fabric.
Hydraulic and electric actuators spread throughout the vehicle changed the orientation of the frame, altering the vehicle’s shape in real time. Surprisingly, the car’s functionality didn’t stop on shape altering: it was actually able to run and drive.
8. MAG: The Magnet Powered Car
The MAG is a three wheeled, magnetically driven vehicle that won the Unseen Technology award at Interior Motives Design 2007. Unfortunately, the technology in the vehicle is a little too advanced for the current infrastructure; it requires roads made of magnetized panels to get anywhere, and the compatible technology, although possible, is too expensive to make it work at this time.
9. AeroMobil: A Real Flying Car
The Slovakian company Aeromobil has already proven the merit of their concept many times over, with several working prototypes of flying cars. A final, consumer ready product has been promised by 2017.
Before that time, the vehicle has to pass safety tests for both the road and the sky. Potential drivers should be warned; this flying car will require both a pilot’s and a driver’s license, and is likely to cost several hundred thousand dollars.
10. P-Eco: An EV that harnesses piezoelectricity
The P-Eco is an extremely interesting concept electric vehicle. Unlike conventional range extended electrics, the P-Eco used piezoelectricity to recharge its batteries, capturing the energy potential of chords that would vibrate while the vehicle was in motion. Piezoelectricity is a charge that accumulates in certain solid materials in response to applied mechanical stress. This charge was to work like a gasoline range extender would; it wouldn’t have been enough to power the vehicle on its own, but it would extend the range considerably.
11. Mercedes Benz F015: A Self-Driving Luxury
The F015—full name Mercedes Benz F015 Luxury In Motion—is about as futuristic as a design gets. A huge, sweeping glass panoramic roof, pillarless design and classic pod-car shape made a huge splash at the 2015 Detroit Auto Show.
It is an entirely autonomous vehicle equipped with a cabin filled with all the comforts of a millionaire’s living room; wood, leather, swiveling seats, and a large screen with both gesture and touch controls.
12. VW Bulli Concept: The Minibus Re-imagined
A reimagining of the classic VW mini bus, the Bulli was the 2011 iteration of a 2001 vehicle called the Microbus Concept, shown at the Geneva Auto Show. The Bulli was a six-seater with reconfigurable seats and a flat floor for cargo storage.
It had a full media center, a 114 HP electric motor with lithium-ion batteries, a top speed of 87 MPH and a range of 186 miles. This one looked ready for market, but sadly never saw production.
13. Peugeot Egochine: The Razor Sharp Design
Created for a Peugeot “Retrofuturism” themed design contest, the Egochine was part Art-Deco masterpiece, part shaving razor and part F1 car. It would be hard to call it beautiful, but the melding of 1930’s style fenders, a two-tone paint job with race-inspired aerodynamic sculpting and a truly original form factor made this car stand out from the crowd.
14. Renault DeZir: What the Future Holds
The DeZir was a concept electric sports car first demonstrated at the 2010 Paris motor show. The 2-seater boasted a 148 HP mid-mounted motor good for a top speed of 112 MPH and a zippy 0-60 time of just 5 seconds.
The really advanced tech is evident in the building process of the car; asymmetrical doors scissor open on each side of a Kevlar body wrapped around a steel tube frame. The concept is supposed to be an indication of the future of commuter vehicles from Renault.
15. ELF: Not a car, not really a bike either
ELF stands for Electric, Light and Fun. The ELF is fairly unique from an automotive perspective—it is a hybrid electric bicycle car. Rob Cotter launched the startup, Organic Transit, which builds the vehicle.
It is technically not a car, but an enclosed tricycle with an optionally employed motor that can be powered by both a wall socket and the vehicle’s solar panels. It has a top speed of 30 MPH, turn signals, headlights and cargo space, but still legally qualifies as a bicycle.
Each of the above concepts tackles a slightly different issue facing the automotive industry, from alternative fuels, weight, mileage, to incorporating the most advanced technology available. Although many never make it past the concept stage, their styling and innovation enter the automotive lexicon and influence design and engineering for years to come.