DETROIT — Prototype cars — also called “concepts” — appear at every auto show. They’re a way for companies to test ideas, gauge reaction and hint at future designs.
Audi, Nissan, Kia, Volkswagen and others will have concept cars at this year’s Detroit auto show, which opens to the public Jan. 18. Some will be nearly identical to the cars that wind up in dealerships; others will be more outlandish.
Here are some past prototypes that debuted in Detroit over the last decade, and what happened afterwards:
FIVE THAT MADE IT:
CHEVROLET VOLT (2007) — GM’s revolutionary electric car with a backup gas engine debuted as a sexy concept in 2007. So, fans were disappointed with the dull looks of the production version revealed a year later. The car required significant design changes to improve its efficiency. But at least the idea made it to market. The Volt went on sale in 2010.
FISKER KARMA (2008) — The hybrid sports car, with its long hood and flowing lines, wowed crowds as a concept car in 2008. The $95,000 Karma went on sale three years later. But it was plagued with safety recalls, and Fisker eventually halted production and filed for bankruptcy protection. That wasn’t the Karma’s final chapter, however. At last year’s auto show, a company called VL Automotive showed the Destino — a Karma body with a Corvette engine under the hood. This year, VL Automotive is expected to show off a convertible Destino.
CADILLAC CONVERJ (2009) — A rakish Cadillac with the Chevy Volt’s plug-in hybrid powertrain wowed crowds in 2009, a recession year when there was little to cheer about in the auto industry. The Converj, renamed the ELR, re-emerged in production form at the 2013 show, and is set to go on sale early this year.
FORD VERTREK (2011) — There’s no Vertrek on the lot at your local Ford dealer. But there is a Ford Escape, the small crossover SUV that the sleek Vertrek foreshadowed in its 2011 Detroit debut. The new Escape was a radical departure from the boxy old version, and customers welcomed it. The Escape was the 9th best-selling vehicle in the U.S. last year.
HYUNDAI HCD-14 (2013) — The elegant HCD-14 previewed the new Genesis, which Hyundai will reveal at this year’s show. Some details from the concept, like the rear-hinged rear doors and the giant grille, didn’t survive. But the Genesis teems with new technology, including automatic parking and compatibility with the Google Glass wearable computer.
FIVE THAT DIDN’T:
DODGE KAHUNA (2003) — Aimed at surfers, the Kahuna was a cross between a Woodie wagon and a minivan. It did have one feature that eventually made it into Chrysler’s minivans: Flexible seats that were a forerunner to the Stow N’ Go seating introduced in 2005.
INFINITI KURAZA (2005) — With the boxy, wagon-like Kuraza, Infiniti was exploring how to give equal seating space to six passengers. It never made it to Infiniti showrooms. But the concept bears an uncanny resemblance to the seven-passenger Ford Flex.
CHRYSLER IMPERIAL (2006) — The beautiful and imposing Imperial sedan was more Rolls Royce than Chrysler. An homage to Imperial sedans of the 1930s and 1940s, the Chrysler Imperial was rumored to be headed to market in 2010. But before that could happen. Chrysler filed for bankruptcy protection, and the Imperial disappeared.
MAZDA FURAI (2008) — A super car with wildly undulating lines was the apex of Mazda’s nagare — or “flow” — design language. The lone model was accidentally destroyed by a fire that same year. But before its demise, the Furai helped Mazda prove its sporting chops.
TOYOTA A-BAT (2008) — The funky A-Bat pickup truck had a 4-foot bed that could be extended to 6 feet, as well as a four-passenger compartment. Toyota shelved it when the recession slowed demand for pickups — especially weird-looking ones.