What is the Difference Between a Concept Car and a Typical Car?

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What is the Difference Between a Concept Car and a Typical Car?

Car companies spend years designing and testing new technology and styling before introducing new models in their lineups. They use concept cars, custom-made vehicles unveiled at trade shows and festivals, to test these new ideas and innovations before sending them into production. Car companies gather feedback from the general public and the media and then decide which concepts to go ahead with and which ones to scrap. Each year, concept cars are introduced that push the limits of technology and imagination, and often incorporate innovative ideas never before seen in the auto industry.

The long history of concept cars includes many models that were fanciful to the point of complete impracticality. But some of these models actually made it to production and became typical everyday drivers. Learn the history of concept cars and how they are designed and created in order to fully understand how different a concept car is from a typical car.

History of Concept Cars

The invention the concept car is generally credited to famed designer Harley Earl of General Motors. His introduction of the Buick Y-Job in 1938 eventually led to the popularity of travelling automobile shows such as the Motorama shows of the 1950s, where the general public and the media could witness the unveiling of these dream cars first hand. These shows still serve as a platform for carmakers to introduce and capture public interest in new technology and designs. Every year, millions of people flock to car shows in anticipation of seeing the latest innovations by designers.

Understanding the Purpose of Concept Cars

New car designs, features, and innovations take years to develop, and automakers dedicate large portions of their resources to bring new ideas to the industry. Custom-made concept cars help carmakers gauge consumer reaction to new technology and styling before committing time and money to send a new vehicle to the assembly line. There are numerous steps involved in the design process, and the vast majority of these cars never make it to the assembly line.

The Design Process

Concept cars begin as a sketch. Teams of designers and technicians work together to consider every detail, from the steering wheel and seats to the drivetrain and exterior lights. Once the sketch is complete, a 3-D computer image is constructed, and in some cases, the design is even animated. If the vehicle design works, designers then create an inoperative mockup of the vehicle using wax, clay, metal, fibreglass or plastic. These full-scale models are the last step in determining the viability of the design before it is sent to a sub-contractor specialising in car and car parts fabrication.

The components and parts must be handcrafted in order to produce a working mockup. This gives the design team a solid object to study to determine whether the styling, materials, and other aspects need to be reconfigured. This entire process can take up to two years.

Concept Cars as Operational Vehicles

Many concept cars never make it past the computer design stage or develop beyond a scale model. The use of unorthodox or expensive materials, such as paper or carbon fibre, or unusual styling, like gullwing doors or six or more wheels, creates challenges in cost, practicality, and safety. Concept cars are not produced with regulatory compliance in mind, and therefore, only a very few can move safely or are drivable at all. Design defects and imperfections keep most concept cars from being operational to any practical extent. The majority of concept cars end up as scrap once the annual car shows are over. Some end up in museums, and a select few are sold at auction for a premium price.

How Concept Cars Differ from Typical Cars

Typical cars must meet specific guidelines and regulations regarding safety, performance, and environmental specifications. Concept cars are not designed around any of these parameters, as they are not built to be sold to consumers or to be driven on the roadways. In order to meet these regulations, most concept cars would require massive changes in both design and performance. There are a handful of concept cars that are fully operational vehicles. However, production-intent vehicles are better designed to bridge the gap between a typical car and a concept car.

Prototype or Production-Intent Cars

Prototype cars, also known as production-intent vehicles, are the first cars of a new model, and are produced as test models. Production-intent vehicles are designed and built to be massed produced and sold to consumers. In many cases, the best features of a concept car are used as a basis for the design of a new prototype, and eventually that prototype heads to the production line.

Full Production Cars

One-of-a-kind concept cars and production-intent cars are not money makers for car manufacturers. Their design and build costs are astronomical compared to cars that come off the assembly line. These cars are made specifically to showcase new styles and test new features, and companies use them to increase foot traffic at car shows and drum up interest and investment in their brand. When a production-intent vehicle shows promising reviews, the design is generally sent to the production line and then becomes part of the manufacturer's new vehicle lineup. Historically, concept cars featured exaggerated body work and impractical technology, meaning few of these designs ever made it to the production line.

Concept Cars That Made It

Concept cars are a marketing tool for automakers. They are a way for manufacturers to take a chance on new styling or features without risking the company's financial future or brand reputation. Many have a short life and end up being scrapped or repurposed into the next year's concept car. A lucky few fully functional concepts found their way to fame, such as the 1954 Lincoln Futura that resurfaced in 1966 as the Batmobile, or the Audi RSQ designed for the 2004 movie I, Robot. Recently, there has been a move by automakers to create more conservative concept cars that can easily be turned into typical production cars.

Some of the more successful concept cars are listed in the chart below. Some have enjoyed years of popularity and are still in production, but a few are no longer being made.

Make and Model

Year Introduced


Acura NSX


Technologically advanced supercar, all-aluminium monocoque construction

New Beetle


Nostalgic reconfiguration of the original Beetle, a new redo was unveiled in 2012

Audi TT


The ovoid shape revolutionised modern car designs, redesigned in 2006

Toyota iQ


Created in response to more stringent European emissions requirements, sold as the Toyota Scion in the U.S. and the Aston Martin Cygnet in Europe

Chevy Volt


A hybrid electric-gasoline vehicle that created a dramatic upswing in hybrid production

Over the decades, a number of other concept vehicles made their way to the production line without any major changes. Perhaps one of the most popular and recognisable is the 1961 Chevy XP-755 Mako Shark concept car. It was released in 1963 as the Corvette Stingray.

Find Cars on eBay Motors

To access a vast selection of cars and car parts without leaving home, consumers can navigate to eBay Motors. Ebay Motors offers consumers a variety of search options, making it easy to find a new or used car. Shoppers can begin a search by choosing pre-set search parameters such as make, model, and year, or searches can be limited to a specific body design, to include coupe, convertible, SUV, van, and more. Alternatively, shoppers can use the search box to enter in their own keywords to generate a list of results. With either method potential buyers can quickly generate a list of cars meeting their criteria. By entering in a postcode, a search can be limited to cars located within a specified number of miles from a certain location. To further narrow results, shoppers can filter results by vehicle mileage, interior and exterior colour, dealer or private seller, and transmission type. Categories such as Certified Pre-Owned, Collector, and Green Driving, make it easier for buyers to find specialised vehicles.


The average consumer needs a practical car for everyday driving. The typical car is used to commute to work and school, to run errands, and for occasional travels. Carmakers spend billions of dollars in an attempt to win new customers and boost sales of these "typical" cars. They use concept cars to test new technology and designs in an effort to capture consumer interest. Concept cars help carmakers measure consumer reaction to new styling and technology and introduce new features in their lineups. Although the vast majority of these concept cars never make it to production, some get a second chance as iconic vehicles in movies and television. Occasionally, a concept car is auctioned off and finds its way to a collector's garage or to a car museum. More often than not, they are sent to the scrapyard as nonworking full-scale models that served a single purpose during their short lives.

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