What do auto manufacturers have up their sleeves to influence your company-car purchases? For the answer, look at their concept vehicles. Closely guarded secrets until they're unveiled at annual car shows, concept cars are hints of things to come. Not all go into production for sale to the public. A few are outrageous, engineless attractions to draw attention to the brand; others test the waters with small changes on next-generation models.
Exterior and interior designs are often wildly futuristic on concept cars, eventually reaching dealerships as toned-down versions. Some concepts are previews of redesigns, such as Nissan's Altima and Toyota's X-Runner. Crossovers and pickups that combine sedan-style front ends with truck beds are among the most successful production vehicles built from concepts. Chrysler's Pacifica had some of the attributes of a minivan before evolving into a crossover, and elements of Lincoln's Aviator concept crossover will translate into a production model (its launch date is not yet confirmed).
Ford's Fusion sedan concept is in production, as is Lexus' LF-C luxury coupe, which foreshadows the new IS300 model. Lincoln's concept Zephyr sedan will come to dealers next year as a 2006 model, and Ford's Freestyle, a 2003 concept, is already on sale. Unique at recent auto shows was Toyota's FTX full-size truck, with doors that open at 90 degrees.
In addition, technology is high on concept-builders' lists. Mercedes-Benz' Airscarf technology evolved from the concept of a ducting system to keep drivers' and passengers' necks warm when the convertible top is down. Infiniti's 2006 M45 sports sedan concept gives you a taste of future models with design cues and a distance-maintenance cruise-control system. Ford unveiled a hydrogen-fueled Focus concept two years ago and plans to release demos for limited fleet use later this year, while Jeep's three-seater Treo concept car features hydrogen fuel cells.
To view a calendar of auto shows, log on to www.carshownews.com/autoshows/autoshows.htm.
Editor and consultant Jill Amadio has been reporting on the automotive industry for 26 years.