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Concept cars: back to the future again — maybe

The Hyundai Seven concept showcased at the LA Auto Show.

Concept cars, also called prototypes, are showcased at auto shows to test media and public interest. The idea began in 1938 with the Buick Y-Job, a specialty vehicle presented as a vision of how future cars might look in 20 years.

The idea of forecasting the automotive future stuck.

The Mullen Five is one of the concept cars at the LA Auto Show expected to be publically available in 2024.
The Mullen Five is one of the concept cars at the LA Auto Show expected to debut to the public in 2024. All images © Bruce Aldrich/2021

Nearly 85 years later the practice remains, including during the LA Auto Show. Its 10-day run, the show’s first edition since 2019 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, ends today at the Los Angeles Convention Center.

Themes presented in concepts change. Sometimes a one-off creation is so bizarre its only job is to attract attention. Sometimes, concepts are nearly identical to the production vehicle about to debut.

Concept Cars: Will they be made?

Overridingly, concepts at this year’s event were electric vehicles or EVs. It was the dominant thread of the first major international auto show in two years. Among the speculative offerings, none are predicted to for publicly available until at least next fall and as far off as 2025.

Like the much-touted Byton, a concept that debuted with Rivian in 2018, some of the concepts will never be made. The high-performance sedan, promoted as a competitor of Tesla, filed for bankruptcy earlier this year.

VinFast, the first Vietnamese carmaker expected to offer its vehicles in the United States, showcased two concept cars at the LA Auto Show.
VinFast, the first Vietnamese carmaker expected to offer its vehicles in the United States, showcased two concept cars at the LA Auto Show.

VinFast, the first “mainstream” manufacturer from Vietnam with plans to distributors two sport utility vehicles in the United States, had the largest presence of the pending EVs this year.

Concept cars: VinFast has big plans

From its unveiling on the opening day of the auto show to a lavish evening reception and extended show presence, VinFast made a committed effort.

According to its marketing, VinFast in Vietnamese stands for “Style, Safety, Creativity, Pioneer.” It touts its vehicles as “the product of our inspiration to launch a distinctive, world-class automotive brand with Vietnam and demonstrates the ability of the Vietnamese people to skillfully implement cutting-edge technology.”

The futuristic-looking concept showcased at the LA Auto Show.
The futuristic-looking concept from Edison Future was showcased at the LA Auto Show.

Like other pending vehicles, VinFast has no definitive production plans or pricing for its SUV crossovers, the e35 and e36. Both are designed by Italy’s famed Pininfarina.

Two other new names to the EV marketplace are Canoo and Mullen. The former was promoted as an autonomous “Lifestyle Vehicle.” Its marketing material reads in part: “Fully electric, highly versatile and offering more utility, inside and outside for city explorers, businesses, families and adventurers.”

Concept cars: Can you Canoo?

The Canoo, also touted as a “Loft on Wheels,” is scheduled for late 2022. It’s named the Canoo, according to a company spokesman, because it resembles an upside-down canoe. Its front end and rear look interchangeable.

Based in Los Angeles, Canoo declares: “There is no need for electric vehicles to look like traditional cars, yet today they still do. Canoo plans to change that.” It did.

Canoo said its first vehicle will have “the exterior footprint of a compact car, with the interior space of a large SUV.”

Mullen, based in Brea, is promoted as the first “Pure Electric SUV Crossover.” The Five has an estimated range of 325 miles, it’s electronically limited to 155 miles per hour and with an estimated 0-6 mph of 3.2 seconds. It’s not predicted to be manufactured until 2024 and will be sold in kiosks called “Lounge Point.”

Concept cars: New stuff galore

The Hyundai Seven was arguably the most unique concept at the show. While the Canoo was promoted as a loft, the Seven is better defined as a futuristic lounge. It has sterilization light stations, newfangled ambient lighting and an upscale interior best-suited for an interior design magazine layout.

And then, there was the Edison Future. Its two luxury concepts were combinations of utilitarian, off-road, futuristic SUVs.

Plushly attired and replete with technology overload and 35-inch wheels, the maybe cars of the future could have been cast as automotive stars of Mad Max movies.

Concepts cars are forever fictitious, marginally feasible or have enduring futures about to unfold. They’re simultaneously fun and ridiculous. Their time has come, or not.

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