Not every concept from the Detroit show has drawn praise over the years. Here’s a look back at some of the biggest clangers wheeled out to great fanfare.
The 2019 Detroit motor show didn’t deliver any concepts to send the world recoiling in horror, but its track record hasn’t always been clean.
As a counterpoint to some of the best over the last 20 years, we’ve also dug up a few of the less agreeable stars to grace the Detroit stage.
While we often pine for concepts to get a production run, there’s unlikely to be calls for any of these to forge a path to production.
2012 Chrysler 700C
Chrysler prides itself on having introduced the minivan to American audiences. In a world before SUVs there was no better way to move bulk quantities of people in comfort and style. Since then, the MPV market has languished, but that didn’t stop Chrysler from trying to inject some life into it with the 700C.
The ‘C’ badge evokes memories of Chrysler’s luxed-up Letter Series cars of the 1950s, but in the case of the 700C the end result looked more like a 50s-era space capsule.
Odd details abound, like leaf-shaped windows that give the impression of separating the driver from the rest of the cabin – a features mums and dads would no doubt appreciate – a blacked-out bonnet, and a tall windscreen for a front view evoking the look of a beluga whale.
While the idea was to display the 700C’s innovation, the form factor lacked any tension or tautness, making the whole thing look a bit deflated.
1999 Chevrolet Nomad
Chevrolet got its 1999 Nomad concept wrong. Very wrong. So much so that in 2004 they had a second, much more successful try.
You know things are off to a bad start when the media blurb tries to convince punters and press the Nomad combines sporty coupe styling and pickup truck utility. It didn’t really do either.
Sharp creases through the body sides looked like the results of unfortunate carpark run-ins. A tall and heavy bum sat at odds with the narrow glasshouse, and the glitzy chrome grille looked more like an electric shaver than a reborn muscle car.
There’s no doubt the utility was there – hidden slide-back rear doors and a configurable cargo area helped – but the confused styling and wrong-retro pastiche didn’t help the 1999 Nomad.
2001 BMW X Coupe
The world of crossovers and SUVs was still a strange new game for BMW in 2001. Regardless, the brand though it had hit on a magic mix of sports car credibility and new-trend marketability when it rolled out the X Coupe concept.
Sorry, BMW. You were incorrect. Before ‘sports activity coupes’ like the X6, the X Coupe dropped a traditional two door body over X5 mechanicals. The idea itself mightn't have been a bad one in isolation, but mixed with Chris Bangle’s trademark Flame Surfacing, the results were difficult to look at.
Proportionally stretched: too tall, too narrow, and all together too much going on along the bodysides, the X Coupe answered a question absolutely no-one had asked. Stranger still, Bangle’s obsession with asymmetry created a lopsided tailgate that only make the X Coupe even more difficult to understand.
2006 Chrysler Imperial
A new flagship for Chrysler could have been previewed by the 2006 Imperial concept. Thankfully, it wasn’t.
Looking at the Imperial, it seems Chryslers designers took their inspiration from the litany of awful chrome aftermarket attachments foisted on the front of 300Cs around the globe. The rest of the body gave a strong suggestion that the Imperial was having an adverse reaction to life as a show car.
Chrysler used terms like artful and elegant to describe the comically puffy Imperial. The reality was a car that looked like a parody of a Bentley, with a snow plow attached to the front and missing trims surrounding the headlights.
The interior, thankfully, looked ready to take on Rolls-Royce, but the idea of anyone dropping big dollars on a Chrysler flagship that looked like the worst Pimp My Ride could create seems very, very unlikely.
2007 Nissan Bevel
Without saying as much, Nissan wheeled out a garden shed at the 2007 Detroit show and called it the Bevel. Aimed at male empty-nesters to give them a space to pursue their hobbies, the Bevel promised to be a lifestyle revolution.
That’s great and all, but where Nissan had successfully executed offset design features in the Cube, the Bevel proved more lopsided with a pair of passenger doors on one side, but a single driver’s door and shortened glasshouse for the driver.
The cargo bit looked tacked on, thanks to shadow line detailing in the body designed to create a feeling of separate zones, which ultimately led to a sense of two cars tacked together.
All that utility also led to a rather imposing sense of claustrophobia, with a distinct lack of glass in the sides of the vehicle ensuring the Bevel would have been travel-sickness central.
2004 Lincoln Mark X
In 2004 Lincoln gave the world the Mark X – that’s Mark Ten, if you weren’t quite sure, not Mark Ex, which is apparently how you’re supposed to pronounce Lincolns’s MKX crossover, sheesh!
Essentially a hastily re-bodied version of the Retro-styled Ford Thunderbird, the Mark X featured a folding hard top and a removable one-piece hardtop for no clear reason.
Long overhangs ruined any chance the Mark X might have had of looking proportionally solid, and bodyside creases present on the quarter panels but absent from the doors gave an impression that divergent design teams worked on different areas of the car without speaking to each other.
The final blow was a fussy “fine lace” grille at odds with the rest of the X’s minimalist detailing.
2008 Toyota A-BAT
Toyota thought young, active adventure-driven buyers light like all manner of odd outcomes from a single vehicle and set about creating a unibody pickup truck with a hybrid drivetrain when it wheeled out the A-BAT in 2008.
Worse still, the styling was modelled after that of the Prius, not one of Toyota’s bigger, bolder trucks, or even its SUVs. The end result was a super-high belt line that dragged up details like the grille and headlights with it.
Clever touches like clamshell doors, drawers in the cargo bed, and a torch in the tailgate were no doubt handy, but the super-soft approach Toyota took with the RAV4 based ute’s styling, which seems uncomfortably close to that of the Honda Ridgeline from some angles, did the concept no favours.
2005 Infiniti Kuraza
The problem with most three-row vehicles is a distinct lack of easy third-row access. Infiniti sought to remedy that in 2005 with the Kuraza concept, adding two additional rear-hinged doors behind the usual front and rear doors as seen on most cars.
The idea has a lot of merit, but the execution was – uh – incredibly awkward. Small vertical lights at each corner were dwarfed by the monstrous body. A bulging shoulder line clashed with a dead-straight waist moulding until midway through the middle doors, where suddenly the roof and window line arched up like an unfortunate growth.
For all of that, even with extra doors, cabin access involves stepping over the 23-inch wheels, making the whole concept functionally and aesthetically awkward.
2008 Chrysler ecoVoyager
Oh, Chrysler, as if the shame of appearing on this list multiple times wasn’t enough, two of your thumbs-downers are minivans. Oh dear.
The 2008 ecoVoyager surfaced four years before the 700C and, if possible, put forward an even more confusing stylistic proposition, thanks to a coming-or-going side profile that made it hard to distinguish front from rear.
The ecoVoyager’s forward-thinking fuel-cell range extender drivetrain and lithium-ion batteries ticked boxes for eco credibility, but the bulbous body that wasn’t sure if it wanted to be a people mover, a sedan, or a coupe had an oddly toy-like quality to it.
Tall and narrow headlights emphasised the visual height from the front, while the boat tail did nothing to flatter the rear, exaggerating the tail-heavy stance.
Even the interior, configured as a luxury grand tourer, seemed to waste space that might otherwise have been better put to use making the ecoVoyager at least slightly more practical.
2005 Subaru B5-TPH
C’mon Sube, so close and yet so far away. The Subaru B5-TPH portrayed rather handsome and decently proportioned shooting brake basics, but then the details indicated the water supply at Subaru’s design centre may have been spiked.
Two doors and a massive lift up rear section work, but then fussy details drag it down – like the conjoined headlight and grille unit, offering a vague take on Subaru’s already unpopular aviation-inspired face.
The rear is even more off-beat. Tiny tail lights cut into the high-set rear bumper sit at odds with the slowing style of everything else. Additional lights behind the tailgate glass and haphazardly placed exhaust finishers further confuse things.
All that and a body finished in an un-fetching shade of basic beige makes the B5-TPH a Subaru concept that absolutely no one pined for.
If this selection of Detroit’s biggest misses has dragged you down, you can also take a look at some of the best from the last two decades as well. Let us know in the comments if there’s anything else you’d include on the down-and-out list too.