Each year the Geneva motor show provides a testing ground of new ideas and concepts for everyone from established manufacturers to design consultancies and dream-weaving hypercar builders.
Sadly some of the very best concepts miss their chance at production, be it due to their outright outlandishness, or perhaps because the brands proudly displaying them simply couldn’t get the sums to add up on some of the more courageous design choices.
In this list we take a look at some of the brightest stars from the Geneva show that didn’t have the good fortune to wind up in your local new car showroom.
This story was first published in March 2019.
2016 DS E-Tense
Citroen’s luxury spin off, DS, cemented its place as a true contender with the E-Tense concept in 2016. Looking right at home amongst the crowds of supercars at Geneva, the E-Tense promised grand touring ability with zero emissions EV mobility.
Typically-Citroen design flair showed along the graceful curves and swerves of the E-Tense’s 'green ametrine' bodywork, with jewel-like details in the head- and tail-lights and an almost Bugatti-esque chrome spine running the length of the bonnet and roof.
As for motive power, a 300kW/516Nm electric motor allows for a claimed 4.5-second dash to 100km/h so while it may not be the fastest EV concept of its ilk, consider it a good way to ensure no one misses out on an eyeful of the E-Tense in motion.
2013 Kia Provo
There’s really not much to dislike about the theory of a big engine in a small car and at the 2013 show Kia showed the race-inspired Provo as its modern take on the formula. The engine was Kia’s familiar 150kW 1.6-litre turbo four-cylinder, but Smart 4WD Hybrid power added an extra 33kW of electric power at the rear axle.
A squat stance, visor-style glasshouse, and pumped guards gave the Provo a just-right muscularity otherwise missing from B-segment cars. A colour-split emphasises the Provo’s hoop-style C-pillar, with the roof and lower intake details finished in blood orange for maximum impact.
With the entire package shorter yet wider than a Rio, bluff front and rear styling, detailed LED illumination, and huge (for such a compact car) 19-inch wheels, the three-door Provo looked ready to step in as a 21st century rally car tribute, but sadly no future was found for this pocket rocket.
2017 Peugeot Instinct
Designed as a preview of upcoming design themes more than a possible production model, the Peugeot Instinct made quite an impact when it debuted at the 2017 Geneva show. Ultimately, you can buy a 508 station wagon and get kind of close, but the Instinct was something else again.
A cleverly disguised set of rear doors almost disappear from certain angles, lending the Instinct a distinct shooting brake vibe. Impossibly wide rear haunches, a gracefully tapered roof, and intricate lighting at each end all work to cement the solid proportions too.
Unfortunately the addition of door handles and mirrors, a higher roofline and a much, much longer front overhang diluted some of the 508 wagon’s appeal, not to mention the relatively flat body sides, leaving the production car looking a little flacid next to its more aggressive concept forebear.
1999 Bentley Hunaudières
Given the cachet of the Bugatti brand today, it’s hard to believe there was a time when the Volkswagen Group wasn’t quite sure which brand would be the best fit for a ludicrously over-engined dream machine.
Bugatti trotted out a series of W18-engined concepts, Volkswagen got W12 versions, While Audi and Bugatti ran a W16 configuration. Unsurprisingly all shared a few design cues and looking at the Bentley Hunaudières it’s not too hard to see some Veyron details thrown in.
Still, the Bentley identity (quad headlights, polished lower body plating, and iconic mesh grille) shone through.
Designed as a compliment to the British marque's Le Mans racing activity, the mid-engined, five-speed manual Hunaudières was perhaps the least Bentley-like model yet – which might explain why it never progressed beyond concept stage.
2002 Nissan Yanya
Given the success of models like the Cube and X-Trail, it’s hardly surprising that Nissan decided to blend the former’s cubist styling with the latter’s off-road ability, scaled down into a package right-sized for European city streets.
As a sign of the times there’s plenty of coloured plastic interior trim, clear tail lights, and freestanding LCD screens, but look past those details for a moment at the Yanya’s flat-surfaced simplicity is a breath of fresh air.
Solar roof panels that can be removed and stored within the tailgate allowed the compact SUV to convert from passenger express to load-carrying commercial vehicle quickly and easily.
Those kinds of details often struggle to survive to production, but the Yanya’s minimalist exoskeletal styling looked just a short step away from a production reality when it debuted in 2002.
2009 Dacia Duster
Dacia makes affordable no-frills cars. Nothing fancy, and nothing too complex. It comes as no surprise then, to find the bold 2009 Duster concept didn’t progress to a production reality, although the name lives on, attached to a much more staid and boxy SUV instead.
The Duster concept packs in plenty of SUV cues with chunky styling and a slightly tallish ride height, but presents as a coupe on the driver’s side with a single door, compared to two more regular doors on the passenger side.
An evolution of the Dacia mask grille sits proudly up front and wraps into slender headlights that extend all the way to the leading edge of the front doors.
C-pillar buttresses give the rear a much more dynamic flair than the regular crossover crowd and provide a neat starting point for the slender Y-shaped tail lights.
2012 Infiniti Emerge-E
Infiniti has a strong reputation for presenting breathtaking concept cars, and in 2012 the (awfully named) Emerge-E stunned Geneva show goers with its dramatic design. Typically cab-forward, belying its mid-ship powertrain placement, but elegant and curvaceous like few other supercars before it.
Nestled between the Emerge-E’s flowing hips: A range extending three-cylinder petrol engine, powering an electric motor for each axle, and delivering a combined 300kw punch. Although it seems silly to think of something so boldly styled as green, there’s also the potential to cover up to 50 emissions-free kilometres.
Carbon-fibre construction flows from exterior to interior, with the same flowing elegance continued on the inside, albeit wrapped in semi-aniline leather and Alcantara.
In the absence of dramatic engine noise, specialised light signatures reinforce the Emerge-E’s performance potential. Lovely to look at, but sadly not quite emotive enough to lead to a production future.
2016 Opel GT
The future is EVs and SUVs – but the past, the glorious past, included low-riding minimalist sports cars with turbocharged engines driving their rear wheels. At least it did as recently as 2016 when Opel rolled out the GT concept.
Designed to commemorate the original Opel GT of the 1960s, the modern interpretation’s subtle muscularity featured clean surfacing culminating in powerful rear haunches so there could be no mistake as to where the performance made its way to the tarmac.
There’s a few quirky details, like the red front tyres and windows colour-matched to the exterior making the GT look a bit like a teaser sketch rendered in three dimensions, but the pert design is laden with potential.
GM’s Australian design operations were tasked with building the European-designed concept, however neither Opel (under GM ownership at the time), Holden, nor any other GM division brought a production version of the GT to life.
2018 Tata EVision
Look, I don't mean to alarm anyone, but somehow a Tata concept made it onto the list. Crazy I know, especially when you consider the rest of the Indian industrial giant’s disjointed and unappealing range.
The EVision, however, shows genuine maturity in its design. It’s only a simple sedan, but a handsome compact four-door is so rare these days that the EVision deserves genuine praise for its clean lines, bold shoulders and subtly boxed fender surfacing.
Similarly, the clean and fresh interior is a masterwork of restraint, with the dash-wide display and HVAC controls designed to disappear from sight when not in use.
A light and airy colour scheme and tasteful touches of timber also help to elevate a brand better known as the producer of the world’s cheapest car, the Nano.
2006 Dodge Hornet
It’s blender time! In this case take equal parts B-segment hatch, chunky SUV and American muscle car and blend until you get the 2006 Dodge Hornet concept.
Dodge pictured a production version where body colours were limited, but customers would be able to choose their own accent colours for the stripe package and window glass. Uh, sure.
Inside the Hornet distanced itself from bargain basement Dodge compact cars of the time with a subtle colour scheme and plenty of classy satin metal highlights.
Under the bonnet a 1.6-litre supercharged four-cylinder engine pushes a decent 127kW and 224Nm to the front wheels, endowing the B-pillarless Hornet with the kind of lively potential required to live up to its namesake’s reputation.
Bonus round: No future? No worries
Along with the good, there’s been plenty of more questionable concept debuts at Geneva over the years. While it’s appropriate to celebrate the best designs from the show, for context here a few of the less desirable debuts.
In 2009 Aston Martin wanted to explore the premium SUV space and revived its legendary Lagonda name to do so (above). Designed to evoke the presence of pre-war era cars, the Lagonda instead looked more like a piece of pre-war industrial equipment than a luxury SUV.
A gaping grille up front made the concept look like it was howling in pain, while the abbreviated touring trunk at the rear looked more like an afterthought and gave the car a strange, disproportionate profile.
Answering a question no one really asked in the first place, the 2013 Toyota i-Road took the form factor of a scooter and the ability to lean into corners, and added in a roof and windscreen, plus styling that made it look a bit like a nappy on wheels.
The idea behind the i-Road would see you leave it at the city fringe before boarding public transport or taking a regular car, which begs the question – why wouldn’t you just take one of those forms of transport all the way to your destination and save yourself the embarrassment of being seen in this thing?