If you've ever been to an auto show or seen coverage of one, chances are you've noticed concept cars. They usually steal the show: futuristic vehicles that look exciting thanks to swoopy lines, high-tech interiors and enormous shiny wheels -- none of which could ever make it on a real street car. Since automakers can't actually build these cars, what's the point of making them? We explain.

It's All About Image

The main reason automakers build concept cars is simple: image. Many automakers launch new vehicles at auto shows. Most times, only the automotive press reports on those vehicles. Mainstream media, such as newspapers and magazines, tend to wait until they've driven a car to talk about it.

But if your concept car is unusual enough, it's likely to make headlines far and wide. Editors know that big wheels and futuristic styling are eye-catching, so they'll usually run a few photos of flashy concept cars. Manufacturers hope that readers, in turn, will see the photos and change their perception of a brand. If you're trying to go sporty, for instance, you would release a sporty concept car. As images are published, shoppers remember your brand as sporty.

Showcasing Technology

But image isn't the only reason for concept cars. Another reason brands might show off a concept model is if they have new technology to reveal and putting it in a regular car just won't get enough attention. For instance, many automakers today are developing concept cars with hybrid drivetrains. That's sure to be more eye-grabbing than just putting a hybrid engine in a typical production car.

Testing the Waters

One final reason an automaker might build a concept car is to find out whether shoppers want to buy it. An example is the Dodge Viper, which was originally shown in concept form in the late 1980s. Chrysler didn't plan to build the Viper but kept the possibility open if demand was strong enough.

That's exactly what happened: Exceptional demand at the Viper Concept's launch led Dodge to put it into production. While this doesn't happen often, it's certainly on the list of reasons why an automaker might build a concept car.

So there you have it, a few reasons why a brand might build a concept car. The next time you see a shiny new concept model that has no chance of making production, you'll know the automaker has more in mind than simply letting its designers have some fun.

author photo

Doug DeMuro has a wide range of automotive industry experience, from work at a Ferrari dealership to a manager for Porsche North America. A lifelong car enthusiast, Doug's eclectic vehicle purchases include a Porsche 911 Turbo, an E63 AMG wagon, an old Range Rover and a Mercedes Benz G-wagen.

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