Concept cars

Every year, Audi, Ford, GM and the rest of the auto companies bring concept cars to the big shows. These swooping, modern, magical cars are in stark contrast to the cars that are actually for sale.

Why do they bother? It’s not a form of market research.

Begin with the fact that car companies need their product to be stylish. By making older cars seem ‘old’, they create social pressure to get rid of your existing car (even if it’s running fine) and keep up with the trends. And so, every year, cars are a bit different. Not in performance, really, but in the way they look and feel.

At the same time, though, consumers are really hesitant about buying a car that they’ll regret. It’s such a big purchase, it feels very different than buying a pair of purple uggs that might only be in style for a month or two.

Concept cars, then, are an assertion by the company: here’s where we think we’re going, thanks for paying attention, car nerds! Tell the others. We’re here to entertain you, have fun. We know it’s outlandish today, but by exposing you to these features over and over for five or ten years, by the time the cars actually arrive, you’ll say “of course,” not, “what’s that?”

They’re normalizing design progress. Making it safe over time.

As you’ve probably guessed, this doesn’t only work for cars.

Any idea that needs to move from early adopters to the masses can benefit from a preview that simultaneously delights the nerds while warming up the masses for what’s to come.