EN-V Xiao concept (© General Motors)

EN-V Xiao concept from General Motors

We're in favor of creative experimentation, especially in the automotive world, where entrenched, sclerotic bureaucracies often create a culture that trends toward the formulaic when it comes to vehicle design. The design-by-committee philosophy often practiced in this staid system has produced cars as flavorless as the Cadillac Cimarron and as audaciously stupid as the Pontiac Aztek. But it's also produced many winners. While determining the success or failure of a vehicle is, as one can imagine, not an exact science, the creation of concept cars helps to determine what works and what, well, doesn't.

To show off their creative chops at car shows, automobile companies routinely set their design departments free to follow their creative instincts and prove an aesthetic point about an automaker's direction. We call their creations concept cars. The history of the concept car dates back to the late 1930s, when legendary General Motors designer Harley Earl created the Buick Y-Job, a gorgeous expression of one man's love for fenders. The Y-Job would influence Buick styling for years to come, and it also launched a polite competition of ideas among automakers that would result in concepts as outlandish as the 1958 Ford Nucleon — which, as the name suggests, was designed to be a nuclear-powered vehicle — and as iconic as the GM XP-755 Mako Shark.

Bing: GM Mako Shark

Neither the Nucleon or the Mako Shark were true success stories; i.e., both were never produced. But that doesn't mean they were failures either. Concepts let automakers test designs without taking a huge financial gamble on a full production car. For instance, the enormously popular Mako Shark might not have seen the lights of a showroom, but it directly influenced the design of the 1963 Corvette Sting Ray, a sheet-metal icon.

But for every concept that makes a big splash with the public, there are others that go horribly, horribly wrong. This article celebrates the latter, the concept cars destined to become future train wrecks. While all of the vehicles featured here were meant to show off a company's creative IQ, they in fact sent the auto-show-going public into paroxysms of disgust or fits of eyebrow-arching perplexity. Our role is not to chide the automakers' design teams for trying something new, only to let them know what their friends and colleagues probably won't — that the car they've worked so hard on is a failure. And that it's time to try something new.

Video: Top 10 Bizarre Concept Cars

Honda Puyo

Click to enlarge picture2007 Honda Puyo Concept (© Sean Frego)

Honda Puyo Concept

Introduced at Tokyo Motor Show 2007

Chalk it up to cultural disconnect if you like, but being Japanese is no excuse for creating a ludicrous vehicle like the Honda Puyo. Don't misunderstand; there were many noble intentions behind the Puyo's creation. It was supposed to demonstrate a dedication to environmental responsibility and to safety: It's powered by fuel cells and is built with "gel-body" soft materials to protect pedestrians. Never mind that the fuel cells are predicated on a nonexistent hydrogen-fuel infrastructure and that the Puyo's design seems to be more focused on bouncing off jaywalkers than protecting its occupants in a major collision. The Puyo also aims to literally reinvent the wheel, replacing the tried-and-true steering wheel with a joystick, and giving the car 4-wheel steering, making it as maneuverable as a zero-turn lawn mower. All that is understandable and forgivable, but the design itself is not. Meant to be touchable and huggable, the Puyo's balloonish body instead invites angry mobs to roll it over and bounce it around like a beach ball, and its insanely large scissor doors hang crazily off the sides of this thing like Fred Flintstone's order of brontosaurus ribs.

Video: Honda Puyo

Toyota Hi-CT

Click to enlarge picture2007 Toyota Hi-CT Concept (© Perry Stern)

Toyota Hi-CT Concept

Introduced at Tokyo Motor Show 2007

At the same 2007 auto show, Toyota came up with the same basic idea as Honda. Take a box, stuff in as many half-conceived eco-friendly ideas as possible, then shape the exterior just enough to make it look stupid. Thus was born the Hi-CT, a plug-in hybrid with a front end that looked like a love child of a tugboat and a freight train, and a removable trunk that raises the question: Why would you make a trunk removable? Add to that a hatchback that is blockaded by the trunk when installed, yet leads to remarkably little storage capacity when it's not. Thank you Toyota, but we have an even more eco-friendly idea: We'd rather walk.

Bing: Toyota Hi-CT Concept

Peugeot Moovie

Introduced at 2005 Geneva Motor Show

Winner of the 2005 Peugeot Concours Design competition, the Moovie is the brainchild of Portuguese designer André Costa, who conceived the Peugeot he'd like to drive in the near future. Apparently, he'd like to drive a car without any discernable drivetrain — or steerable wheels, for that matter. This nonfunctioning concept is nothing but cabin, and a big, bubbly transparent cabin at that. Elegant, for sure, but we can only imagine all that glass shattering into a million tiny pieces during this vehicle's first crash in 2020, providing zero protection to the occupants inside.

View Pictures:  Wild Concept Cars in Geneva

Mercedes-Benz Shooting Break

Click to enlarge pictureMercedes-Benz Concept Shooting Break (© Mercedes-Benz)

Mercedes-Benz Concept Shooting Break

Introduced at 2010 Beijing Motor Show

It seems too late to stop this monster from seeing production. Aiming to join the ranks of other luxury hunchbacks such as BMW's 5-Series GT, Mercedes-Benz has combined the design logic of a coupe, a sedan and a wagon and ended up with a vehicle that exemplifies the worst of all three. It has a hatchback with a high, narrow window for limited visibility, side windows that taper toward the back, and a roofline that just keeps going straight on until it stops. Plus, the sheet-metal body of this "sed-wag-oupe" has disturbingly odd cut lines that flare out in every direction and then collide with one another at the rear fenders. Mercedes-Benz has hinted that this is a preview of the next-generation CLS, to be introduced this fall. We hope not.

View Pictures:  Mercedes-Benz Concept Shooting Break

General Motors EN-V

Click to enlarge pictureEN-V Jiao concept (© General Motors)

EN-V Jiao concept from General Motors

Introduced at World Expo 2010, Shanghai

Not one concept vehicle, but three, these concept pod vehicles demonstrate that, in the future, we will commute on bar stools sealed in glass eggs. GM says that these are evolutions of the GM-Segway Puma partnership from last year, which did work mechanically, but seemed more like an evolution of the wheelchair than the next generation of the car. The idea behind the EN-Vs is that they are supposed to allow for a combination of human-controlled and autonomous driving via GPS and vehicle-to-vehicle communication. Cars that drive themselves could go a long way toward cutting down on traffic congestion. Yet all the images of the EN-Vs show these things driving on sidewalks and pedestrian malls, suggesting that these computer-controlled vehicle pods either don't know how to keep on the road, or that in the future we can expect to be caught in a traffic jam on the sidewalk.

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