Unlucky 7: Concept Vehicles That Should Never Die


By Mark Williams

Manufacturers often use concept vehicles to gauge reaction to upcoming new products or significant changes in an existing model. Sometimes those changes can be minor, but others can be revolutionary.

In either case, at some point the decision is made either to greenlight the project or send it to the backroom. We’ve compiled a list of concept vehicles we’ve seen over the years that, for whatever reason, haven’t seen the light of day. It’s our hope that someday they will.


1. Chevy K5 Blazer
Not many can remember when there were five full-size, two-door SUVs on the market. Can you name them? Ford Bronco, Chevy Blazer, Dodge Ramcharger, Jeep Cherokee and GMC Yukon. We even remember driving a K5 Blazer with a Detroit Diesel under the hood and being incredibly impressed with how well it dove in and out of hard corners through the local mountain roads. No doubt the front tires were wearing fast, but the feel was sporty and sharp. And we remember when GM showed this little modified K5 Blazer with a miniature bed and extended-cab doors. Reaction was lukewarm, and we’re guessing even back then GM saw the writing on the wall for two-door SUVs. Still, it seems like a business case can be made nowadays for something like the K5 with a small turbo-diesel or EcoBoost-type engine.

2. Dodge M80
At the time, conventional wisdom at DaimlerChrysler was very conservative. Insiders reported several high-level meetings about the dynamic Dodge M80 concept vehicle, which debuted in Detroit almost 10 years ago, that centered on whether it could sell 100,000 units per year. If yes, it was a go. If no, it would be killed. Discussions went back and forth, we were told, but finally all agreed the segment could not support another compact pickup truck — even a popular one — when everyone was bumping up to full-size trucks. The concept styling was impressive, fun and playful, but the entry-level truck market all shifted to used vehicles, and full-size ones at that. Left behind was a slowly shrinking small-truck segment that continues to shrink to this very day.

3. Toyota A-BAT
Whereas the M80 is playful, fun and whimsical, the A-BAT is the polar opposite. This concept vehicle debuted as a calculated segment buster, hoping to capture young, urban buyers who might be growing out of Scion but still aren’t ready to commit to a grownup sedan. Cool hidden storage compartments, organic design lines and crazy reconfiguration possibilities made this A-BAT concept the prototypical Toyota concept: calculated, deliberate and functional to a fault. Still, there’s something more than just coolness here. As a Scion or even some kind of Prius model, this could be a new direction for Toyota to appeal to a younger audience, while at the same time attempting to inject some unpredictability. Unfortunately, because of Toyota’s recent troubles, this is probably the least likely time it will take any sort of risk.   

4. Ford SVT Lightning
Let me start by saying I love the Raptor. With that out of the way, can anyone explain why the Lightning and the Raptor don’t exist at the same time? I get the idea that Raptor is more about the core of a truck’s true personality (namely in punishing work-duty cycles and backcountry independence), but there is history and tradition to consider here. How short can our memories be? The Lightning name by itself resonates at a pitch no other pickup can come close to. (All right, the Ram V-10 came close.) Am I wrong to criticize Ford for running scared from the BMW-loving-car-magazine-sycophants who couldn’t stand the idea that, of all things, a pickup truck could be a world performance automobile? Let me end by saying that I love the Raptor, but SVT doesn’t gain any credibility by choosing small niche projects where there is no competition.

5. Dodge Power Wagon
If there ever was a name that resonates stronger through history and the pickup truck segment, I’ve never heard of it. Although Chrysler made a valiant stab at keeping the name alive with a bit of dignity and credibility, I can’t help thinking there is more being wasted here than inflated. At least this concept took some of the WWII character lines from the old Dodge and gave it a touch of modern style with a hint of rugged good looks. And I love the idea of shaping the front hood more narrowly to more comfortably fit the Cummins B-motor straight-six. A vehicle designed around the most dominating feature that contributes to its powerful personality seems obvious, if not functionally appropriate. This pickup used to roam the Earth uncontested, and now it’s nothing more than some well-engineered options.

6. Chevy Cheyenne
Quite a bit before its time, this take on what future pickup trucks could look like predicted that they would have to follow car designs, pushing fenderwells and wheels out to each corner for more stability and carving every moderately sharp corner or hard angle off the body. Still, I like the puffed-out midbody that seems to imply a strong and low center of gravity, sort of like a submarine. My guess is if the midsize and compact segment is going to survive, it’ll have to do it with these types of bodies and designs.

7. Hummer HX
Technically this isn’t a pickup truck, but if ever there was an SUV with the beating heart of pickup, this would be it. This was the vehicle that was going to get Hummer off its addiction to “large and in charge” designs and likely get into the core of the less expensive and smaller Jeep and Land Rover segment. After that, who knows what types of powertrains and rugged personality-driven designs could have followed? With all the milquetoast, fish-shaped body designs coming from all the manufacturers, this probably was our only hope for form following function. If the death of Hummer doesn’t tell you we’ll be stuck in a design wasteland for a while, just take a look at what the new Jeep Grand Cherokee looks like.

Photo of Mark Williams
Former Editor Mark Williams lives in Southern California with his wife and enjoys camping, hiking, skiing, big trucks and towing, and backcountry 4x4 driving. Email Mark Williams

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