Have you seen a Marvel movie recently? It seems like no person, anthropomorphic fox, or sentient AI is free from their grasp on culture these days. You know the third act, where every character you’ve come to appreciate (or at least recognize) is suddenly replaced by a PlayStation 4 cutscene version of themselves? Just computer-generated action figures doing backflips at each other, a muddy mess of impossible stunts that’s neither noteworthy nor impressive.
That’s what concept cars feel like now, and it sucks.
The best concept cars are a vision for an automaker’s future. That sounds like the same old marketing speak that every automaker will tell you, but it’s a trope for a reason. Good concepts are either a way to show off new design principles, new technology, or to gauge interest for a new product before actually spending the money to fully develop it.
Design principles are probably the most common. For a single model, that may mean a concept like the Corvette Mako Shark above (which became the C3 Corvette) or the Toyota FT-1 (precursor to the Supra). For a larger brand style, that could mean a concept like the Buick Avista, Mazda RX-Vision, or the Cadillac Escala — a view of the automaker’s design language, free of any concerns for practicality.
New technology can also warrant a concept car. These concepts usually have a design that isn’t remotely close to real-world-ready, but they’re packed full of features that will eventually trickle down to production cars. I’ll say that again: Features that will eventually trickle down to production cars. Remember that one, it’ll be important later.
The push towards autonomous vehicles has given us a surfeit of tech-based concepts, like the Mercedes-Benz Vision AVTR or the Audi Skysphere, the concept isn’t new. The slew of post-war turbine cars (like the Rover JET1) from the 1940s through the ‘60s were the same vein: A glimpse of future tech, even if that future never arrived.
Then, there are concepts that gauge interest in a product. Remember the time Dodge almost made a Pontiac Solstice, eight years before Pontiac did? Or the time Dodge almost made a Pontiac Solstice, three years before Pontiac did? Or the time Dodge almost made a Pontiac Solstice, two years after Pontiac did?
These concepts are usually not production-ready, but they’re close enough that they could reasonably be produced by the company showing them off. That Dodge Demon concept (no, not that Demon) was designed to use an existing Chrysler motor. If the public had responded well, and that pesky little finance thing hadn’t gone down, we’d all be putting Dodge Demons on our list of future classics. Wait.
All three of these concept car purposes share one core idea: A concept car should show you something that’s coming. It may not come soon, and it may not look exactly the same when it gets here, but concept cars are supposed to be a bit of a crystal ball for an automaker’s future. An orb to ponder, if you will.
With these concepts in mind, how does something like Nissan’s new Ariya Single Seater Concept stack up? In a word: Badly.
We’ve got our three purposes: Debuting new design, debuting new tech, and gauging interest in a future product. Let’s run the list.
Is the Ariya Single Seater a new design? No! They couldn’t even give this thing its own name, you think it’s getting its own design language? The car takes the distinctive styling cues from the Ariya (pointy angled lighting, the cool bronze-ish color, sides inspired by the EV’s “fluid and efficient surfaces”) and just copy-pastes them on to a different chassis. No design cues from this car will trickle down to production Nissans, because the style isn’t from this car.
Does the Ariya Single Seater show off new technology? Also no. Nissan says the Single Seater has the top-spec Ariya powertrain, with two motors and all-wheel-drive, entirely unchanged from the production car. The press release also says that the Single Seater “demonstrate[s] Nissan’s expertise in transferring knowledge and technology from the race track to the road.” Someone please explain to me how that sentence applies to a fake race car that uses a road car drivetrain. I’ll wait.
Is the Ariya Single Seater a way to gauge interest for a future single-seat EV sports car from Nissan? I’d give you three guesses, but you’ll only need one. Not only does Nissan have no intent of making this for consumers, they couldn’t if they wanted to. The Single Seater has no suspension — seriously, take a closer look at the front end. The wishbones have no room to move within the bodywork, and the carbon fiber axles have no CV joints. Even Formula E cars, the Single Seater’s most direct inspiration, have a suspension separating the body from the wheels. If this car ever leapt from someone’s Blender files into real carbon fiber, it could never be more than a non-functional museum piece.
I get it. Renders are relatively easy to make (compared to physical cars, at least) and automakers like to play around with things they’ll never build. They also like to show flashy things off to get a response in media, which seems to work for them. I may be an old man yelling at clouds here, but I miss when concept cars really had a definitive purpose. It made them more interesting, they were showing us a little tease of designs or tech that wouldn’t hit dealers for years. Renders like these, though, don’t really tease anything. They aren’t showcasing the future, they’re only showcasing the present.