Car makers have sometimes leveraged technology in weird ways when dreaming up their latest concept cars. For many decades, car makers have experimented with unexpected ways to leverage technology in order to make cars safer and more comfortable. Some of the innovations they have come up with remained at the concept stage, for better or worse, but others beat the odds and ultimately trickled down to production cars.
Maserati Boomerang (1971)
Viewed from the outside, the Maserati Boomerang unveiled in 1971 isn’t strikingly unusual; wedge-shaped cars were trending during the early 1970s. What sets it apart from its peers is found inside. Positioned nearly vertically, the steering wheel rotates around an instrument cluster with seven gauges, various switches and an array of warning lights. The concept is fully functional, meaning people drove it and realized this wasn’t the most ergonomic way to present information.
Lancia Sibilo (1978)
Bertone designer Marcello Gandini drew the Lancia Sibilo concept in 1978 as he explored ways to replace the Stratos. He began by taking a Stratos platform and extending it by about 4in to fit a futuristic, sculpture-like body over it. The rally-friendly cockpit gave way to a clean, uncluttered design highlighted by a one-piece multi-function steering wheel. The rim was shaped to fit perfectly in the driver’s palm and the gauges were embedded into the dashboard rather than grouped in a standalone instrument cluster.
Nissan ComCom (1985)
Nissan created the ComCom concept in 1985 for delivery drivers. Its boxy, function-over-form body hid an interior that doubled as a mobile office. The driver had easy access to a dashboard-mounted phone, a floppy disk drive, a primitive GPS displayed on a screen and a receipt printer.
Oldsmobile Incas (1986)
Oldsmobile is not remembered as the most technologically-advanced brand in America yet the 1986 Incas concept placed it on the front lines of innovation. Created by ItalDesign, the mid-engined four-door wedded comfort and tech by offering sofa-like seats and a fighter jet-inspired command center. Italdesign replaced the steering wheel with a pair of vertical handles surrounded by various buttons. It explained that, in the 1980s, research found motorists who grew up playing video games preferred this configuration.
Chevrolet Blazer XT-1 (1987)
The Chevrolet Blazer XT-1 concept made in 1987 showcased many things, including an innovative four-wheel steering system, but simplicity in design wasn’t one of them. The U-shaped steering wheel was mounted around a fixed pod dotted with buttons and the driver sat in front of a television-sized screen which replaced the instrument cluster.
Mercedes-Benz F200 Imagination (1996)
In the 1990s, many assumed, hoped or feared airplane technology would trickle down into the automotive industry during the 2000s. Mercedes-Benz prepared for the shift by developing drive-by-wire technology that allowed motorists to drive using joysticks and installing it in the F200 Imagination concept presented in 1996. It also replaced the instrument cluster by a screen that stretched the entire width of the dashboard.
Toyota HV-M4 (1999)
Toyota presented the hybrid HV-M4 concept in 1999 as “the type of vehicle we could expect in the future.” Outside, it resembled a slightly more futuristic-looking Previa. Inside, however, it featured an instrument cluster whose background looked like a star-lit night and an information screen positioned under a crystal ball-like sphere on the center console.
Ford 24/7 (2000)
All three variants of Ford’s 2000 24/7 concept shared the same forward-thinking interior. The firm explained it intentionally kept the exterior design as basic and straight-forward as possible to highlight the numerous technology features packed in the cabin. The screen integrated into the dashboard showed the various car- and media-related functions available as round icons arranged in lines, an interface very similar to the one found on every smartphone in 2019.
Toyota POD (2001)
Part car and part consumer electronic, the 2001 Personalization On-Demand (POD) concept was designed jointly by Toyota and Sony. While it was sized for crowded Japanese cities, its interior offered space for four passengers on individual pivoting seats each fitted with a large screen. Drive-by-wire technology replaced the steering and the pedals with a hand-operated pod that looked like a toy. The POD gathered information about the passengers, like their favorite style of music, and tailored the in-car experience accordingly.
Honda IMAS (2003)
The IMAS concept Honda presented during the 2003 Tokyo auto show looked like a first-generation Insight beamed down from outer space. Inside, parts like the dashboard, the steering wheel, the center console and the door panels seemingly drew inspiration from the human skeleton.
Mitsubishi CT-MiEV (2006)
The multi-function steering wheel was no longer unusual or particularly noteworthy during the middle of the 2000s. Mitsubishi attempted to re-invent it by adding even more features in the space where the spokes meet. The left side of the 2006 CT-MiEV concept’s steering wheel featured a diagram of the hybrid drivetrain and buttons that let the driver access the media and navigation menus. The right side housed warning lights that lit up when the fuel level was low or when the on-board computer detected a mechanical problem.
Kia Imagine (2019)
There are two sides of the Imagine concept that Kia unveiled at the 2019 Geneva motor show. On one hand, it’s a preview of a production-bound electric car the South Korean firm has previously described as its emotional flagship. On the other hand, it openly makes fun of the car industry’s obsession with dashboard screens. Its dashboard is fitted with 21 individual, high-resolution displays that show the infotainment system plus information about the car and its surroundings.