• Apr 7, 2008

We all have to suffer through off-seasons of our favorite sports, but there's barely any downtime on the auto show circuit. Some car makers can't wait and even reveal their concept cars independently of major events. Enthusiasts and the press can't get enough of this, ourselves included.

As much as we all appreciate new designs and the efforts of the people behind them, let's be honest: Not all concept cars are showstoppers -- and not in the good way. Some get attention for all the wrong reasons; they make no sense, there's no market for them or they're just plain ugly. Just as every kid in a competition shouldn't get a prize, not every concept car can roll away a winner either. Here are some of the latest double-bagger concepts that made it onto our top 10 worst concept cars list.

10 - Saab 9-4X BioPower

It's not that Saab did a bad thing by presenting a concept with all-wheel drive and efficient E85 bioethanol capability -- that's great. What stings is that the troubled automaker devalued their efforts by putting that powertrain in a vanilla crossover that reeks of GM. Not that their car models have a wholly Swedish flavor anymore, but dropping this configuration in the freshened 9-3 or a badly needed 9-5 update would have meant a major step forward instead of a shuffle of indifference sideways.

9 - Kia KND-4

Maybe the KND-4 will turn out as the next-gen Sportage, maybe it was just a cruel experiment. We're trying to be generous here since this appearance at the Los Angeles Auto Show was allegedly an understudy performance for the Kee concept coupe that was damaged after the Frankfurt show. In fact, the lines aren't all that bad, but the paint; seriously? Fluorescent, neon green paint was the winning color choice? We hate to think of what might have come in second.

8 - Mercedes-Benz Vision GLK

Oh good, another SUV. Why Mercedes didn't quit while they were ahead after launching the GL is anyone's guess. Yet evidently not satisfied with four "sport"-utes in their stable, they're going to shove another one in our faces, quite possibly their most forgettable yet. The notched rocker panels and big wheels cry for attention, but just look out of place. When the production version is finalized, those touches may not survive, but then the midsized utility is going to look even more blah than it does already.

7 - Nissan Forum

Will minivans ever be cool in America? Forgetting the age-old argument of whether the dearly departed VW vans qualify as such and looking ahead, the Nissan Forum desperately tries to make the mom-jeans crowd blush, but it ain't happening. If this is a twofold attempt to catch their older Scion-loving kids, then strike two. You can't blame Nissan for trying, but really, unless it's a VW who's going to embrace a van?

6 - Volkswagen Routan

Forget what we just said about all VW vans being cool. In our defense, we're pleading denial on the grounds that this isn't really a Volkswagen. Nope, this is a MOPAR with German influence -- again, because that whole Detroit/Deutschland concept had such a happy ending the first time with Mercedes. In reality, it's probably too late to consider this Canadian-built Chrysler with German badges a concept, what with solid sale dates and all. Still, hope springs eternal. Like corporate sponsorship of a modern Woodstock, a Chrysler platform under VW badges is just as disturbing.

5 - Fisker Hybrid

To many, Fisker is a vaguely familiar name whose previous cars look just as vaguely familiar. That's because earlier efforts were modified BMWs and Mercedes. This time around, the car is said to be totally unique. And it is, um, unique. Too bad the projected $80,000 sedan only looks good on a moonless night. The strange nose with its too-high grille does the car no favors, and the same goes for the too long, too low midsection; looking stretched and out of sync with the high fenders and short overhangs. On the plus side, this is a plug-in hybrid supposedly capable of 100 mpg. If it pans out, good for them, but it's a big "if" based on these looks. Fisker reports annual production is anticipated at 15,000, which leaves us wondering where they'll keep the unsold 14,999 models.

4 - Chrysler 300C Hollywood

The folks calling the shots at Chrysler may have recently changed, but the bad habit of bad 300-based concepts remains the same. Maybe you remember what happened last year when the Imperial name was dusted off in a desperate attempt to ape the Rolls-Royce Phantom. In retrospect, that concept wasn't so bad compared to the half-open, half-closed, fully ugly Hollywood. If you're questioning the inspiration, it comes from the high-end prewar town car configuration. The owner rode in enclosed comfort while the chauffeur had only a windshield for weather protection. It was highly symbolic then, and it's highly pointless now.

3 - Audi Cross Cabriolet Quattro

Some things are fine on their own but should never be combined. Visiting your parents: good; visiting strip joints: really good; visiting strip joints with your parents: really, really bad. OK, so if you just threw up in your mouth a little, you're not going to like Audi's convertible crossover much better. Drop-top SUVs like the Jeep Wrangler are fine, but Audi is offering the same from an upscale car? We really doubt the market is ready for this answer to a question nobody asked.

2 - Hummer HX

Actions tend to speak louder than defensive rhetoric. A toe-tapping wide stance in the airport drowns out any red-faced damage control, and a smaller Hummer is still a Hummer. The HX looks to be squarely aimed at the Toyota FJ Cruiser/Jeep Wrangler crowd, only without pretense of practicality. That said, it makes sense that Hummer would pursue these buyers and a production HX would likely sell like crazy. However, why does it have to look like a Hot Wheels car that got into Roger Clemens' medicine cabinet?

1 - Maybach Landaulet

Green concepts are spewing from every direction, but conspicuous consumption ain't dead yet. Proving there's always a market for people with more money than taste, Maybach presents the Landaulet for their consideration. There's no doubt an attempt to recall the old Mercedes 600 Pullman Landaulet, which itself looks odd, but at least better in comparison. The new Landaulet comes off less like a $1.3 million interpretation and more like a jilted lover took a chainsaw to her ex's $395,000 Maybach 62. On the practical side, owners have conventional doors and roof rails to isolate them from the little people, while they can recline their rear seats and enjoy Mr. Sun, which contradicts with their spray tans and skin treatments.

Best in Show Dogs

You have to appreciate the efforts of automotive designers who are trying to be edgy and create the Next Big Thing. Still, not everyone can win. As long as there are auto shows, there will always be a few concepts that look best without spotlights on them, and should have perhaps remained as fleeting ideas and dreams.

Check Out Recent Autoshows:

- 2007 SEMA Autoshow

- 2008 Detroit Autoshow

- 2008 Chicago Autoshow

- 2008 New York Autoshow



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