If Hyundai's production cars get uplifting proper nouns as names (Elantra and Genesis, to name a few), the concepts haven't fared so well. Most of them have been given acronyms that identify where the cars were designed. In this case, HCD-5 means "Hyundai California Design" and 5 simply means it's the fifth concept out of that studio. Ho hum. If the name was meant to fade into the background, the exterior made no such attempt. A maze of flourishes both tough-looking and cutesy, the HCD 5 debuted at the 2000 Chicago Auto Show as one of the ugliest mugs to hit the Windy City since Scottie Pippen. I don't mean that simply because I take offense with some of the designer's brushstrokes -- although I certainly do -- it's because the design falls apart in its main mission: to communicate the car's values and mission.

When AOL Autos interviewed Mini's designer Gert Hildebrand in January of this year, he reminded us that cars should have a design that follows their purpose. If you have a car with a mission to be a tough truck, for instance, its design should either directly or indirectly remind the driver and those around him what that purpose is. The HCD-5 is just all over the place, with a sabertooth front end that communicates a tough, perhaps performance-based attitude (sort of). Yet the greenhouse and the rear windows approximate Snoopy's nose, ruining the credibility of the rest of the vehicle. What's worse is that each section of the car seems to have been designed on its own, with little regard to pulling it all together.

Hyundai's idea for the HCD 5 was to create a crossover, a "4-seat multi-purpose sedan with an emphasis on station wagon and SUV functions." Perhaps the best parts of the concept are the extremely thin A and C pillars, two areas that have grown thicker as manufacturers have attempted to build "safer" vehicles, all the while removing a good amount of visibility in the process.

I find the HCD-5 fascinating because it was such an abject failure, in marked contrast to the consistently show-stopping concepts and production cars Hyundai has given us over the last three years. Also, virtually none of what you see here ever made its way into a real production car -- strange for any company but especially for one as small as Hyundai was in 2000. At the time, Hyundai didn't even have an SUV for sale in the U.S. market (the Santa Fe, based on the Sonata, would not come out until the end of that year).

Sometimes you step up to the plate and just plain strike out.

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