Concept Cars as a design-led futures technique

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Innovation forces organizations to think about the future. The many techniques
guiding these explorations are named futures studies, which are inquiries into images of the future and their surrounding elements. Although futures studies help organizations to change, their results are often difficult to interpret, and they frequently fail to involve middle-level managers or the public at large. As design is a future-oriented discipline, it is remarkable that the futures studies and innovation management literature do not cover design-led techniques to boost the innovation process. This paper fills a part of this gap in the extant literature by discussing Concept Cars in the automotive industry, a phenomenon in which design plays a prominent part. Since the first Concept Car, it has become clear that automakers do not make these tangible models to mass-produce and sell them, but they mainly view them as a brand builder.
Although Concept Cars are broadly recognized as an interesting phenomenon, little academic work has been conducted on them. This paper discusses Concept Cars as a design led futures technique, and aims to understand their purposes, outcomes, and development process. Our study used multiple methods, including ten interviews with design experts, observations on Concept Cars at a motor-show, and a review of three Concept Cars.
We find that Concept Cars help organizations to change through an inquiry into
images of the future. Concept Cars offer a design-led approach of researching the future, where visual synthesis, prototyping, and storytelling play an important role. Concept Cars act as probes that simultaneously explore technologies and styling while also communicating a probable, plausible, and preferable future, in one time-horizon.
Unlike managerial futures techniques, Concept Cars provide tangible futures that
people with different backgrounds can experience, influencing several parties
involved in developing an innovation. A Concept Car has two main limitations. The development of a Concept Car is a resource intensive process and results in a single outcome. We conclude that Concept Cars or Concept Products can complement other futures techniques and may also be used by companies operating in other industries when looking for new ways to innovate.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationProceedings of the 23rd Innovation and product development management conference
Place of PublicationGlasgow
Number of pages21
Publication statusPublished - 2016
Event23rd Innovation and Product Development Management Conference - Glasgow, United Kingdom
Duration: 12 Jun 201614 Jun 2016


Conference23rd Innovation and Product Development Management Conference
CountryUnited Kingdom


  • concept cars
  • futures studies
  • speculative design
  • strategic foresight


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