You might think that car shows don't matter to you, but every car model on the road earned its stripes on the auto show circuit. Even if you're not a car enthusiast, the concepts, models and technologies that car makers highlight at auto shows impact your life. Car companies use auto shows to gauge interest in new designs, features, technology and even entire automotive classes. The response a new car or concept gets at an auto show can determine if that model makes it to our garages.

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What are Concept Cars?

The cars that are actually sold to consumers have to meet certain standards for performance and safety, not to mention that they need to work with people’s lives. Concept cars, on the other hand, are chances for car companies to show off the work of their designers. Concept cars are often radical design exercises. They may feature far-out styling and engine technology. The Cadillac Sixteen concept, for example, featured a V16 engine that made 1,000 horsepower and a steering wheel emblem made from cut crystal.

Features like that obviously won’t make it to the road (probably because price estimates for a production version of the Sixteen were about $2 million), but concept cars influence the cars that do. The styling on the Sixteen concept is evident in the Cadillac CTS, with its angular front end and massive grille.

Concept Cars to Car Lots

Other concepts that aren’t so far out there make it into production with some modifications. The Ford Fairlane concept was a large family-friendly crossover, with back doors that opened to the rear. That made for a huge opening for loading kids and cargo into the back seats. But, Ford determined that those doors weren’t practical for daily life. Still, the Ford Fairlane made it into production pretty much intact. You probably know it as the Ford Flex.

[In pictures: Concept Cars to Car Lots]

When a concept generates sufficient positive interest on the auto show circuit, car makers start looking for ways to put the concept, or at least some of the ideas in the concept, into production. Taking a concept car from the auto show stage to the dealer’s showroom takes a lot of development, and sometimes some intervention.

The Chevrolet Volt concept debuted at the 2007 North American International Auto show with four doors, coupe-like styling and a plug-in hybrid powertrain. To make it into production, however, Chevrolet had to find a partner to produce the lithium-ion batteries the Volt needed. The way the Volt looked had to be altered as well, as the original design would have created too much wind resistance to be efficient. Then the Volt has to undergo two years of battery testing. In the meantime, however, General Motors, Chevrolet’s parent company, went into bankruptcy and had to receive government bailout funds to stay in operation. Without the intervention, it’s not clear if the Volt would have survived the three years it took to go from a concept car to a production model.

Seeing the Future

Car shows are nirvana to car enthusiasts, but they can be overwhelming to everyday car shoppers. Still, car shows are worth staying on top of because the concept and pre-production cars that are shown there influence the cars that we buy. Even if you’re not currently in the market for a new car, but think that you will be in the next few years, it’s a good idea to keep an eye on car shows. The concepts that are being shown will likely end up being among your new car choices, or at least will have influenced the styling, technology and features that you’ll have to choose from.

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