As the calendar flips to the last page of the year, the time comes for a tallying of events and activities during 2017, and one of our favorites is a look back at the most exciting concept cars presented at the world's auto shows this year.
However, compiling our list revealed a disturbing result: American automakers were shut out in the contest to produce the most compelling concept cars. Hell, they practically forfeited, with very few actual concepts even presented.
In fact, all of our top cars originate from just two countries this year: Germany and Japan, so the Brits, French, Koreans, Italians and others were also shut out. Maybe they'll be back in 2018.
For this year, however, our list looks like this.
1. Vision Mercedes-Maybach Six Cabriolet
The global auto market is shifting away from traditional cars-with-a-trunk vehicles and toward wagon/hatch/van vehicles with a single open floorplan throughout the car. But if sleek, beautiful coupes and convertibles are to become mere niche products, then Mercedes seems determined to remind us why we liked them so much.
This sensuous 750-horsepower electric two-seater pays homage to the glorious automotive haute couture of hand-finished, exclusive cabriolets from custom coachbuilders.
This 20-foot boattail beauty rolls on massive 24-inch wheels that underscore the imposing visual presence of the Vision Mercedes-Maybach Six Cabriolet.
2. Volkswagen I.D. Buzz
At the opposite end of the automotive spectrum from the tradition of hand-built roadsters that cost more than your house is the tradition of Volkswagen's "people's car," and its maximum people-moving configuration, the beloved classic VW bus.
Return with us now to those thrilling days of yesteryear. The VW bus rides again, in the form of the I.D. Buzz concept, which debuted at the 2017 North American International Auto Show in Detroit.
When the bus returns as a production model in 2020, the top-of-the-line model will feature all-wheel-drive and 369 horsepower, accelerating to 60 mph in 5.0 seconds. The 40-horsepower original, in contrast, was hard-pressed to ever reach 60 mph with a load of passengers aboard.
3. Honda Urban EV Concept
Honda used the Frankfurt Motor Show to preview the design language for its planned 2019 electric model with the Urban EV Concept. The slick little hatchback shows there is still life in the notion of fusion classic proportion with modern tastes, as the Urban EV concept recalls the original Honda Civic in silhouette but has contemporary details.
4. Audi Aicon
German carmakers show off their most advanced technology at the Frankfurt Motor Show, and Audi's entry was the Aicon, a concept whose name incorporates the "AI" of "artificial intelligence."
Audi also wanted to demonstrate that a practical autonomous car can be stylish even while it is transformed into a passenger lounge inside, with no manual driving controls at all. And the seats even pivot 15 degrees, making it as easy to get in and out as your favorite swivel chair.
The Aicon's four electric motors produce 350 horsepower, and its quick-charging 800-volt battery pack provides a 500-mile driving range.
5. Mazda Vision Coupe
While the Vision Mercedes-Maybach is unquestionably elegant, it is also unquestionably unattainable for most of us. Mazda aims to bring that kind of elegance to a mainstream car that we can plan to actually afford, in the form of the Vision Coupe concept.
The Vision Coupe's long hood and graceful roofline imply power and capability, as Mazda evolves its "Kodo" design language into more refined forms like this. We can't wait to see production models incorporating such mature styling.
6. Yamaha Cross Hub
So maybe there's a little bit of self-interest here, but Yamaha's Cross Hub concept is a mini pickup truck designed to be able to carry two motorcycles in its bed. It achieves the space needed for two long, narrow items to fit in the bet by placing the driver's seat in the center of the truck, with a passenger's seat directly behind it.
Two more passenger seats flank these two center-mounted seats, located about midway between the front row and the rear. That leaves space on the Cross Hub's right and left side for the bed to extend forward to make room for motorcycles.
Good thing they didn't decide to build a piano-hauling concept.
7. Mazda Kai
The Mazda Kai is a concept hatchback, which is surely the most challenging of all automotive proportions to make into an exotic concept car. But Mazda's stylists have applied a liquid metal appearance to the Kai's practical outline to create a machine every bit as striking as an exotic roadster or coupe.
8. Suzuki e-Survivor
Suzuki aims to reclaim interest from fans of the old Samurai mini-4x4 with the e-Survivor. It is an all-electric two-seater meant to two motorcycles and personal watercraft or carry bicycles into the great outdoors. Hopefully there will be a charging station when we get there.
9. BMW Concept 8 Series
Though perhaps not as extreme as the Vision Mercedes-Maybach Six, the BMW Concept 8 Series is more realistic and hopefully represents a peek at what the upcoming 8-Series coupe might look like.
As a design study, BMW hasn't provided technical details, but senior vice president for BMW Group design Adrian van Hooydonk did explain the styling. “The design of the BMW Concept 8 Series provides a fresh interpretation of iconic BMW styling cues,” he said. “And it also showcases a new approach to the use of forms which is reflected particularly prominently in the car’s surfacing."
10. Toyota Concept-i
OK, Toyota put more effort into designing the Concept-i than they put into coming up with a name for the resulting car. While too many new technologies are hard to use and their designers seem to feel that it is up to us to figure them out, the Concept-i is designed to make itself as friendly and easy to use as possible.
Instead of relying solely on a big central video display screen to convey information to the driver, Concept-i employs light, sound and even touch to communicate critical information. Any effort to make new tech more user-friendly, which is why the Concept-i earns a spot on our list, even if it fails the "Concept Car Names of the Year" list.
Soon, it will be 2018, and we'll be looking for a better showing from domestic carmakers, starting with the Consumer Electronics Show and the North American International Auto Show in January.