A blue 2023 Ram 1500 REV is shown parked on a driveway charging.

Color-Changing Sedans, Affordable EVs, and Our Favorite Concept Models From 2023

While many concept cars never make it into production, they often represent a sneak peek at where the industry might be headed in the coming years. Designed to showcase new technology or a new design approach, these concept models are a sort of blue-sky thinking for the automotive industry. The concept scene has been particularly active as of late as automakers roll out new EV models and experiment with some of the new, cutting-edge features made possible by the all-electric architecture. 2023 was no exception, with a host of intriguing new vehicles on display.

While we don’t have time to give every model its due, we’ve compiled a short list of some of our favorite concept models from the last year. These range from a color-changing luxury vehicle and uber-affordable German hatchback to a fast-charging luxury sedan and long-awaited EV pickup from one of America’s foremost truck brands. Read on and get a first look at some of our favorite concept cars from 2023 and see which ones might find their way into showrooms in the near future.

BMW i Vision Dee Concept

Some concept models show up at auto shows relatively close to their final form, while others are little more than an excuse to demonstrate a cool new concept. The BMW i Vision Dee Concept falls firmly into the second category, and one quick look should tell you why. Billed to showcase the brand’s new color-changing technology, the BMW i Vision Dee Concept is the stuff of sci-fi dreams. The i Vision Dee, short for Digital Emotional Experience, can change its exterior color at the touch of a button. This might seem like pure novelty, allowing drivers to match their ride to that day’s outfit, but the technology could also have some very real safety applications. Driving on a dusky, dreary evening? Switching to a bright yellow or orange exterior color could make all the difference when it comes to road safety.

BMW has been rapidly developing this type of color-changing technology over the last few years. The brand introduced a concept model that could shift between different shades of gray at the 2022 CES and made the jump to full color just one year later. The 2023 model marks an improvement over previous iterations, as even the wheels can be made to change color depending on mood, safety, or aesthetic considerations.

But that’s not the only digital trickery the BMW i Vision Dee Concept has up its sleeve. The vehicle also features a Mixed Reality Slider that projects the infotainment display onto the dashboard. This display can be manipulated through hand gestures, allowing for a touchless digital experience that just screams futuristic. The fully digital interior also features vertical spokes and touchpad controls on the steering wheel, as well as a feature that takes the cake for the most kawaii we’ve experienced in recent memory: the i Vision Dee Concept can even wear a little facial expression across its front grille. It might be a long way off, but we look forward to the day when we can let that driver clogging up the left lane know what we think of them with a grille-based grimace.

One of many popular favorite concept cars from 2023, a silver 2023 BMW i Vision Dee Concept, is shown parked.

Volkswagen ID.2

Volkswagen has always aimed to be the people’s car — it’s right there in the name — but many of the company’s contemporary creations have strayed away from this formula. This is especially true of the brand’s ID series of electric vehicles, which tend to be slightly pricier than your average gas-powered model. In an attempt to reestablish its presence on the more affordable end of the automotive market, the German brand has rolled out the Volkswagen ID.2 concept. The all-electric model combines VW’s hatchback expertise with an all-electric powertrain to produce an efficient yet fun ride, and there are even rumors of a hot-hatch version somewhere down the line.

So, how will VW keep the cost down? The lithium-ion battery packs that power most of today’s EVs sure aren’t cheap, and neither is designing an entirely new vehicle from the ground up, but Volkswagen has employed some clever cost-cutting measures to increase the ID.2’s accessibility. The company will use the ID.2’s platform to produce four different vehicles across three of its brands, saving valuable R&D costs while producing a range of EV models. The lineup will consist of the ID.2, a large, SUV-based vehicle from Volkswagen, a Skoda SUV, and the sporty Cupra Urban Rebel.

“The ID.2 hatchback is the entry model for the time being, and the second one from Volkswagen will be an SUV-ish vehicle. The Skoda will be an SUV, and then you have the Cupra Urban Rebel. They won’t be under 25,000 euros,” says Volkswagen passenger car CEO Thomas Schafer. This thrifty approach should allow VW to produce the production version of the ID.2 for as little as $27,000, making the hatchback cheaper than any other EV on the road today. It’s an enticing return to form for VW and could be a real game-changer if and when it makes it to US shores.

Mercedes-Benz Concept CLA-Class

Volkswagen isn’t the only German company aiming to increase access to affordable, entry-level EVs, though “entry-level” is defined a little differently when you’re walking about a storied luxury brand like Mercedes-Benz. The automaker rolled out the Mercedes-Benz Concept CLA-Class at the 2023 Internationale Automobil Ausstellung in Munich, giving drivers a preview of its next generation of all-electric offerings. The company already offers the EQS and EQE EV models, but the smaller electric CLA-Class saloon should go a long way in rounding out the lineup.
Like VW, Mercedes-Benz aims to keep the CLA-Class affordable by maximizing the use of its platform. The CLA-Class will share its Mercedes‑Benz Modular Architecture (MMA) platform with three other models, including a wagon and two SUVs. The CLA-Class and its MBA-based brethren are a big part of Mercedes’ Ambition 2039 plan, which aims to have the automaker achieve carbon neutral status across its fleet by 2039.

“The Concept CLA-Class is the forerunner for an entirely new all-electric segment of entry-level vehicles at Mercedes-Benz,” says Ola Källenius, Chairman of the Board of Management of Mercedes-Benz Group AG. “This new model family is inspired by a generation of car buyers who want that unmistakable Mercedes-Benz feel, with more features, even greater comfort and safety and the most advanced technology.”

The production version of the CLA-Class aims to achieve a range of 750 km — around 466 miles — thanks to its next-generation electric-drive system, which would make the vehicle one of the range-iest on the contemporary market. That sort of range is an important part of winning drivers over to the EV market, but so is overall charging time. Mercedes-Benz has that covered with a 250kW charging speed that would add up to 250 miles of range in as little as 15 minutes.

The CLA-Class also boasts a sleek, eye-catching appearance, though if history has taught us anything, these exterior flourishes are usually the first thing to go when a model makes the jump from concept to production status. One thing we hope won’t change is the interior, but it uses Mercedes’ new MB.OS operating system to provide one of the most modern, seamless interfaces in recent memory. This technology, paired with the brand’s new MBUX Superscreen display, puts a high-tech tablet display at the driver’s fingertips, complete with haptic feedback, advanced graphics, and nearly endless customization.

A red 2023 Mercedes-Benz Concept CLA-Class is shown parked in a yellow room.

Ram 1500 REV Concept

The era of the all-electric pickup is upon us, but one of America’s favorite truck brands has been notably absent from the conversation. That all changed in early 2023 when the public got its first look at the Ram 1500 REV Concept. Ram’s EV pickup debuted at the annual Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, an appropriate coming-out party for the decidedly electronic truck. As the first electric full-size truck from Stellanis, the Ram 1500 REV Concept might be a little late to the party with competitors Ford, Chevy, and Rivian already making it to full production, but it might be well worth the wait.

The pickup is packed with all the less-than-practical features one expects from a concept model, like suicide doors and a see-through roof, but it’s certainly a fun experiment in automotive design. The Ram 1500 REV Concept features a sleek geometric design that makes it look like a Tesla Cybertruck designed by someone who’s actually stepped foot inside a pickup, giving it a futuristic yet practical appearance.

While some concept models arrive years before their real-world counterparts, that doesn’t seem to be the case when it comes to Ram. The brand has already announced plans for a full production model Ram 1500 REV (Revolution Electric Vehicle), which combines an all-electric powertrain with a crew cab Ram 1500 to produce an EV pickup that can tow up to 14,000 lbs thanks to its 610 lb-ft of torque. Expected to hit dealerships in late 2024, the 654-horsepower Ram 1500 REV is powered by either a 168-kWh battery pack that gives it a range of 350 miles or a 229-kWh pack that extends the range to 500 miles.

A Look Into the Automotive Future

Concept vehicles like the Mercedes-Benz Concept CLA-Class, Ram 1500 REV, Volkswagen ID.2, and BMW i Vision Dee Concept might be one-off experiments, but they could also be the industry’s next bona fide production-level superstar. It’s hard to tell what the future holds, but these sort of pie-in-the-sky automotive experiments certainly fulfill their role when it comes to forecasting upcoming trends, testing out new technologies, and gauging customer reactions.

That said, it’s important to temper your expectations when it comes to these concept models. Concept cars are often just not designed in a way that’s profitable enough to make it to the market in their auto show form, resulting in slightly watered-down production versions that lack some of the more novel, attention-grabbing creature features. Still, concept models can be a helpful barometer of future trends, making these limited-run vehicles an important part of the automotive design and development process.