Sadly I have not visited a motor show myself for many years, and Paris 2016 is no exception. I have of course been closely following coverage. The French are truly stealing the show, with the Renault Trezor concept an outstanding example of showmanship and the Citroen C3 proving to be the production car highlight of the show. The Germans seem a bit lost, especially Audi. Reveling in their tiny advances in production techniques (see an earlier post) is not something the public can appreciate easily (Apple have similar issues) and the visual language seems to be moving backwards. Skoda now appear to make and design better Audis than Audi. So this post is titled because of the small cars that are making big news at this show, one of which was underwhelming! The Volkswagen I.D. Concept is a little bland and ordinary, but such is the way at the conservative manufacturer of the Golf. Compared to sticking with their 1974 template, the I.D. concept was clean and smooth and tidy, but uninspiring. Three newly launched production cars impressed. The Opel Ampera-e is a very tidy little electric car design, with outstanding technical features. The Nissan Micra has suddenly been dragged into fashion with Infiniti brand-esque curves and swooping surfaces, a real shock! Finally the Citroen C3 takes cues from the outstanding Cactus C4, with its air bumps and urban utitily chic. So Parisien! I include these rear end comparisons though….. just look at that lower bumper area. The Opel seems to have parts stuck to it from a 1994 Corsa. Why? What are these multiple extra (cheap) lights for? Is this US regulations? It’s also sold as a Chevrolet. The rear ends of Micra and C3 are minimalist and quite wonderful in comparison.
Recently we’ve seen a couple of major Auto Shows go head to head, West vs East in May with New York and Beijing shows back to back. Toyota chose the Beijing show to launch the production version of their Lexus branded small crossover. I’ve posted here before regarding crossover vehicles (and I once owned the trendsetting Qashqai myself). The new Qashqai has been underwhelming in design, and other manufacturers are still following the styling of the previous model. Toyota have been finding their design stride recently, especially with the bold designs under the Lexus brand. Risks are being taken, and that is very nice to see. Some designs are successful, others not so much. Their small crossover concept, the LX-NF, last year was radical in it’s surfacing treatment (incredibly over the top) but has translated very nicely to a less frantic production design. Thank goodness for those metal stamping production limitations… the changes are subtle, but for the better.
Here’s the original Lexus LF-NX crossover concept. And then the production version Lexus NX (this one is the 200T)which was launched in Beijing.
If we go back to March 2014 we also saw some great auto design work at Geneva, and another very nice transition from concept to production for the Citroen C4 Cactus. This one has been in the works for a long time, and began with the C-Cactus concept of 2007. The C3 Picasso for example follows a similar styling theme. The production version is very innovative, and not just in styling terms. Citroen are experimenting with selling the Cactus in a new lease contract based system. These two manufacturers can be applauded for their risk taking, unlike the ultra conservative German manufacturers who seem to be painting themselves into a corner.
The original retro design, goes retro.
No idea why anyone would be shocked by this, as the 911 has been essentially a retro design since the 80’s. Same shape for 50 years! This one is really very nice indeed.
I received this email from our co-blogger here, regarding a design talk given some months ago by current head of Advanced Design at Jaguar, Julian Thompson. It relates to the CX-17 crossover concept, and also gives us clues to the deep rooted changes in Jaguar management that have enabled the design-led (Apple like?!) resurgence of this great brand. Thompson and Ian Callum have fully vindicated the new management’s confidence in them, surely?
Julian Thompson at the talk pointed out that Jag were stuck in a rut. Ford had transformed the quality and reliability of the products but they had stuck to the same look. This was because Ford used ‘consumer focus groups’ where they asked the consumer, the customer, what they wanted. Even worse Thompson pointed out they did this in the USA as that was Jags biggest market at the time. So what did the consumer say they wanted? Well as they were mainly 55 year old company directors they wanted the cars to STAY THE SAME, to LOOK EXACTLY THE SAME as the previous model. Jag listened, and the S-Type, previous XJ and X-Type were born. Sales figures went from bad to worse. Average consumer age went from bad to worse too! Or at least didn’t improve. Profits evaporated.
The new management threw this out of the window.
The next bit I am adding myself, as Thompson didn’t say it:
I believe they decided to look at what consumers are actually DOING rather than what they were saying. What they were DOING was buying super modern, sporty, diesel BMWs.
So this spawned the XF (commercial, diesel) and the new XJ (stunning modernity) and what happened? They sold THREE TIMES as many XFs as S-Types and now look at Jag! Making profit and storming on to be one of THE hottest brands on the planet. Even if you include any brand, not just cars, Jaguar is COOL. The F-Type has already sold 1000 units within 2 months!!! Despite the high price.
Last month I was lucky enough to head to the Geneva Motor Show. Lucky enough to head there with a good buddy of mine who’s a Lotus designer and lucky again to chat at the end of the day to his colleague Russell Carr, who was behind the beauty of the Lotus Elise S2 and Evora. More on that later but for now, what was it like?
Well it’s cheap to get in (£15) it’s attached to the airport (just turn left) and it’s small enough that you can see it all in half a day. (My buddy and I were done and wondering how many beers to consume by 2pm.) It’s also full of all the eye candy you could ever wish for as a car nut, promo girls included. (Alfa was the best if you must know.) What were my overall impressions? Well, the notes I made on the plane home all gravitated to one thing, Sci-Fi really does come true.
Let’s do exactly what we did when we walked through the doors of the show. Let’s go directly to LaFerrari. It looks absolutely, jaw-to-the-floor stunning. If you ever see one on the road brace yourself. Every surface. Every line. Every curve. Every tiny detail is breathtaking. We stared and we stared. It is art, sculpture. So we stared some more. The only fault we could find, after a lot of that time consuming staring, was that someone at Ferrari clearly forgot about the rear number plate slot (Issa go where?). Otherwise it’s a perfect study in vehicle styling. Not radical, arguably predictable even (it’s what every designer has been drawing for years) but boy is it beautiful. It is exactly what the public, the consumer has been dreaming of . It reminded me of those crazy cars that drift by in the background of Back To The Future Part II, but made real. A million quid? Pah. No problem. Even sat in a glass box and never used it’s worth every penny. 900bhp? Don’t actually care. Stood there looking at it it could have had a 1.0 litre turbo and still taken our breath away.
So what about Ron’s car? The yellow beast sat in another hall. Frankly the P1 ain’t all that when it’s right in front of you, and static. Technically I get it. It’s an awesome ‘bit of kit’. Design wise, styling wise, it dissapoints. Here were two trained car designers staring again, but this time straining to see the drama, the beauty, the detail that just wasn’t there. To make it worse Mclaren had sat an F1 LM by it. As if to highlight everything that was right about the styling of that car. What the P1 did say however was ‘this is the future and you can buy it, and rag the arse off it’.
The VW XL1 was the other car that gave me that same fizzing excitement inside as LaFerrari did. Almost. Why? Here were those Back To The Future Part II cars again. Here was a Syd Mead sketch. Here was the flying cars from The Fifth Element (ok so it doesn’t fly but you get the idea). It’s a scissor doored, faired wheel slice of a 260mpg future. Except you can order one right now. The lines are clean, they work neatly, and the form is lovely, the details exquisite. Just like the Ferrari, sorry LaFerrari, it is also slightly predictable. Cars like this were drawn over and over in the 80s. Some were attempted (remember the Ford Granda Scorpio). A lot graced the movies. VW made it finally happen.
The Pininfarina Sergio was another gem of the show. It proved that while they may be a little haphazard when it comes to politics the Italians absolutely positively still know vehicle styling.
At the end of the day I waited for my flight home. Camera memory strained. Feet strained. Imagination running riot. We hung at the airport with the Lotus guys. So what did Russell Carr think? What did any of them think? They seemed lost. Lotus is a company in trouble but the guys themselves seemed in design limbo – their mojo deleted. They seemed lost amidst the design language they talk when they present the latest sketch to management. Caught up in the every day detail of their job they appeared confused as to what the consumer actually wants. It happens to us all. I know it does when I create my shoe ranges. We don’t see the wood for the trees. Russell wondered out loud what was the exact appeal of the VW XL1? “Is that what people want?” “It’s a bit predictable”. I replied yes on both fronts, and damn it’s got cool doors! It got me thinking. Sci-Fi told us that the consumer dreamt of a car like this. They wanted this product. The iPad was predicted by the film 2001 A Space Odyssey back in 1968. It was a dream back then, a want. Did that make it predictable? Maybe. Did that make it wrong when Apple finally cracked it? Apple lovers would sternly disagree. I remember seeing an alien pilot (yes really) run through his photo collection on a small hand held ‘screen’ in the 80s film The Last Starfighter. Was this the smart phone predicted? Or a consumer dream later spotted by smart phone designers. Whatever it was, it looked cool. Gattacca, a more recent Sci-Fi effort, ‘predicted’ classic cars humming around with electric drive. Now we have re-engineered classics like the Singer 911, Eagle E-type and MG LE50 running on modern mechanicals. How soon will it be before someone makes them hybrids? On an even more practical level Toyota created the GT86 from the consumer asking ‘can I have a real sportscar that is cheap to run and costs the same as a Golf to buy?’. Sounds like a fantasy. Toyota made it happen. Back To The Future Part II (again) featured laceless Nikes. Would the Reebok Pump have been developed if it hadn’t been for that film and those Nikes?
The conclusion of my day at Geneva was that if we embrace our imagination. Embrace our dreams. Embrace Sci-Fi. We might just find the ‘next big thing’ and take the world by storm. Hoverboard anyone?