Sci Fi Dreams Do Come True

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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.

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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.

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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’.

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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.

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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?

future cat

The summer of next year will be the final chapter in Jaguar’s design turnaround it seems, thanks to the long awaited release of the F-Type sports car. 50 years have passed since the legendary E-Type, and the many false starts that I can remember of a successor in name, or abilities. Since the scoops of the 90’s, that turned out to be named XK8… to the year 2000 F-Type concept car, by Keith Helfet’s team (Helfet had form, by designing the wonderful XJ220)– which we were assured would be going into production, it seems that a Jaguar free from corporate conservatism under Ford and with strong design leadership of Ian Callum and Julian Thompson, it finally has the balls to do it! I’m also writing this blog- thanks to another stunning embrace of modernism by the normally old school Jaguar, a viral marketing company contacted this blog. I’m very glad to hear from them, and happy to share the images and info sent to me. Bravo Jag, now you’re really talking to the next generation of Jag buyers and we want to welcome the new Jaguar into our arms, as our very own, very cool British brand! So- what did they send me? Well, we have some great videos showing the prototypes testing, and just listen to that engine… glorious. A couple of pics of the prototype, where we can clearly see the design is based on the CX-16 concept car, but in convertible guise. There’s also a website, hashtag #FTYPE, and twitter account for us all to bookmark information whichever way we like in the year leading up to launch. There’s even a Facebook page…


try this poll to let me know what you think!

The full press release is below:

Further information about F-TYPE

Announced at the New York Motor show, and over fifty years since the launch of its predecessor, the iconic E-TYPE; the stunning two-seater F-TYPE sports car will be the newest addition to Jaguar’s model range.

Utilising Jaguar’s industry-leading knowledge of all-aluminium construction, the F-TYPE will launch as a convertible, and a strict two-seater with the focus uncompromisingly on delivering driver reward. A range of petrol engines will be available (V6 and V8) – and all will deliver stunning sports car performance.

Currently undergoing development prior to going on sale mid-2013, the F-TYPE is being thoroughly tested ahead of its launch; taking on the most challenging roads, extremes of temperature and the harshest environments.

The core appeal of Jaguar’s cars is their sporting heart, and that heart will beat stronger than ever before in the F-TYPE. Its development is a vivid representation of the confidence and ambition of the Jaguar brand, and the desire amongst the engineers and design team to produce a world-leader in a market segment that we have been absent from for too long.

Ian Callum, Jaguar’s Director of Design, said: “A true sports car needs to be pure in both its purpose and its form; to have the opportunity to produce such a car for Jaguar has been a privilege both for myself and for my team. The C-type, D-type and E-type Jaguars were all sports cars that held true to this principle in their era, and the F-TYPE will hold true to that same principle in its time, a time that is soon to arrive.”

The F-TYPE will join Jaguar’s existing range of cars – the XF saloon and Sportbrake, XJ saloon and XK coupe/convertible. Full F-TYPE technical and range details will be announced later in 2012. It will go on sale in mid 2013

Mr Horbury to you

Here’s a nice interview with a heavyweight of global car design. He created the current look of Volvo, and lead other even larger brands such as Ford US. Now back in charge at Volvo via Geely of China, lets hear him make some stuff up about car “faces”, which I’ve talked about myself elsewhere on this blog.

Geneva 2012 gets “bangled”

The legend speaks! Chris Bangle- former head of BMW design (the last guy to really change car design paradigms, introducing elaborate surface entertainment) let’s us know what he thinks about the recent Geneva Motor Show. I’m predictably with Chris here, some nice designs, nothing radical (except that insane and ugly Toyota FT-Bh concept he mentions) and some very safe me-too production designs from major brands.

Bangle on Geneva 2012 from Scuderia Zagreb on Vimeo.

GM seeded apples….

Here’s a really interesting article written about GM’s history and it’s invention of car styling and marketing as we know it, linking it to the current design-led dominance of Apple. The similarities are clear, especially the annual new product releases as “events”. Steve Jobs also mentions this influence in his biography, when asked about which other companies are as closely integrated in terms of engineering and design (styling) and create and control all aspects of their products very carefully, he replies “auto manufacturers”. Link below.

How the iPhone got tail fins: Lessons Apple learned from GM

thanks to venturebeat.com

right, wrong and french- the future of the electric car

A glimpse of the future right now in 2011, are the new wave of electric or hybrid cars. Like the late great Steve Jobs achieved with the iPad, the car manufacturers of this world are attempting to move our vehicles from one age to the next. Where Jobs has moved us from the PC age, to the true home computing age, cars are about to move from using fossil fuels to much more environmentally friendly means of propulsion. The interesting thing here is that the car manufacturers seem to have got this all wrong, a lot like Microsoft did with tablet computing, they are applying their old business models and old engineering brains to this new problem. So I’d like to explain my point by putting each new hybrid/electric or whatever vehicle into right or wrong categories. So let’s start with wrong:

These cars just haven’t been designed with the correct attitude or market positioning in my opinion- the result is a product inferior in almost every way to a standard fossil fuel car. We can look to other product categories, such as computing with the ipad, or a more mature analogy of the flatscreen TV market. Here the manufacturers and innovators of plasma and LCD flat panel TVs absolutely did not aim to replace the average cheap tube TV. Remember we all had 21″ cheap brands, from Argos? Did Pioneer launch a decontented, basic functionality, 21″ plasma TV? No. Flatscreens entered the market at 42″ size, and they were not at all affordable. In fact the first one on sale was a Phillips 42″ which cost $15,000 in 1997 (Pioneer launched theirs later that year). People had literally never seen or heard of TVs as expensive and as large as these new generation. Early adopters with plenty of cash loved them, and “the big plasma” TV remains a status symbol, as the recent riots news stories were keen to remind us (despite them being cheap Argos items themselves now). So, early adopters are charged huge prices for extremely advanced technology- and the profits from these sales are used to push innovation and manufacturing into larger volumes and cheaper methods so that gradually prices dropped. We are now at a stage where all TVs are slim, LCD (an even more outrageously expensive technology at first) and larger than we ever had before. So why on earth do car manufacturers think they can immediately offer a car- with completely new technology, at the same price and to the same customers as current fossil fuel cars which they have spent the last 70+ years refining into a cost effect product? Complete madness, and the result is severely compromised vehicles using cheap underdeveloped technology solutions, which are still not cheap enough, so the manufacturers are forced to subsidise the true cost and make no profit at all! Here’s my list of the worst offenders.

Honda Insight: A rough, cheap feeling and sounding hybrid (according to journalists) which was designed with only one purpose- to undercut the price of the Toyota Prius. No thanks Honda- and you should know better (in fact your engineers do… see the FCX Clarity).

Nissan Leaf: A loss making marketing exercise aimed at making Nissan famous for introducing the first proper electric car. I owned a Nissan which beeped and warned me frantically when it’s petrol-filled fuel source reached only 100km range left. The Nissan Leaf’s total range when fully charged? 100km….  let’s hope they didn’t use the same dashboard warning software.

Reva G-Wiz: Not much to say about this- except it exploited a loophole in one particular city’s laws. Barely even a car, simply a plastic box with a close resemblance to those trolleys you can sit your kids in at the supermarket.

Mitsubishi i-Miev: Too narrow and unsafe looking- but a decent design effort for a city car, still aiming at being cheap rather than cool though. Marketing nightmare, I mean look at it? Who is it for?

Ok- so those guys got it wrong- but guess what, some manufacturers are getting it right and it is no accident that they are either totally new companies not tied down by traditional or restricted thinking (some have been started by total novices!), or they are companies that are so old they actually needed to think radically to stay alive and relevant. These companies are charging- quite rightly- a premium for this future technology. They are designing state-of-the-art transportation, that uses extreme engineering and new technologies and they are aiming those expensive and exciting products at rich and excitable new age consumers. The early adopters are of course very happy to lead the way, to show the world they are changing it with their wallet. These are the future success stories in the automotive arena- perhaps Telsa or even Fisker might in future become the Apple of cars? Who wants to bet that Tesla will be number 1 auto manufacturer in the world (currently Toyota) 25 years from now?

Tesla Model S: Not completely ground-breaking in exterior design, but it does have that modern electric car aesthetic of smooth surfaces and less body openings than usual. It also has an astonishing touch screen interior (as does the Fisker) and the entire company is doing things very differently, run by an ex-internet billionaire (paypal founder). This is Tesla’s second model, the first being a product that had almost no practical application other than to show-off the technology and to tempt those rich early adopters into joining in the development party. Genius.

Fisker Karma: (see my previous post): Made in Finland, designed by a Dane in California- who set-up his company there because he realised silicon valley was about to become the new Motor City…. I would bet that he will be correct. He (Henrik Fisker) also designed the Tesla Model S, to which they had a little falling-out over because they claimed he made it purposely less sexy than his own car! The Karma breaks all the traditional design rules because it starts from an entirely new packaging proposition- much like the plasma TV gave us “hang-on-the-wall” thinness. There is even a version that revives that ultimate luxury car product- the shooting brake!

Rolls Royce 102-EX: A real no-brainer here, Rolls Royces are for people to be driven in, who keep them in garages with an attendant driver to charge it up for them and electric motors ensure properly silent running. Owners are also willing to spend any amount to have the world not hate them for their opulence…

BMW i8: The i3 and the i8 from BMW are such radical thinking from BMW, they decided to create an entire new sub-brand, with a new design language also. They are made from materials that BMW have never used in full production before, and in the case of the i8 they emphasize pure performance. It has perfect 50/50 weight distribution, and 0-60 of 5 seconds, both cars use unique packaging only possible because of their EV or hybrid design. A lot like the Karma this new space utilisation creates a completely radical shape- not just design details, but the entire form and layout of the car moves us into the future. Wonderful!

Jaguar CX75: I absolutely love this car, look at how utterly gorgeous it is. Concept car perfection- and now destined for production in 2013. This is Jaguars first hybrid car and they have chosen (unlike Toyota, Nissan) to put it right at the very top of their range, as a halo product. This is of course genius, and makes our rich friends pay for the technology that we might all be driving with in the future. The CX75 concentrates on performance by using absolutely amazing turbine engines to charge the battery packs!

The French!

Renault Twizy: Now this is simply too odd to call- typically the crazy French are doing neither a premium halo product, nor attempting to simply give us an ordinary car with EV tech (ok, so Renault are actually rolling out a whole range which includes the most boring cheap looking saloon I’ve ever seen). No, Renault have decided to make a vehicle that is hard to label- a four wheeled covered motorbike for city streets. It is hard to guess exactly who might buy this device, or if we might see bunches of them droning up the slow lane of the M6 in the UK, or tottering through the vast long forest roads here in Finland (no is the answer to both) trying to swerve around a Moose. This is not a car- but it looks like fun!

As usual, here’s a gallery (and slideshow) of my research for this post.

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audi Q cars

Right, so this week we have seen published images of the new Audi Q3 crossover, based on the cheaper VW Tiguan of course. The best part as you can already guess perhaps…. is that Audi teased the press with preview sketches as is the usual process these days, and now the final car is revealed, with almost total predictability. It looks so much like the larger Audi Q5 most of us car geeks, let alone the average person on the street, can BARELY tell the difference.

Wow- those Audi designers really earn their money…. So they did nothing

at all in the process of creating this car? Picked some new LED’s for the headlights? I guess we can expect this sort of evolutionary and cautious design language from the Apple of the car world, and they have of course proved this tactic to be incredibly successful. I guess I just wonder about the enthusiastic, idea-filled, young designers trapped in that Audi design studio…. how do they feel when the bosses just ask for this kind of work?!

Here are some comparison shots in a slideshow, see if you can tell the difference…. (hint: the blue one is a Q5!)

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