this is a local car for local people

The economic crisis has caused huge changes in the traditional automotive industry. These changes were happening slowly before, but recent events have accelerated this. The dinosaurs of GM, Chrysler, etc are dying or are in trouble- and quite rightly thanks to the extremely slow pace of innovation within the established industry. So far in the 21st century we’ve seen the birth of many new car companies- such as Tesla, Fisker, and Mindset but now you can add this amazing start-up to the list – Local Motors.

Local Motors is even further removed from the traditional set-up of a car manufacturer- they are essentially open source. This is a term and practice borrowed from software development, the most obvious example being Windows vs the Linux operating system, or Internet Explorer compared to Firefox. The latter of each- for example Firefox- have been created by the user community- openly and without restrictions on licensing, copyright etc. People literally contribute in their spare time, at home. We can also see the power of this method in websites such as Wikipedia- also completely user generated. Local Motors have applied this amazingly powerful (and very cheap!) methodology to creating vehicles! When I first read about this- basically allowing anyone online to design a car, I expected something awful to come from this but the result is fantastic. The quality of the design work- and particularly the renderings etc. is fantastic. The premise is clearly explained with these words taken from the Local Motors website:

This is how it works:

  • Vote for the designs you want. If you are a designer, you can upload your own. Either way, you help choose which designs are developed and built by the Local Motors community. Vote for competition designs, Checkup critiques, or portfolio designs.
  • Open Development, sort of like open source. Once there is enough support for any single design, Local Motors will develop it openly. That means that you not only choose which designs you want to drive, you get to help develop them – every step of the way.
  • Choose the Locale During the development process, help choose where the design should be made available. Local Motors is not a big car company, we are Local. The community chooses car designs with local regions in mind; where will this design fit best? You tell us. We make it happen.
  • Build your Local Motors vehicle Then, once the design and engineering is fully developed you can go to the Local Motors Micro-Factory and build your own – with our help, of course.See the “Buy” page for purchase and Build Experience details.
  • Drive your Local Motors car, the one you helped design and build, home.
  • Repeat as desired.

Frankly- inspiring stuff, and it makes me want to order one. The community has a high quality of design ability, and is mostly made up of car design students. Overall an exciting project and in my opinion this is quite possibly the very bright future for the personal transportation industry- cars designed by us (“us” being the actual consumers!), specifially for us- even to the extent of being designed especially for our own local environment/terrain and culture. What could be better?!

http://www.local-motors.com/

shanghai future

2009 looks like it could be the year of the Chinese. The big 3 Americans won’t survive the year- Chrylser and GM are already bankrupt, but Ford should make it. When looking at most of the product made by the US companies, they perhaps deserve to die. The entire Jeep range is terrible, Hummers are against the global zeitgeist, and brands such as Pontiac, Mercury, Buick seem to have no idea what consumers want. The Chinese on the other hand- are using copycat tactics to give consumers the cars they want- at the prices they want them. They are also making market specific decisions, such as hiring design talent to create cutting edge vehicles for the western world. Other manufacturers are launching cars aimed at the eastern market, or collaborating with local companies to produce vehicles for that market, and the Shanghai motor show was the place to launch most of those ideas. The Porsche Panamera and radical concepts such as the Bertone Mantide were shown there, very significant that a new Porsche would be launched in China. Even the Lagonda concept shown at Geneva is actually aimed at the asian market- and perhaps the shock in Europe would not have been shown in China. There were so many new cars at the Shanghai show, some though, were of a high quality in terms of design- usually due to being developed in established western consultancies but also some internal Chinese studios are producing interesting work.

One of the most original concepts was the Chana E301 Concept from Chongqing Changan Automobile.

Changan Concept
Changan Concept

This part SUV, part coupe design has very modern features and is an aggressive design. The rear of the car is assymetric, which can be very difficult to pull off- but this pick-up has 2+1 seating that makes the assymetry more honest and functional. gallery

The E301 was styled as a joint project, in Turin, but underĀ  the direction of Chagan’s own team of 20 designers, led by Li Bo. The Italian design houses have been very busy of late- working with nearly all of the emerging car companies. It is not always public knowledge of course which cars they work, or collaborate on.

E301
E301

Essentially everyone is chasing the so called emerging markets, of Russia, China, India and the Arabian states (much more established actually). And two prime examples of this are the Porsche Panamera and Aston Lagonda. The Lagonda in fact was perhaps shown at entirely the worng car show, as European press reaction seemed to be somewhat negative about a vehicle that was never concieved for our tastes. If we try to picture this car racing across some sand dunes, or making its way over unpaved rough streets to a remote factory somewhere- the ride height and emphasis on cocooning rear passengers make more sense. My good friend Steve Platt designed the interior, and persuaded me that the exterior is much nicer in the flesh- and a lot smaller and lower than you’d imagine. The size makes the design quite intriguing, by using some traditional forms such as the “trunk” rear to suggest its luxury status- rather than sheer bulk. The best thing Steve told me however- was his use of genuine rabbit fur in the interior design, reported officially as luxury fur lined interior zones, perhaps for cold Russian wastelands- but designed, and reffered to by him as innuendo laden “furry pockets”, haha, he was surprised he managed to slip that by bosses unnoticed!

Lagonda concept
Lagonda concept

opel is cool now?

Just announced: the new Opel Astra. Like the Insignia previously, and in fact the last gen Astra, Opel are showing their hopeless parent company how to design and make great cars. This is good design from GM’s European design studio, led by Mark Adams, nothing too radical or crude, just a quality piece of work that gives an expensive feel to what was once a cheap and rattly run-about for half of Europe. Looking forward to seeing the 3-door, which on the previous gen was a great looking design. A lot of other studios have created similar designs, such as the new Megane range, the Kia Pro_Ceed, and perhaps the originator of the look- the Mazda 3.

worst of 2008

I’m a little late posting this one, I’ve been busy, but here’s a guide to some of the crimes commited in car design during 2008. I’m not including tuners/kit cars/student projects in this as their designers are not professionals, but some small scale manufactuers are fair game in that there is really no excuse for not getting something designed properly! Firstly there are some surprise candidates last year, such as the new Ford Ka. Which basically looks almost identical to an Opel Corsa, and is terrible in context of the radical and timeless style of the fantastic mk1 Ford Ka. Some major manufacturers unleashed some mediocre designs- Renault dissapointed with their bland Laguna, but that is nothing compared to their terrible Safrane. The good news is you won’t see one unless you live in Dubai as it’s a Persian market special- with a strange birth. Basically a re-badged Samsung (yeah, they make cars too) SM5, itself based on the old Nissan Maxima- woeful from Renault.

Another example of spectacularly un-french design comes from the seemingly lost Peugeot design team. It would be nice to think that the incredibly ugly, and forced family look of the 3008 will be the last we see from Gerald Welter’s rather tired legacy. Or more worryingly, perhaps it is the start of design life without the old grumpy fella?!

Something I will unfortunately be seeing a lot of here in Finland (Toyota is the number 1 selling brand here) is the latest Toyota Avensis. This car is just odd, there is something strange in its underwheeled (as usual, but now just at the rear!), and top heavy proportions and balance. The rear looks like somebody braked too late pulling up behind. Also, what on earth is going on with those now industry standard door pull-handles, that are also recessed around their perimeter?!

Possibly the most surprising brand to be listed here- although not when you consider their only other attempts at producing something more than the same design for 50 years- is Porsche. Yes, the Panamera has to be listed here. It is of course a supremely professional design, expertly detailed, with perfect fit and finish (like the Cayenne), but it is also an oddly proportioned ill-fitting mish-mash of 2 entirely different genres of car (like the Cayenne). A 911 is a sports car, a Maserati Quattroporte is a saloon- weld the two together and you do not have a beautiful design. The only thing going for it, is that the other cynical marketing trick that Porsche produce (that Cayenne again)- is much uglier. I guess that could be considered a success? It has grown on me- unlike, yes that Cayenne again, which is a contender for ugliest car this century.

Lastly, a car seemingly related in style to Porsche’s 50 year re-hash philosophy, the PGO Hemera! The what? Well, the PGO is a French made car- that seems to ape the very first Porsche, the 356. It’s added twist is to ruin the proportions by being much narrower, then add in very poorly fitting body panels, and finally to complete that look by randomly choosing modern cues such as black windscreen surround and alfa rear lights- with large amounts of misplaced tacky chrome. Interesting attempt, but definitely a FAIL.

best of 2008

mazda furai design sketch
mazda furai design sketch

This is not a very comprehensive review of the year, I’d recommend the Car Design Yearbook if you like that sort of annual information. 2008 did see me start this blog though, so I will make an effort to name some of the best and worst car design of 2008. There were also some vehicles that cause me to sit on the fence a little- undecided as yet on their success or failure.

In the autumn Paris was a show highlight with the French industry being resurgent. Citroen deserve special mention in 2008- and not just because designs by my friends were launched! They created a few significant concept cars this year, including one close to my own work interests- the GT design developed for the Gran Turismo PlayStation game, and also continued to follow their own unusual path for production designs. Renault produced a good concept or two, but their production cars were a little lacking, barring perhaps the 3-door Megane. Mazda continued to produce more concepts with the same “flow” design language they started a couple of years ago. The ultimate of these was the Furai.

mazda furai engine cover
mazda furai engine cover

Similar to the Citroen GT, this was a no-brainer for impressive proportions and drama due to its mid-engined supercar format. The Mazda is notable mostly for its sliced surfaces and curvy but hard-edged bodywork. It also has one of my favourite new technical elements, the negative pressure engine air intake. Instead of the usual roof scoop for the airbox of this mid-engined design, the Furai uses a central vane that draws air down along either side like a sharks fin. It doesn’t move styling forward, but it simply looks great.

BMW gina concept
BMW gina concept

BMW revealed a concept car this year which I believe has been created quite a few years ago, but was only shown internally. It was revealed to the public in 2008, and therefore is a close runner up for best concept. This sounds strange, but the design was very ahead of its time and has served as inspiration for BMW’s current flame surfacing design language. That design language has been much copied, so the original concept was clearly kept to inspire their own designers without being shown to rivals. The GINA concept is stunning, with ground breaking use of flexible fabric skin so the car can physically change shape. It literally has the “tension” that I’ve talked about elsewhere in this blog, by the fact the skin is fabric stretched taught across a frame. The design inspired the current Z4 production car, which gives us a clue to its age.

An overlooked concept this year was the Pininfarina Sintesi. This was a curious design that was at once classical with lovely old style Pininfarina curves, but at the same time radical and modern in its architecture, engineering and proportions- brilliant, if a little odd looking.

Pininfarina also delivered my personal favourite production car of the year- although it won’t be on sale until 2010. This car will actually be sold directly by Pininfarina themselves, and is an electric vehicle

pininfarina b0
pininfarina b0

called the B0. It not only looks fantastic, it has zero emissions and even has solar panels in the roof.

Other highlights of this year in production cars were the Lotus Evora, a simply gorgeous car that at once looks new but also as if it has evolved over years of design tweaks (like a 911 that has just appeared suddenly!). The Nissan GT-R was finally released globally and dominated every performance car test, thoroughly beating cars costing twice the price. Porsche were alarmed enough to publicly complain to Nissan that they couldn’t replicate a claimed Nurburgring lap time, using the GT-R they purchased for evaluation. A great piece of PR for NIssan, considering Porsche were worried enough to buy a GT-R and try! Nissan replied by politely offering to send their own test driver to teach Porsche how to drive a GT-R. The car is utterly fantastic, and unique in its design. Blending the roots of 2 door saloon Skyline GT-R, with a more purposeful aerodynamic coupe roofline. The roofline even has a sharp dividing line- literally showing the two genres that have been fused together. Another great example of Japanese design appeared this year from Toyota. The Toyota IQ is quite obviously inspired by the Smart car, even the name tells us this, but Toyota have done that very Japanese thing of improving and re-engineering the idea to a very practical solution. The IQ can actually seat 4 adults, 3 very comfortably, or two plus luggage. In another national stereotype, Toyota created this space by reducing the size of every component in the car- a bit like a cool Sony laptop. Honda meanwhile decided to trump Toyota’s half-hearted hybrid technology by releasing a production design that is the most significant change in car engineering for 100years. The FCX Clarity is a hydrogen powered fuel-cell car, on sale, now. A stunning achievement (although slightly cheating, as Honda subsidises each car by perhaps $100k’s) and the future of the car industry for sure, with its only emissions being pure clean water!

2010 camaro ss
2010 camaro ss

In the rest of the world, things were decidedly retro. Fiat launched the insanely cute 500, which is possibly the bargain of the years new cars. The Abarth version is also perfectly judged in its additional sports bodykit. The US car industry is on the brink of total failure- which frankly they almost deserve, thanks to shoddy products. That would be a shame of course because we’d be deprived of amazingly macho and pointless vehicles such as the new Camaro and new Dodge Challenger. The Chevy Camaro being my own personal favourite for its much more progressive styling, but sadly it won’t be on sale until 2010! Lets hope they’re still around to sell it… both cars show that the US really know how to style great looking cars.

Last but not least a special mention for a design that is certainly not retro, nor is it in any way conventional. It is barely even a proper car.. but in terms of design the KTM X-Bow is truly exceptional. I really love the design of this car, it is engineering laid bare. With that perfect amount of styling quite literally laid over the top in the form of aerodynamic fairings that only a motorcycle design studio could pull off so perfectly. There are features- particularly in the minimal interior, that have been played with on concept cars for the best part of 20 years and finally it takes a motorcycle manufacturer to be brave enough to put them into production. Water resistant removable instrument “computer” pod anyone? Yes, yes please!

KTM X-bow race
KTM X-bow race

Next I’ll be writing a review of some of the WORST designs of 2008.. should be fun. I’ll leave you with a gallery of the cars mentioned here.

finnish fisker

Quite a mouthful that, but this is the awesome 2009 Fisker Karma. An electric plug-in hybrid car that goes on sale in 2009, and will be built by Valmet here in Finland! The factory will lose its current contract building Porsche Boxters and Caymans and swap to making this beauty. This car really fits with Finlands eco image as a nation, and it should also be a major success on pure style alone! The great idea that Henrik Fisker (ex Aston designer who now has his own car company) had here was to aim a hybrid vehicle directly at the Hollywood set that currently buy the pig ugly Toyota Prius, and rather than letting engineering dictate the proportions, he’s used the new technology to allow him to choose his proportions based more on styling alone. Fisker went for a classic long hood, wide body, and low roof, perhaps reminding us of cars the stars drove in Hollywood’s golden ages. The modern twist is the long wheelbase, but those very large wheels try to compensate for the extreme distance between the wheels- as Lamborghini have done with the Estoque saloon. For $80k and no guilt… this will sell well, but lets hope they reach the lofty 15,000 per year target!

production fisker karma front 3/4
production fisker karma front 3/4
production fisker karma rear 3/4
production fisker karma rear 3/4

new mazda 3 design

2010 mazda 3 sketch
2010 mazda 3 sketch

nice sketch gallery for the new mazda 3