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.
Way back in 2007 Nissan decided to abandon the battle that they were losing against the VW Golf and Ford Focus (C-segment). The Almera was a good car, but a sales/profit disaster. To replace this model, they looked to their brand new London “think-tank” design studio. That team came up with a radical and fashion led urban concept they called a “crossover” vehicle. In essence it was the standard FWD Almera hatchback underpinnings, with an SUV style (but much less macho, and more sporty) body on top. Other Japanese manufacturers had tried the crossover idea before, as a commenter has mentioned, the Subaru Forrester was released in 1997 and the Honda HR-V in 1999. Both were more traditionally (non-sporty) styled SUVs which also had energy wasting AWD. The market niche was empty for Nissan to test the water by ditching that AWD hardware and avoiding the rugged styling… and now, 5 years later the Qashqai is a phenomenon. Over 2 million of them have been sold across the world, and every manufacturer has been inspired by the design, the engineering (2WD) and have targeted Qashqai customers. Nearly all manufacturers got greedy though, and didn’t stick with Nissan’s winning formula of SUV looks with totally comparable C-segment prices. This year, Nissan had the scary prospect of following up their smash hit vehicle with an all new Qashqai. Again designed by the London studio, by the same designer I believe? Matt Weaver (another Coventry University graduate) is now the official Godfather of Qashqai. I’ve created a montage for this article, of various production and concept Crossover designs…. see if you can name them all. Some are Nissan’s own concepts leading up to the final new Qashqai design. Two or three concept cars were used to test ideas on the public, before choosing the final design for Qashqai 2014.
edit: to add to this post, I of course managed to overlook the original Crossover design. Which was not produced in Japan. Just like most market niches, it originated in the creative pool of France. The Matra Simca Rancho was a small, urban SUV styled vehicle with FWD only!
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.
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!)
Photo of my Qashqai after a long and slightly mucky drive through melted snow roads. The dirt was shaped fairly clearly by the air- giving a little clue to the aerodynamics of the front end. At least the boundary layer behaviour anyway.