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2019 Frankfurt Auto Show

Frankfurt remains the largest European Auto Show, its scale perhaps a useful reminder that German car companies still dominate the European market, if not the global car market. Over 16 million cars per annum are produced by German owned brands, and there are more widely recognised class leading designs coming from Germany than from any other country — their automotive industry rightly gains much attention, and this bi-annual show, with its scale and showmanship, encapsulates much of this leading quality.
This year the show is consciously evolving to offer a wider platform of engagement to its visitors with a much larger conference, more exhibitions hosted within the main show, more elements within the core show aimed at engaging the public, and more online curation of the event also see here

Preview list

Most brands will be present in Frankfurt, more so that at the Paris Auto Show this time last year (the two shows alternate), but notably Nissan, Renault, Toyota, FCA and PSA are absent amongst others, and the number of major debuts looks set to be less than than in previous years. But this show does bring some significant debuts: the first dedicated all-electric Volkswagen, the ID.3, and the first dedicated all-electric Porsche, the Taycan, and the first wholly new LandRover (Defender) since 1948...   

Core insights

Whilst there were less brands attending, and those that were there presented less new designs, Frankfurt did land some major punches. The Volkswagen ID.3 was billed as a new design as significant to Volkswagen as the Beetle and Golf; without doubt this car is really big news being the first dedicated electric car design from such a large car brand, and one that sits slap in the middle of the largest sector of the market. The Porsche Taycan was another major debut that arguably bookends the upper echelon of mass-made electric cars realising a markedly shrink-wrapped four door coupe that was clearly more Porsche than any other with four doors, despite its lack of beating heart. The Land Rover Defender was the third big debut in Frankfurt, and one unusually distinct in being a design that replaces a true design icon dating from 1948; the original Land Rover has been gently updated over the years but essentially never redesigned until now. Given how emotive the relationship with this British workhorse has become, this was a big deal, and, despite many having held their breath a long time, the design was widely received very favourably by the design community.  

Hyundai 45This was a real “designers’ design”: stepping from the original 1974 Hyundai Pony Coupe concept from Ital Design, the 45 is a sharply defined, compact but spaciously practical coupe. It thus reminding the world that Hyundai have a heritage to celebrate, and is perhaps part of a groundswell of car designs referencing the 1970s too. Well resolved, with some flourishes such as the marks on the wheel-spats, and with some lovely animated illuminations too. A delight of a thing, if perhaps oddly unconnected to any recent design expression from the brand.
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Land Rover DefenderReplacing an iconic design from nearly seventy years ago is not a common occurrence — it must have been an exciting design project, if one with a heavy burden of diverse expectations that inevitably could not all be met. Erring on more on the image of simple and rugged than on being genuinely simple and rugged — and rightly so given that this is a design for the twenty twenties international market not an indulgence for a niche market (that maybe some of us still desire…) — the new Defender steps not just from the original Landy but also from the Discovery 4 to realise a uniquely strong proposition that perhaps might bring LandRover out from the shadow of its premium brand sibling.
Land Rover Defender.jpg
Volkswagen ID.3The ID.3 may have been the most significant new design debut in Frankfurt, if not the year, but its design looks to be baring signs of a gestation that took place during what must have been a very uncomfortable "diesel-gate "period for Volkswagen: the theme is Golf derived and not so distinct, as if design decisions were made perhaps by several people with a lot of pressure to realise a design that would be okay for as many people as possible who want an alternative to an ICE car — and arguably this is exactly what they have achieved — and perhaps this ambition is wholly aligned to being a “peoples’ car” too, if one that won’t be remembered in the same way as the defining Golf and Beetle.
Volkswagen ID3.jpg


With less new designs in Frankfurt than before and with those debuting being very diverse in their type, there are few clear conclusions that can be robustly drawn across the board. Arguably the most marked macro trend from the show was the way electric car design has become the new normal car design; the Volkswagen ID3 is the first truly mainstream electric car — the Leaf from Nissan and Model 3 from Tesla were both wilfully different from the norms of the established ICE cars of their sizes in their exterior and interior design, the Volkswagen is far more normative. Whilst an expensive, luxurious and fast car, the Porsche Taycan is part fo this normalisation of electric too: here is a design that does not shout of being electric powered in any way and that places itself conceptually and proportionally between the 911 and the Panamera; physically it’s smack in the middle of the Porsche range – no longer is electric car design on the fringe, it’s now dead centre! With other new electric debuts such as the Opel Corsa and Mini, and the dedicated Byton M-byte and Honda e also, it feels like soon we will stop even saying "electric car design", and be back to just saying "car design".  
There were some other key macro trends, and some strong exterior and interior / UX design trends we observed, but these will stay within the Frankfurt Auto Show Design Trend Report that we will be presenting to various OEM client design teams — something we do to help them ensure they remain aware of the bleeding edge of what’s happening in car design and to be able to consciously embrace or reject emergent trends within their work also.