Our Insight List is designed to keep us on our toes and you in the loop, on a regular basis. Our
Quarterly Insights is sent to our clients and friends four times a year. Our Show Insights provide
in-depth reports from the major International Auto Shows.
A weekly-ish look at news, trends and industry news
Rugged-ising the car — taking the 'Allroad' mainstream
In September 1997, Volvo introduced a car called the V70 XC, latterly called the Cross Country. But it was the launch of the 1999 C5 Audi A6 Allroad Quattro that confirmed the ruggedised, high-riding estate as a new product category in the automotive industry.
Since then, Cross Country and Allroad models have become a mainstay of both Volvo and Audi’s ranges and represent an interesting half-way point between regular car line and SUVs (XC and Q models). It’s a type of niche offering that’s popular with well-heeled middle class, liberal families in Northern Europe and the coastal Americas. It’s a fact that partly accounts for Subaru’s meteoric sales rise in the USA, many of the Japanese brand’s models loosely follow this recipe.
UX design in cars today is very much focused on helping the driver easily and quickly realise their needs for an ever more complex system. In games design it is different: the UX designer is not trying to help the gamer easily and quickly realise their end point and win the game, but to prolong and enrich the emotive experience of gaming. With electrification and greater automation reducing the ways cars emotively engage with the driver, so there is a clear challenge for car UX design to learn from games design and focus on delivering richly emotive experiences.
We all have associations with places we know; where we are from, where we spent an important part of our lives, where we live now. As animals we are instinctively bound to place. But as we travel more and interact with things from a wider range of places, our personal sense-of-place is less singular and less fixed than for those even a short while ago.
Places themselves are becoming less distinct too, as international businesses deliver singular design solutions across the world: a streetscape in Germany, China, or the US will much share shop branding, fashions being worn, food being consumed — and the cars being driven.
It's now March, and this month in particular is of key significance to the automotive design calendar — The 88th Geneva International Motor Show shall be taking place between the 8th and 18th, bringing with it a wave of anticipation and curiosity from car fans and industry experts alike. It goes without saying that the CDR team will be in attendance on the press days to look at and get their hands on the latest cars - production designs and concept cars.
There are two ways that people — from a baby to a grandparent — learn: by working things out for themselves; and by stepping-off the practice of others. Some things are best learnt one way, some the other.
Learning core facts or things that have a limited range of solutions, tend to be best learnt from others; how to spell 'cat' for example, or how to tie up your shoe laces.
The tech-upgradable car: would customers pay for hardware they can’t see?
I’m sat in a dark car park, jabbing away at the slick upper screen of a Range Rover Velar. It’s late at night and I’m tired and furiously trying to punch an address into the sat nav, and the system’s lag means it’s not keeping up with how fast I’m trying to type. I make a mistake, but it doesn’t register at first, and then the street name isn’t recognised by the system because of my typo. I curse.
Think of a car brand - Ferrari, Mini, BMW, Cadillac, Volvo. Our first association with these brands is cars (obviously!). Then we think of the types of cars these brands make and we also think of their nationality: Italian, British, German, American, Swedish respectively. The provenance of car brands is, with some exceptions, one of the first associations people make — even those who know little about cars (actually, disproportionately so for people who know little about cars, but that’s another story…). And the primary association of national identity then brings with it a whole realm of secondary associations to the car brand which mostly add significant value to the brand, particularly for customers in export markets. So for Ferrari we think of Italy and then we think of various Italian associations such as being emotional and expressive, and being focused on the artisan side of design — and these secondary associations then connect back to Ferrari, further enriching the brand. With Bentley people think of various British associations such as the heritage that sits within ‘Rule, Britannia’ and monarchy, or being hand-made with fine natural materials — and these secondary associations then connect back to Bentley, further enriching the brand.
In car design the western world has become accustomed to looking to the east for new markets with demanding customers who hunger for the latest and most advanced designs. But how long might China remain the most interesting market? Might not other BRIC territories rightly demanded our attention as they grow in commercial significance and as their people assert new requirements of the car? And could Africa, with South Africa now the “S” in BRICS, be at the forefront of this new focus — a region that in other product sectors, such as telecommunications and energy, has already ‘leap-frogged’ incumbent ways of doing things as it develops so fast and with so little inertia? We think that Africa is one of the most overlooked and most interesting car markets, and the one with the most scope to change fast and even leapfrog today’s leaders in developed countries.
Why the driverless-car is being hobbled by science fiction
The idea of the driverless-car, the autonomous car, is omnipresent today in the automotive industry. Conferences live by it. Suppliers toil to make the cleverness in it. Government bodies fund research into it. And car companies excite us with it. At last month’s Frankfurt Auto Show there were many concept cars, such as the svelte Audi Aicon, presented as being autonomous. Normally these autonomous concept cars are mono-space forms with large wheels pushed to the corners and are shown zooming on highways with earnest thirty-somethings facing one another, tablet in hand, and this vision has now perhaps become the established automotive cliche of the twenty-teens.
In reality the autonomous car is decades away from being realised in anything approaching such forms or application. Cliche or otherwise, these typically appealing but superficial designs, and the way they are presented, are misleading in how they define our wider understanding of what the driverless car will be — and thus are hobbling the collective advancement of the autonomous car. And in a small way we have science fiction to thank for this.
What is the future of the (fully) autonomous car interior? Last week I spoke at the autonomous vehicle interior design & technology symposium in Stuttgart, as part of the Automotive Interiors Expo 2017.
Although the conference usefully highlighted a candid belief from across the industry that full, Level-5 autonomous vehicles aren’t going to become a mainstream proposition until probably sometime in the 2040s, getting there is a challenge for here and now. And as designers we are going to play a huge role in how successful autonomous cars are, and what kind of experiences they offer, by painting visions of this future world.