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in-depth reports from the major International Auto Shows.
The rental-car design flip
Most car drivers care about what their car looks like. Even if they profess not to, almost everyone at least cares that their car does not look a bit silly or a bit ugly. Except for the rental-car driver: arguably they don’t care very much what their car looks like, they just care about being able to jump in and drive off. And as the established private car ownership model wanes and many cars will be used by several different users – just like a rental-car – it seems likely that tomorrow's car design challenge will be to design a great rental car.
The week before last I was in Japan for the Tokyo auto show and the Car Design Forum. Some of you will be aware we produce trend reports from nearly every international motorshow, which we sell to clients. If you want to see, and order from the back catalogue do have a look at our dedicated reports page that you'll find in the top menu tab.
We travel to Korea, to Germany, to the US, to Japan, to Sweden, to France, to Italy. Everywhere we go, after the meeting, and after the chit-chat and a little pause, they look us straight in the eye and say: “So; what do you know about the Apple car?”
The whole automotive industry is collectively holding its breath for Apple to launch a car. They’re all expecting it to knock the wind out of their sails and many of them are expecting it may knock more than that out of them.
'Wagatch'?! Or maybe 'Hagon'? What happens when you crash the words 'Hatchback' and 'Wagon' together is trickier to resolve than when the two types of car design are put together - but we thought we’d have a go at naming this latest type of car!
Lancia should be FCA's fashion and technology leader
Top Gear declared it to be the brand with the greatest number of great cars. They have won the World Rally Championship an amazing 16 times. Their cars, both production and concept, continue to be some of the world's most beautiful and astounding designs ever created. But despite all of this, the Lancia brand is, for all intents and purposes, dead.
Marchionne, Audi, Google, Autonomous cars and design patterns
FCA chief executive, Sergio Marchionne is never far away from the headlines. The most recent source of ire about Marchionne concerned a Powerpoint document detailing what he thinks is wrong with the auto industry and why FCA needs a partner.
Automotive News Europe (ANE) has a very interesting analysis piece of his point, where it discusses the industry’s weakness – and ultimate vulnerability – because of its terrible capital returns. Of the points ANE analysed in Marchionne’s piece, one stood out.
Complexity and contradiction: the sustainable designer's dilemma
The periodic idea of improvement – the model refresh cycle, advancing design, adding novelty and newness to drive sales – is at the heart of a dilemma any designer concerned with sustainability might be going through.
What as designers are we trying to do? Solve problems? Design-in ‘newness’ to drive sales? Somewhere in between?
It’s an icon of a design if ever there was one. We thought everything about the Porsche 911 - the original air-cooled ‘proper’ one - must have been written and said before. Until we had one for a few days. Sure, being with the car is a bit like living inside a film you’ve seen many times; the first hand experience speaks much of what we’d read and heard of the design. But there were other things too; several key perspectives on the Porsche 911 design we realised that perhaps have never been said before…
It really ought to be Sam writing this piece, as he used to own a C6 so is better qualified to talk how it felt and what it was like to ride and drive in. Nonetheless, the critical point the Jalopnik piece makes is how far leftfield the C6 is from other, similar sized contemporary luxury sedans in its attitude and positioning.
What is the primary objective when designing a product - to create a design that is handsome and attractive to the customer? This is an unarguable truth, but then perhaps because it is most designers don’t give it a second thought...
But if we were to give it a second thought then perhaps we might consider this primary objective relative to the fact that customers are all different people with different perspectives on what is handsome or attractive to them.
So then, perhaps let us agree that the primary objective when designing a product might more accurately (or pedantically!) be described as “to make a design that is as handsome and attractive to as many customers as possible”?
This then leads us to a truism that all designers know, even if it is not something many much care for: that to design a product that can be as handsome and attractive to as many customers as possible is different to designing a product that is as handsome and attractive as possible to a few customers. Just as in music, just as in literature, the peak creative achievement in design is not necessarily aligned with the peak commercial achievement.
But does this mean that design is about not creating something ugly?
There is a long history of motorsport and watchmaking collaboration, but the two products rarely could be seen as connected in any way beyond a rich man's accessory to his high-powered sportscar or weekend racing hobby. With the advent of the smartwatch, however, there has been more and more discussion of the potential connection between the two—notifications from your car, accessing performance data, even remote starting. But with the arrival (and apparent early success) of the Apple Watch, there is a new correlation between the car industry and watches—selective personalisation.
Ross Rubin has an excellent article on FastCompany today, entitled ‘The next wave of interfaces’. In it, Rubin contextualises the impact of the iPhone on the world of interfaces, which he describes as the ‘pure touch’ experience. But then goes on to remark that “Seven years after the iPhone, though, device developers are augmenting touch for a host of reasons, including device screen size, aesthetics, familiarity, and backward compatibility in an array of products”.
‘Good proportions’. It’s a popular refrain from car designers in response to the question: ‘what makes a good design?’. But what are ‘good proportions’? How close is this to the idea of a person having a ‘good figure’ and the ideal human form being one that approximates to the classic superhero?
The Big Apple. The new centre of the premium car world?
Back in January, Sam mused on how Detroit was no longer the home of car design. That was a view partly born out of the paucity of significant new cars launched in Detroit, and the complete lack of radical ideas.
Question is, has the New York motorshow now superseded Detroit as the place to launch a new, premium car in North America? It looks so. New York has long been a second-tier show – sitting behind Detroit, but also LA – in importance. It’s also been totally overshadowed by the alternating Shanghai and Beijing shows, which have often opened on exactly the same April dates as New York. Car makers have, unsurprisingly, prioritised China. In 2011, that meant Mercedes took a fully functioning Concept A to China, but brought just half a model of the car (reflected by mirror to make it into a virtual full concept) to New York.
One of the most pleasant design surprises at the Geneva Motor Show this year was the Suzuki iM-4 crossover concept. While little hard information is available on the car, it appears likely to be a replacement for the Jimny compact SUV, and the styling is clearly based on the newest generation of the Alto, which has (or may never) be seen outside of Japan. Look around the rest of Suzuki's stand in Geneva though, and you'd be forgiven for thinking you were at the 2003 Geneva Motor Show. With Honda next door not exactly moving things forward from a design standpoint either, there's a general feeling that Japanese design has lost its way in recent years. But they're actually doing great design, or at least interesting—and keeping it for themselves.
If you read some reports, you’d have believed that all anyone was interested in and talking about at the recent Geneva auto show was Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
The reality was anything but – most designers and journalists hadn’t found a demo by day 2, and most were chatting about how disappointing the new R8 was and just what impact building a 7-seat minivan would have on BMW’s brand image.
For the past couple of years, we’ve been in frequent dialogue, and have occasionally worked alongside Digital Agency, UsTwo. They’re the people behind Monument Valley and Tesco Huddl.
Today they’ve unveiled a piece of work called "Re-imagining the gauge cluster". This is a piece of work we were involved in at its conception. And it comes just a few months after UsTwo published a white paper and e-book about the future of in-car interfaces, which also had some input from us.
The Geneva International Motor Show, always a showcase for bespoke and luxury one-offs and concepts, is gearing up for an unprecedented year in 2015. With more than a dozen big-name super, hyper, and track-only cars from major manufacturers scheduled to be unveiled, there is a distinct disconnect to the struggling economy around Europe and the world in general. Logically however, these cars are coming at a time when wealth inequality around the world is at levels unseen since the 1920s and '30s. In that era, the top end of the car market was truly spectacular, so do these supercars represent a new "Golden Age" of luxury automobiles?
A brief hop to Munich this week, and a visit to the BMW museum, got me thinking about car names. Not how they come about, are dreamt up and used. But how they are displayed on the car – and become a critical part of its design identity.
BMW has – for at least the past five generation of its core cars – used the same Eurostile extended medium typeface for the numbered model badging on its cars. The quintessential ‘320d’ that’s such a common sight across Europe today.
For some time now the premium brands – most notably Audi and Mercedes have offered variation in their face design. By creating different finishes for the grille surround and inner texture– and even playing around with how the logo mark is placed – they clearly differentiate two trim levels, typically orientation one aesthetic towards ‘sporty’ and one on a ‘traditional’ finish.
In Detroit, we saw other premium brands (Jaguar) but also mainstream brands (Ford, Toyota, Nissan) using this approach to great effect to give a greater breadth of flavour to mass-market products.
Motorcity. No city is more home of the car; and home of car design too – this is where Harley Earl set up his Art and Colour studio in 1927 and where tape drawing and clay modelling were invented too.
But just as Marchionne said at the show that Fiat is a Brazilian brand with an Italian origin, so we wonder if now car design is more of a Californian, Asian and European discipline with a Detroit origin…
2014 was a bad year for automotive recalls. GM's poorly-designed ignition switches and Takata Corporation's faulty airbags have prompted the recall of tens of million of cars alone, and many more of the smaller, more "common" recalls have continued just the same. But beyond the media coverage of those big stories, there remains a very antiquated and unreliable system for actually getting recalled cars back into dealerships for repair.
Driver-less car design: Sleep-walking into the future?
There is something hugely appealing about the driver-less car. Even the most gear-headed among us has sat in a traffic jam and thought ‘surely I could be doing something better with my time’.
At CES this week, Mercedes-Benz unveiled their F015 Luxury in Motion driverless car concept to showcase some ideas around this. It’s a hugely significant juncture for both automotive design and advanced mobility, dripping with some undoubtedly very alluring tech.
So - we’ve all seen the Montblanc e-Strap yes? A watch strap that has smart-watch functionality and thus complements the analogue watch it holds onto your wrist - and not necessarily a Monteblanc analogue watch at that. A very clever idea and surely the first disruptive bit of tech for 2015?
It’s significant for many reasons; but its greatest significance for us is for its implication (or potential implication) on the car space.
Why? Because car brands are still fighting a losing battle in preserving a closed loop approach to their in-car experiences, and yet they could be ‘doing a Monteblanc’ and invading the in-car experience of their competitors