BMW is creating two sub-brand strands, radiating out from ‘mother BMW’ in the middle - one orientated to efficiency, the other performance.
On one side, this 'line' of cars starts with “Efficient Dynamics” trim, runs through “Active Hybrid”, then “Active E” and tops out with the stand-alone ‘i’ cars.
On the other side is the more established, sporting-orientated ‘M’ trims. Moving out from standard BMW cars comes the ever-popular ‘M Sport’ trim, that half of 3-Series customers in the UK opt for. Until now, it’s then been a big jump up to full ‘M’ cars in this sub-brand lineage, but now there is a new ‘M-performance’ line filling this gap.
Touchscreens - the Emperor's New Clothes of the car world?
Touchscreens are the current doyen of in-car user interface. But the marketing dream of offering car occupants an iPad-like experience often comes crashing down against the reality of hurtling down a bumpy road in a fast-moving metal box.
Ford was one of the first companies to push towards touchscreen-driven controls with its Sync + MyFordTouch interface in the American market. But so problematic has this move proven, that Consumer Reports took several Ford cars off its recommended list. And now Ford has fronted up, said it’s learnt lessons and thus—in the new Mustang—reintroduced some buttons as a primary control method.
This week we were excited to have for a few days one of the first BMW i3 on the Sixt fleet – the most radically different production car of our time. It's a design that conceptually, thematically and technically is very different to anything else. But what we really weren't expecting was the way the experience of driving and being in the i3 on many different roads would be dominated by a very different shift in the bias of sensory responses to it. It was far less about how the car looked and behaved and far more about the soundscape that the car design delivered...
Much has been made of the so-called ‘lifecycle’ architecture BMW’s using as the basis for its new i cars. The structural approach – which features an aluminium lower chassis (onto which engine, batteries, suspension are bolted) with a carbon fibre reinforced plastic (CFRP) upper structure – is cutting edge in technology and material terms.
In fact, the i8 the I drove last week while moonlighting in my occasional role as an automotive columnist for a technology magazine, stands for something altogether more futuristic and technology-led in image than any supercar that’s gone before it. It’s a very interesting way of moving the typology forward, one that largely abandons the pretence of motor-racing heritage as the basis for prowess and image.
So the Tesla Model S has no buttons now; just a large touch screen. Other brands are jumping fast to get-rid-of-the-button in their interiors. It’s the twenty teens auto industry response to the mobile device trend for the screen-based human-machine-interface (HMI). You can see why customers would want this. You can see how clearly “new-tech” screens make car interiors look too.
But is this the best solution. What will follow this?
Our business at CDR is rooted in the future; in helping our clients to see and to make the curve that’s just ahead. But we’re skeptical about the way most brands are throwing touchscreens at the car. And we think we can see the first signs of what's coming next.
Is the future of the car dealer the product genius?
While the car is fast forwarding into a future of electric drivetrains, connected interiors and the customer shopping in a world of online configurators, the car dealer still exists in a world of token balloons, special finance rate weekends and is situated on a business park on the wrong side of town. The traditional business of selling cars – and everything that goes with it – is becoming trickier in a world of online retail, mass-urbanisation and customers looking for an Apple Store or Amazon style shopping experience.
“Less is more” so said Ludwig Mies van der Rohe*, an aphorism imbedded in the Design culture of the industrial world, and, perhaps to a lesser extent, the culture of car design. It tends toward the intellectual high ground; an approach classically championed by the designer and rebuffed by the marketer. It feels like it has a European, even a German, centricity – the distant echo of Bauhaus still being heard.
We see it in the exterior design of some cars where it is much discussed, but perhaps more affectingly it is an approach that underpins some of the best interior designs. We wondered: what are the best (and perhaps also some of the forgotten) exemplars of interior design modernism? And then we realised that this wasn’t a half hour Insight piece, but a book! So here are some of the edited highlights – some of the best known and some of the lesser-known examples of (mostly) 1970s interior design modernism that we thought worth reminding ourselves of.
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.
From Uber in Vegas to Apple and the Airbnb of cars
I was at the consumer electronics show in Las Vegas last week. While inside was the Faraday Future launch, Volkswagen apologies (and the Budd-e), and the host of interior bucks and gesture interfaces, it was actually something outside of the show halls that really intrigued me.
Anyone who’s visited Vegas will be aware of the ‘small/far away’ factor which means you make the ‘let’s walk to MGM it’s really not that far away’ mistake only once. Because of the scale of the Casinos, distances are much greater than they appear. So you take cabs everywhere.
The ride I took from the airport after arriving in the city literally scared the hell out of me, and I’m not easily unsettled in a vehicle. So, like most of the 170,000 other CES attendants, I then used Uber during the rest of my trip. Everyone’s private driver has just launched in Vegas and was operating on a discount pricing scheme which meant that – most of the time – it was a no brainer choice over regular taxis.
Last week, at the Geneva Auto show, the electric car went from in-the-wings to on-the-main-stage. Geneva also flagged up some of the key ways that the electric car impacts on car design. We think that 2016 has become the year where Car 2.0 – the convergence of electric power, autonomy and smart sharing – will start to be realised as the car design story that it is.
In October last year, I bought a BMW i3. The pure electric version, to be precise. Six months on, I’m presenting here a series of thoughts — design challenges, both big and small, that EV usership and ownership creates. While partly driven by the specifics of the i3’s design, these are bigger picture issues, representative of electric cars generally. They warrant addressing if the industry is serious about large scale market adoption of EVs.