Geneva Motor Show 2008 Trends


The 78th Geneva Motor Show 2008 would make any auto show green with envy! This year’s World and European premieres were over 130, with 10,000 press visitors and a grand total of 715,000 visitors from the public, placing it amongst the top 5 auto shows in the world. However, the GAS'08 is unique like no other show in its own right. Like Geneva, its a show that invites companies and individuals from every corner of the world and treats them all the same. This tradition for neutrality allows for small and large companies alike to show their latest innovations and design creations. Sometimes these ‘creations’ are quite bizarre, eccentric, and even funny, but they do push the envelope and stimulate the market, and our imagination. This year though, there was one idea that everyone embraced, the need to design and manufacture environmentally responsible vehicles. Everyone had different views on how this may be achieved but the general consensus was the same; no matter if you are Bob Lutz and don’t buy the hype or a young idealistic designer the time for Eco is now.

The design of green cars is technology led at the moment. This means that each vehicle’s design was not so much an interpretation of what non-petrol cars may look like in a future rather on what the technology inside ‘allows’ them to achieve in terms of architecture. As you will see, one of the major changes, or dare we say trends, is an opening of interior spaces. This freedom inside is used in different ways by designers but the general feel achieved in most of the cars is one of fluid energy and the involvement of the human touch. Automotive materials on the inside are yet to catch up to the environmental bandwagon, but there was a barrage of solar panel sun roofs. Connecting the outside to the inside of some of the concept cars was WiFi technology readily available on our mobile phone, again extending the desire to connect humans on a more sensorial level with vehicles.

Exterior design was driving down two divided roads. One school of thought was that cars should, or could, look the same on the outside but be technologically more efficient on the inside, while the other speaks green on the outside as well as under the proverbial hood. Each path holds its own, ‘why waste more by making new cars that look green while we can change the inside?’ and ‘the way we make cars today is wasteful, we can use less and better materials with a new layout!’. There was also another divide between smaller companies, with the flexibility within and support from sponsors/partners to act green, and larger corporations, who have to play by their bureaucratic environmental rule book. All in all the background was set for all shades of green, even blue at the BMW stand, to show their colours to a more than receptive public. Like the Genevians, it takes all kinds to make for an interesting show.

Open Architecture

A quick word with a wise man can change the way we see things. Monsieur Patrick Le Quement, the ‘visionnaire’ of the automotive world said to us that the future of green design will be technology led…"It is technology that is pushing design today, with engines at the front, or over each wheel, the interior plan opens up, the car almost designs itself!”. Its a simple statement that will define a revolution. The architecture of cars, until recently, has been based on the configuration of combustion engines, and this no longer being necessary opens up the box. With the advent of fuel cell and electric technologies the internal layout, the organs and bones so to say, can be re-arranged and manipulated more freely, this is essentially history is in the making.

At the show this new found freedom was planest to see in Renault’s Megane Coupé Concept, Pinifarina’s Sintesi, Giugiaro’s Quaranta, and Nissan’s PIVO2. The Megane is not an eco-car by any definition other than it is quite fuel efficient, however, its styling could easily lend itself to what future green vehicles at Renault might look like. Forgoing the traditional gullwing doors they have designed the first dragonfly doors, they kinetically open upwards. The windows separate from the doors that follow in parallel revealing the open interior with floating chaise longue styled seats and a biomorphic dashboard and centre console. Pininfarina’s Sintesi takes the prize for 100% design consistency throughout the car. As always they took their concept all the way maximizing the freedom that they were given by placing four electric motors, one over each wheel, thus creating what they penned as ‘liquid’ packaging. This is Pininfarina’s design language lingo for the fluid flexibility gained from new alternative technologies. On the inside the layout is liberated and new cues on the future of interior design appear. The seats wrap around and hold on to the centre console, the dash floats towards the passengers, the roof is see-thru, and in general the forms and spaces move in harmony and ‘freely’. Giugiaro’s Quaranta, although not the most innovative concept at the show, did follow in the form follows function rule in that their environmentally friendly engineering allowed for an open, if somewhat strange internal layout. A 3+1 (one being an infant or toddler in a very precarious position) distribution of seats allowed what conventionally would be a sports car to turn into a family car? Mmm, Toyota’s Hybrid Synergy Drive system has allowed them to split the engines, one in front and one in back and open the interior plan. It is no coincidence that these three cars have similarly raked shapes and large grills, they need to be aerodynamic in order to maximise fuel efficiency and allow plenty of airflow to cool the fuel cells.

Materials

There were few definitive statements about the use of sustainable materials in Geneva’s concept line-up. Mercedes S-Class is the only car to have been given the TüV Environmantal Certificate for using 90% recycled/recyclable materials (actual figures based on 2005 model) but none of the new concepts sent a clear message in this respect. The Fiat Aria 500 and Land Rover LRX had hints here and there of recycled leather use but as they were concept car the practical use of these materials was unsubstantiated. On the other hand there was plenty of examples of cars using solar panels, or technically speaking Photovoltaic panels, on the upper surfaces of the vehicles. Fisker’s Karma, Saab’s 9-X BioHybrid, Giugiaro’s Quaranta, and Pininfarina’s Sintesi all featured these panels which help generate energy that runs the internal cooling and heating sytems, specially when the car is parked. This technology is one that may be the fastest to apply to real world scenarios, and even mount on one’s own existing car. For example in California there is a company called Solar Electrical Vehicles and they supply solar panel kits for Toyota Prius and other cars. In their tests the solar panel fitted vehicle can run up to 20 miles a day on the stored energy which provides up tp 29% improved fuel economy under optimal driving conditions.

WiFi

Most of our phones are equipped with WiFi, unless you have BlackBerry that is, and as the techonology and power of WiFi gets stronger we will eventually be able to use it for connecting with our car. Mobile phones are such a mainstream part of our everyday culture almost anywhere in the world and while companies try to fill the phones with new and entertaining features the car industry is starting to get interested in how our daily objects can be integrated into our cars. One immediate way is by using mobile phones as controllers. Saab 9-X BioHybrid partnered with Sony-Ericsson, Renault Megane with Samsung’s F700, and the Land Rover LRX featured the ever trendy iPhone; they all used them as ‘keys’ to open and start the car and to stream info in the car. Saab’s interior has several screens where you can stream info simultaneously from several devices, so driver and passengers can participate at the same time. A neat detail is that one of these screens is on the right hand side where the passenger can actively become a co-pilot by using the navigation system downloaded from the phone or watch a video! The rear passengers of the Renault Coupé Concept can enjoy a portable Samsung P2 audio/video multimedia player with touch screens allowing for exchange of files using Bluetooth. WiFi and Bluetooth differ in that the latter works best at shorter range, like sharing files inside the car, and the former is best at longer distances hence its use as a ‘key’.

Green Groove

Never has car design been so connected to the elements that surround the car, the wind on the road that cools, the sun that energises, the gases that propell, or the human touch that connects. ‘Green Groove’ describes a trend that reflects the desire for car makers to be fashionably green but yet ask the average car ‘guy’ how this or that alternative fuel technology works and they will be lost for words. This is because its cool to be green now but people have yet to learn the basics about what it means a how it will effectively change the industry forever. So, in the meantime, as we all travel on our learning curve design gives visual cues as to what green means to each company, or each design team. This is ironically a ‘breathe of fresh air’ for the automotive industry that has stagnated in the last 5-7 years in terms of ideas and designs. While some companies remain conservative in the translation from petrol to X-fuel such as Mercedes and BMW, others, such as Nissan and Pininfarina are taking the platform ‘freedom’ to new visual heights.

Companies have been sensing that they have lost touch with their end users and as we have seen in past auto shows they have tried desperately to relate people more to cars than before. The keywords that kept being repeated at the Geneva show were dynamic, energised, and intelligent. These are kind of adjectives you would use for people as well, they are words that we can feel and relate to in an emotive way, unlike ‘luxurious’ and ‘sporty’, keywords that relate more to the material and performance aspect of a car. This move towards a Green Grove is the only way that the car industry will stay competitive in an era where competition may spring from almost anywhere, from the backyard of an ex-pilot in the US or the R&D department of a battery production plant in China. And although at times the green message and commitment needs to be squeezed out of certain companies its still better to have false pretenses that people will force you to keep than none at all.