Switzerland has been renown for its neutrality. The Geneva Motor Show is no exception, everyone and anyone is welcome to participate in what is, if you have the money to pay for the stand, an open market of automotive design. Strikingly it is also the first auto show to showcase green cars on almost every stand and this year was the platform where a new generation of green sports cars and supercars made their debut. Just 10 years ago the Palexpo would have been filled with an older generation of men in identical suits smoking and huddling in secrecy, today no smoking allowed the crowd was much more international, trendy, young, and open about technology and design. So, although the Geneva Motor Show’s (see gallery) open door policy has been in place for 80 years it is now, with economies array and ecological welfare at the forefront that she showed her true potential. Here we highlight some trends that defined the show and will surely define green car design in the future.
Designers are trying to find a unique language with which to speak about the technology that powers the cars they are designing today. The first knee jerk reaction was to slap stickers on the car blurting out what was inside and how kind it was to the environment. Although clear this method is short of being puerile so, as technology gets more sophisticated so does design. Electric cars are becoming the prime choice of carbon neutralising the auto industry and in doing so we see the circuit board theme creeping onto the scene. 3 different examples of the same idea decorated the Citroen Survolt, Lotus Evora 414E Hybrid, and Opel Felxtreme GT/E.
The Citroen Survolt was a refreshingly 'fun' concept and there is much to say about the design direction Citroen has taken but here we focus in on the graphic detailing on and in the intake just behind the front fender. It is abstract yet evokes images of a computer motherboard with chips and connectors. While all the forms of the car push the viewer's eye from front to back with speed and glamour these static tattoo-like graphics slow the mind down to pause and realise there is something different inside. The Evora 414E Hybrid is a plug-in-hybrid and its electric parts lie within a pair of electric motors, one at each rear wheel. This was a pure engineering project so no design changes were necessary but still the design team at Lotus, now headed by Donatello Coco, decided to dress the car to highlight it’s technology. The result was an overall canvas of matte metallic pink champagne with circuit graphic treatment and nodes emphasizing the engineering. Finally we spotlight the Opel Flextreme GT/E, while just a looks-like model, the design team replaced the standard grill openings with a circuit board themed plastic relief panel. While maintaining the facial characteristics of Opel's newly rebranded 'family' of cars it reassures us that inside its all about the volts.
The French car manufacturers have always been known for their love of a lovely and voluptuous derriere, rear end. However, it seems that having exhausted some of the more obvious facial expressions for front-end design, or perhaps because companies don't want to mess with their brand image in uncertain times, some have taken to expressing themselves 'behind' the scenes. There was stiff competition between Bertone Pandion showing off its tail feathers and Hyundai taking the iFlow to the extreme, yet Citroen's DS HighRider Concept showed that, French, practice makes perfect.
Speaking to Michael Robinson at Bertone it was clear that he wanted to bring back the old Italian carrozzeria back to life with the WOW factor, and he didn't disappoint! Although the whole car is a monument to a complex and intricate set of concepts the rear end is innovative and cool. Think video games, Speed Racer, Nike ads, and rock formations then you will start to get a feeling for the texture and deconstruction of Pandion's back end explosion. In fact Robinson's team wanted to give the feeling that the Pandion disintegrates as it travels at speed leaving behind virtual pieces of light, in essence anti-design. In stark contrast the Hyundai iFlow's rear-end design was soft, round, large, and gaping. Using exaggerated proportions and organic shapes the designers seem to have forgone elegance and simplicity for ostentatiousness. And why not? Nobody walked by without noticing the iFlow! The Citroen's DS HighRider Concept rear-end design showcases experience. The design of a well-balanced, slightly seductive, powerful rear end is no easy task but the French are the best at what they know well. They can make the back of a car have as much character as the front without detracting from the importance of the 'face' of a company. A sophisticated mix of materials, colours and lines beg a second and third look when checking out the DS. C'est la classe!
Some say that the eyes are the windows to the soul, if it this is also true for cars, then one look at the concepts on show at Geneva and you can see that cars want to be light and layered. Following the Light and Layered trend that we identified at the Frankfurt Motor Show last fall more car makers have taken it on board and are integrating it into their designs from concept to production. Audi A1 and A8 Hybrid, Peugeot SR1, and Mercedes F800 are but a few examples of the movement away from LED clusters to flowing layered shapes.
Audis have always had very distinctive lights, where they are subdued and clean in there car body styling they are bold and even decorative with their lights. At the show both the show stopping A1 and A8 Hybrid showed off a new direction in headlight architecture. We only call it architecture because ‘the light embedded sandwiched aluminium panel floats horizontally like a cantilever while rounder elements are carefully staged around this centrepiece’, and that is not how you usually describe headlights! Another way of using the layered theme was evident in Peugeot’s SR1’s headlights. The sublime concept exemplified lightness to the limit as featured here, and the lights were no exception. Delicate aluminium sweeps cut through the body of the car to create a pocket holding 3 reinforced plastic floating reflectors that dissipate the light projected from within, the ultimate marriage between light and layers. As a last example we have selected Mercedes F800’s headlights because they are surprisingly large, as is the front-end, but the sweeping eyebrows layered one upon the other visually lightens the space it occupies leading the eye back around the shoulder line of the car softening the gaping graphic elements of the grill and intakes.