Car design trends: Frankfurt Motor Show 2011

We are at the start of the second life of the automobile. Up until recently, cars were more of less about individual mobility, personal space, about ownership. It has been about creating beautiful or quirky sculpture.

With our diminishing fossil fuel reserves, concerns for the environment and world economic recession, the closeted, cosy world of the automobile has had to shift. I recall going to see controversial ex-BMW design boss Chris Bangle at London’s Design Museum in 2004 who talked of the car essentially remaining the same horseless carriage of a hundred or so years ago, and even then proposing we re-address the automobile.

Fast-forward to September 2011, and it seemed that at the Frankfurt Motor Show some genuinely interesting ideas for future transport and mobility were being proposed.  Alternating yearly, Frankfurt and Paris are the most coveted international shows and an indicator as to where this industry is heading.

So what were these trends? It was admittedly a bizarre mix of clean mobility that has more in common with product design versus extreme high-performance cars wrapped up in shinny metal with the usual references – clean lines, lean athletic muscle.

BMW’s i3 and i8 – its first offerings in its electric sub-brand which we reported here back in the summer – are inspired concept cars that will be produced in the next few years at the Zaha Hadid Leipzig factory and promise to remain close to what we see now.

Audi Urban Concept studies, in coupé and open-top Spyder formats, are plug-in electric two-seater concepts that feature carbon fibre monocoque; the interior uses aluminium and carbonfibre trim and a quirky square steering wheel. Despite their modern approach to mobility, these cars retain the clean and precise Audi design DNA.

Volkswagen’s Nils is a similar idea – this one a tiny one-seat concept car with gullwing doors in a unique shape that envisions a future mode of urban transportation. Our reaction, design director Klaus Bischoff told me at the show, will determine if the marque will invest in such mobility solutions. We already saw the VW e-Scooter concept at Shanghai and a car like the Nils will fit in nicely to the marque’s electric portfolio.

These are just some of the ideas exhibited at Frankfurt. Read my full report published in Wallpaper*.

Nargess Shahmanesh Banks

Design Talks | 5 – 25 Scrutton Street | Old Street | Shoreditch | London | EC2A 4HJ?W | UK | www.d-talks.com | Bookshop www.d-talks.com/bookshop | Published by Banksthomas

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