Volkswagen has a strong history of building solid, well engineered and modestly designed cars. You know you’re in reliable company with VW if not always in an exciting one. This is why project Up has been an interesting one to follow. This is a family of affordable cars designed for cities around the world.
The project has been brewing for a few years. Our first teasers came in 2007 in the shape of the Up Concept at the Frankfurt Motor Show followed shortly by the Up Lite at the Los Angeles show. These were visionary design propositions – more product design than automotive.
Last month we drove the first production car to be born out of this initiative – a small modest city car that seats four passengers and is offered in the same format to a world audience (read the road test around Rome here).
Before the drive we caught up with director of VW design Klaus Bischoff to discuss the Up family, and the marque’s position in finding viable solutions for mobility in 2012 megacities.
Design Talks. With the Up family in many ways you’re returning to your brand’s real heritage of making small, global, affordable cars. What is the idea behind this project that you initially proposed with the first concept in 2007?
Klaus Bischoff. The Up is a new space on the new family platform and a global activity. We are showing different drivetrain options – from combustion engines down to electric mobility that will come on to the market in 2013.
DT. The Up design language seems stripped of unnecessary surface decoration – it has a reduced aesthetic. Was this intentional?
KB. Yes. But you can only achieve a simple design if you have a simple package and did your homework with the engineers. It is easier to allow engineers to make the overhang longer, bonnet higher and wheels smaller. Then you need to add some styling to camouflage what is wrong in the package. We work in a team with the engineers to create the right package much like product design. The package is simple but we think ingenious – like your iPhone.
DT. How would you describe the DNA the Up?
KB. The Up is about purity, simplicity and affordability. Simplicity means the face has to be absolutely unique and sympathetic. We therefore used the Transporter face with the VW badge as the nose, the lights with the shut line as the eyes combination and the grille as the mouth. We have cleverly packaged the opening for cooling in the grille and worked hard in the wind tunnel to make this design possible. It is original and characteristic.
DT. The electric Up seems to be the most visually futuristic of the six variants.
KB. I’m happy you think so. This will be a more expensive car and so the customer will want to say my car is electric with my special lights and chrome wheels. On the wheel cap are metal spring flaps that opens to let air in and heat out but when shut it perform the best aerodynamics. It is a very clever design. It also features the new LED lights so when it’s working the whole element around the grille lights up to say: ‘I am electric’.
DT. Tell us about the other members of the Up family.
KB. We are showing face variations on the Up group to say what’s possible on such a platform. The Up Buggy is a showpiece – it has a strong remembrance of our heritage but transported to a contemporary life. There is the Cross Up and the Azzura Up inspired by yachts that is beautifully crafted and looks expensive.
DT. What message are you conveying with the single seat electric Nils concept?
KB. We wanted to create a new solution for urban mobility, but to transport the VW design DNA – to show that our clean design approach is able to jump into the future.
DT. How does the design express this?
KB. It is clean and all shut lines have a function with the rear reserved for batteries and the electric engine. The lower windows allow you to see the turning wheels when you drive which is very spectacular. You feel at home straight away as it carries on the heritage of VW with a strong focus on ergonomics and engineering.
DT. How difficult was it to design this car?
KB. It was a demanding task to reduce the shape in such a dramatic manner and incorporate only one driver. We also had to fight to get these large wheel sizes as the engineer wanted to make them smaller – the usual game.
DT. Will we see the Nils as a production vehicle and how does it feed into your overall future strategy for urban mobility?
KB. If we get a good reaction then we will decide on what to do next. We are heavily investigating future mobility. We think mobility solutions need to be diverse to answer all needs so if you don’t have the money for this you go for an e-scooter like we showed in Shanghai, and if not an e-bicycle.
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