Tokyo to Paris: a car as an expression of David Bowie

This is a brilliantly curious project. ‘A portrait of db’ is a sort of art car, created as an expression of David Bowie and his life and music. It is also a tribute to the singer-songwriter following his death in 2016. Yet the story happens to begin some 21 years ago in Tokyo with a young Takumi Yamamoto, the former Citroën designer responsible for GranTurismo‘s GT by Citroën. ‘A portrait of db’ will come alive as a full-scale sculpture at the end of the month at Exposition Concept Car Paris. 
All images are © ‘A portrait of db’
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Mercedes autonomous car

Mercedes-Benz is proposing to re-invent the automobile with the F015 Luxury in Motion study revealed this week at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vagas.

This sleek car has been designed to be an autonomous vehicle, a mobile living space, a private retreat offering space and time – two luxuries that we are increasingly in need of.

‘Anyone who focuses solely on the technology has not yet grasped how autonomous driving will change our society,’ says Dr Dieter Zetsche, head of Mercedes-Benz Cars.

The low-slung front, flat widescreen and smooth roofline create a refined yet futuristic appearance. Inside is all about interpreting modern luxury with open-pore walnut wood veneer and ice-white nappa leather seats, and highlights of shiny metal and smooth glass surfaces.

The interior is modular. If the crew wish to drive the car, the four lounge chairs can conventionally face forward as the steering wheel pops out from the dashboard.

If on the other hand they wish to work, relax, chat and let the car drive itself, then the front passengers can swivel around and face the rear seats. Additionally, the six display screens allow occupants to interact with the car through gestures or touch.

Not all the ideas expressed in this concept are new of course – we have seen plenty of visions for driverless cars, and interiors that transform into live/work spaces.

Google’s upcoming driverless vehicle, for instance, calls for a similar concept, yet the Mercedes study car has the advantage of being a beautifully sculpted automobile, rather than a tech gadget.

This driverless car has a distinctly futuristic exterior and a highly luxurious cabin, and the proportions nod to a vision for a brand new vehicle concept by a company that has historically been at the very forefront of innovation.

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Marc Lichte discusses the Audi Prologue

Last week we were invited to Milan to witness the European premier of a new concept car by Audi and to meet the man who penned it, chief designer Marc Lichte. The venue was a rather unusual pop-up boutique nestled in the fashionable Brera design district – the twinkling festive decorations outside adding a bit of sparkle to the occasion.

The Prologue is a study car that signals an evolution in design for Audi. It takes the marque’s clean design aesthetic a step further. With its long wheelbase, wide track, low cabin and intricate oversized wheels, this is an elegantly proportioned car.

Inside, the cabin is quiet where emphasis is on introducing classic automotive material – wood, leather and metal – but in their most natural form. It is also highly technological with three invisible screens on the horizontal instrument panel allowing the driver and front passenger to interact so that the latter, with a simple swiping motion across the screen, can transfer information across to the driver.

Lichte is relatively new to the job, having joined Audi in February brought over from sister brand Volkswagen, where he headed up the exterior team. We caught up with him to find out more.

Design Talks. This is your debut concept car for Audi. Yet it is so much more than a simple prototype; it is an expression of Audi design going forward. How would you describe the core brand values?

Marc Lichte. Audi has to be sporty, progressive and sophisticated. A big part of the history is technology. These core brand values need to be emphasised even more in the future. These will form the basis for the design of all future models.

DT. You seem to have a strong vision for Audi…

ML. [VW Group design director] Walter de Silva did a major step when he created the single-frame grille in 2004 with the sixth generation A6. It was a simple idea, but no one had done this before. He looked at our past racing cars and connected the upper grille to the bottom. This has been one of the most important steps for Audi design.

It has taken ten years to establish this, but now is the time to take a bigger step. It is dangerous to have a revolution at this stage, as everyone knows this as the face, so we have evolved the shape by extending the width of the grille adding volume to the car.

DL. You talk about emphasising the quattro identity of Audi cars going forward, something that is visually evident on the Prologue.

ML. One of the most important brand values for Audi is quattro. Our competitors have rear-wheel-drive cars, so they always stress the rear wheel. Quattro is more than a drivetrain concept. It will be emphasised on all our future cars but in different ways.

DT. What is your favourite element on the Prologue?

ML. It has a very fast slim greenhouse that is reminiscent of one of my favourite cars the original TT, which will become part of the sedan [saloon] design language.

DT. Audi excels at interior design and it is interesting to see how here you have created a serene environment that is also extremely high-tech. How do you marry the two?

ML. As cars become more advanced, the technology has to become more visually subtle. We wanted to introduce technology but not necessarily in the way say Tesla has. We needed to integrate the displays in the architecture – to be invisible almost.

DT. Is what we see production-feasible?

ML. This is a teaser for the production A8.

DT. One criticism in recent years has been in how similar Audi cars are beginning to look. Do you have plans to inject a dose of model differentiation?

ML. Yes, the A and Q cars [saloons/sedans and SUVs) will have differentiation, as will the cars within these segments. This includes the proportions of the single frame, so that the A8 will have a more dominant, a more proud single frame than say the A1.

DT. I hear you’ve been working on an electric concept car…

ML. It is still top secret! All I can say is that in the same way we will differentiate A, Q and R, we will differentiate our future E models.

DT. Are there any contemporary designers who you follow closely?

ML. I have a lot of furniture by Mies Van der Rohe, designed in the twenties that still look so modern. I like the work of Constantine Gricic and [contemporary] designers who do something progressive but at the same time timeless. From my classic car collection it is the 69 Porsche 911 that inspires the most. It is progressive; the shape is timeless, reduced to the minimum. It is easy to do something wild and fashionable but I think products need to be timeless.

DT. Where do you go for inspiration?

ML. The architecture of Scandinavia, the clean design, timelessness using warm materials like wood. But I still come up with the best ideas when sailing my boat. My heart is in sailing – I’ve been racing since I was six. On the weekends when I’m on my X Yacht XP33 racing boat in the Baltic Sea, this is where the creative energy comes in. This is when I do my thinking.

Nargess Banks

Read more on this in Wallpaper*.

Read our review of the latest Audi TT here, and our other reports on Audi here.

Design Talks | 5 – 25 Scrutton Street | Old Street | Shoreditch | London | EC2A 4HJ?W | UK

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Adrian Van Hooydonk on Mini and BMW design

We caught up with BMW Group design director Adrian Van Hooydonk at the 2014 Paris Motor Show to discuss the latest Superleggera Vision Concept, sustainable driving and the future of Mini and BMW design.

DT. What inspired the team to create this latest Superleggera Vision Mini concept?

AVH. A two-seater roadster is very British; it is very traditional as a concept, yet how the design came up has such an Italian flair. It was a joint project between the very Italian Touring Superleggera and our Munich design department… so it became an interesting mix.

DT. Will the minimalist interior design translate to Mini production cars?

AVH. The dashboard was empty with the original Mini – that was all the technology they had then. We have returned to this. But now if you want to create an interior that is empty, you have to put a lot of technology underneath. We believe this is the future: to have a display in the centre of the dashboard, with everything else hidden away.

DT. What is your intention with this concept car?

AVH. You could say it is a letter of intent. There are of course certain design cues that you can very well see on the Mini of the future. For instance the front and rear end, and much of the interior that is reminiscent of the original Mini. Yes it is a vision we have for Mini – it is straight from the heart and what us designers are dreaming of.

DT. The car drives electrically. Is this also a vision for a Mini electric car?

AVH. As Mini is an urban brand, part of urban driving in the near future will be electric whether hybrid or full electric. We have already shown with BMW i that is can be very emotional, fun and fast… and yes it could work for Mini.

DT. How would the electric Mini emotionally evolve?

AVH. It is almost too early to answer this question. The Mini E offered electric driving but it was only a conversion. In the future we need to see if this should lead to a complete new design direction or not. Maybe it becomes an integral part of what Mini is. It is important to move the brand into the future and modernise it, and to give each of the cars a more unique character.

DT. How has the BMW i brand impacted on the company as a whole?

AVH. It was exceptional – it is the forefront of new technology for the whole group. We were extremely radical with the technology, manufacturing and form. Maybe with the other brands, when the time comes, we will integrate electric mobility which will influence the design but not to the extent of the i brand. It won’t make sense to do an i sub-brand for all the brands.

DT. How do you see the future of sustainable mobility for BMW?

AVH. The way we see it, electric mobility is new to the market, maybe avant-garde and maybe we’re at the forefront, but it will one day be a normal part of every company. Then you don’t need to do sub-brands. BMW i will continue its mission to deliver the newest technology that we see for the future. It will always operate ahead. Next year we are launching a car where we’ve worked hard to lower the weight and this was partly achieved by using the carbonfibre technology from the i cars. All I can say is the transfer of technology is already happening.

DT. You showed the BMW Vision Future Luxury earlier this year. How does this reflect your future form language, especially with the flagship 7 Series?

AVH. It is a true vision for our brand, full of ideas that will roll out in our next cars. We are very serious about these ideas. It is also our intention in terms of form language to go in this direction which means using very few lines. If you look at the car there is a lot of drama on the body but there are only two lines. Lines for us are graphic design; car design is more three-dimensional… what happens in between the lines. So the lines have to be sharp, precise and have the right tension, but what happens in between is even more exciting.

DT. What other elements will filter through?

AVH. The laser lights up front and in the rear is a technology we are working on that you will see in our cars. The interior is one landscape that flows into each other and the display is more integrated into the dashboard… a melting together of the central display, the header to allow the user to move information from one to the other. This we see as the future.

Nargess Shahmanesh Banks

Read our previous reports on BMW here.

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Design Talks is published by Spinach Design

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Meet Mini Vision

Here’s a virtual preview of its upcoming concept car, the Mini Vision, set to be unveiled concurrently at the Tokyo and Los Angeles motor shows in November. Read the full report in Wallpaper*.

Nargess Shahmanesh Banks

Design Talks | 5 – 25 Scrutton Street | Old Street | Shoreditch | London | EC2A 4HJ?W | | | Published by Banksthomas