Trends in car design from Paris

Earlier this month we attended the Paris Motor Show, one of the most important annual international exhibitions (it rotates yearly with Frankfurt). These shows are intense… they are loud, bright and pretty exhausting yet it is a great place to spot the latest trends in car design, and generally catch up on industry news.

This year most of the pavilions displayed pretty bland products – your mainstream hatchbacks, saloons and sports-utilities… and increasingly the crossover which is basically a hybrid of SUV/family car/hatchback, and whatever else the designers can incorporate. I am still waiting for a single design to inspire.

There were some concept and production cars to take note of though. On the Jaguar and Land Rover, the smaller SE Jaguar and Discovery Sport are pretty intelligent production cars coming from a car company that seems to be going from strength to strength.

Elsewhere, we loved the stylish Superleggera Vision Concept on the Mini stand (read our interview with Adrian Van Hooydonk, BMW Group’s design director here).

Here are our highlights from the show which appeared in Wallpaper*.


Nargess Shahmanesh Banks

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

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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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Gorden Wagener on Mercedes design

Gorden Wagener would like to introduce a more focused design philosophy to Mercedes-Benz cars. He wants the cars to have more sculpture, more personality and ultimately resonate aesthetically with a more contemporary customer. Since becoming vice president of design 2009, Wagener has worked hard to introduce a stronger brand identity through a Mercedes aesthetic rooted in heritage but with the contemporary twist.

The process is well underway. ‘We want to have one single overall design language that takes from tradition but also introduces new values,’ he told me at the September Paris Motor Show. ‘This way we can transform this brand into the future as an innovative one.’

We’ve been in a small dark room, tucked away in a corner of the buzzing exhibition stand, watching the latest Mercedes sculptures come alive. Aesthetic S is a projection display whereby the observer sees the car come alive in three acts.

Internally what this and the three sculptures before have done is to simply inspire the team. For us bystanders they hint at the marque’s design direction for upcoming cars, in the case of Aesthetic S evoking the spirit of the upcoming executive S-Class.

Wagener says: ‘The sculpture is a more artistic approach that embodies our design philosophy rather than showing the new S-Class.’ Visibly elevated by the experience he explains that had he asked his team to sketch a new S-Class, they would refer too much to the outgoing model. Here they have complete freedom. ‘You see inspiration comes when you ask someone to do you some artwork.’

The sculpture series were his idea. In fact Wagener has had quite a weighty task of evolving the company’s design department. Here we have a marque that is steeped in history, one that has been at the forefront of innovation and at times creative thinking, yet a victim of its own success. Years of stable, but more conservative customer base have resulted in some, arguably, staid products.

The pavilion here gives a good insight into the emerging product portfolio. The new CLS Shooting Brake with its sleek lines and handsome proportions sits alongside the heavily sculpted SLS AMG, here shown for the first time as an electric. Bathed in ‘electric blue’ it is certainly attention grabbing.

Wagener explains that Mercedes-Benz Design is the term used to describe the philosophy for the cars. He notes that Mercedes-Benz Aesthetic defines the more art-based projects like the sculpture we’ve just seen, and Mercedes-Benz Style focuses on the product design sub-brand.

Launched two years ago, it delivers all sorts of premium products from helicopter interiors, to sofas and most recently a luxury yacht that was unveiled a few weeks ago in Monaco. Naturally, they impact on one another. In the cargo area of the CLS Shooting Brake’s boot, for instance, vertical slabs of cherry wood – sanded to a smooth finish and waterproofed – contrast beautifully with the simple smoked oak inlays and aluminium rails.

Mercedes-Benz Design execution will naturally depend on the size of the vehicle: ‘Our strategic approach was to make a chessboard out of the brand with different players.’ So cars like the A-Class and CLS, with a younger customer in mind, are designed to be sculptural and therefore very expressive, and others like the more sober S-Class, clean and timeless. Incidentally Wagener doesn’t think there should be a unique visual for electric mobility.

‘I think luxury has to be individual,’ he continues. ‘We want to create objects that are beautiful, luxurious and timeless. We want to elevate that almost to sublime-ness – the highest form of aesthetics. And that level of grandeur fits the S-Class.’ Will it be younger, more dynamic? ‘Yes the S-Class will be,’ he says, ‘This is what I mean about taking the brand into the future.’

By 2015 ‘the picture will be very obvious of what Mercedes is about’. Until then, the marque is in the difficult transition period with cars that don’t completely fit this new philosophy. ‘With every new car coming you will see where the journey is going and it will be very exciting.’

Nargess Shahmanesh Banks

Read my full report from the Paris Motor Show 2012

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

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Car design trends from Paris Motor Show 2010

The mood at the Mondial de l’Automobile in Paris could be summarised in the few words uttered by Peugeot’s design director Gilles Vidal. ‘We are going through big changes in the automotive world,’ the visionary French designer said as he guided me though 200 years of Peugeot’s research and development displayed on the stand.

‘Progress in this area won’t only be through engines and technological solutions, but about making our cars lighter, more efficient in terms of recycling,’ he said before concluding: ‘This is a global effort.’

We are in the second centenary of the motorcar and it is about time we reinvent the automobile to perform according to 21st century needs. This means taking a much more dramatic view of not just design, but as Vidal rightly noted, the entire package.

The good news is that at the final international show of the year, there appeared to be a genuine shift towards this way of thinking. This is still a new adventure, but judging by the array of innovative concept and production cars on display, perhaps we have reached a turning point in the life of the automobile. And the vast halls of Porte de Versailles showed that there are multiple solutions for clean, green driving – some clever, some bananas.

Renault and Nissan were one of the first to commit to electric driving. It was therefore good to see much progress in this area with the French marque showing three electric cars: the 2011 production Twizy city runabout, the Zoe and DeZir concepts. Sister company Nissan beat many of its competitors earlier in the year when it unveiled the four-seater production Leaf electric car. At Paris the Japanese firm unveiled a brand new electric concept, the flexible Townpod urban vehicle.

Audi and BMW presented more electric variants to join their respective eco sub-brands – Audi the e-tron Spyder and BMW announced plans to build a car based on its Vision Efficient Dynamic concept. This and the Megacity Vehicle (see our earlier report New Urban Mobility) will form part of the firm’s Project-I electric sub-brand.

Another clever proposition came via Porsche who announced its commitment to produce the exciting 918 Spyder hybrid supercar for 2013 first seen at the Geneva Motor Show in March. This is a beautiful piece of sculpture – the notes almost perfect. To marry this, speed and ecological is how the German carmaker sees its response to clean driving. ‘The 918 shows that you don’t have to compromise a sportscar by being ecological,’ noted design director Michael Mauer.

Away from the green theme, but worth noting is the Audi Quattro concept based on the fantastic original 1984 Sport Quattro with its iconic boxy and angular shape. Design director Wolfgang Egger explained to redesign such an car ‘you have to move away from the car and just keep the essence of its purity, the impression. This was a very angular car, but the modelling technology we have now allows for more dramatic surfacing,’ which he sees as the modern impression of the Quattro.

However, despite some excellent thoughts on clean mobility, it was down to the small sportscar maker Lotus to steel most headlines by unveiling six new cars – three sportcars, a coupé, a saloon and a city car concept. This is part of its young boss Dany Bahar’s multi-model ambitious plans to enter more segments.

Luckily design director Donato Coco promised that all the cars will remain in the tradition of Lotus design. ‘This is the most exciting British brand in the sense of originality and eccentricity,’ said the Italian ex-Ferrari designer. ‘To me this means the capacity to assembly unexpected elements, materials and shapes. This is what we have done in these cars – assemble a lot of innovation in a scheme that looks really classic.’

Read the full report and interviews with the designers at the show which appeared in Wallpaper*.


Nargess Shahmanesh Banks

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

All rights and labelled images are covered by ©