GIMS 2018: OK Computer
The concept cars that resonate.
Like many of its exhibitors, the Geneva International Motorshow itself is facing the difficult task of maintaining its hard-earned reputation while at the same time reinventing itself to stay relevant.
The Swiss show has traditionally been the playground of the Italian carrozzerie, who unofficially claimed Geneva as their home turf, particularly once their local motor show at Turin was cancelled for good. At the same time, Geneva has always been and is still the domain of the particularly well-heeled, which means more than one supercar is sold inside the less-than-glamorous halls of Palexpo each year.
Taking all these circumstances into account is now more difficult than ever. These days, scissor-doored exotica isn’t just less relevant to regular motorists than ever before, but has simultaneously become almost a commodity to the super rich. The seemingly endless number of purveyors of record-busting, wedge-shaped performance vehicles of dubious aesthetic quality in attendance bears irrefutable testament to that. The concept cars of 2018 therefore need to adhere to a different formula, which, quite frankly, has yet to be found.
How difficult it is to marry conceptual thinking for the year 2018 and beyond with the visual expectations that come with any concept car is particularly evident with the most creatively ambitious device to grace Palexpo this year.
Unlike most of the competition, which deems either the fastback saloon or fastback SUV as the right format for showcasing the merits of autonomous driving, Renault made a far braver call and created something halfway between a bus and a passenger car in the EZ-GO.
Upholding the splendid tradition of visually and conceptually outstanding concept cars that was started under Patrick le Quément and continued by his successor, Laurens van den Acker, the EZ-GOes far beyond the usual removal of a steering wheel and installation of swivelling seats. Instead, EZ-GO is equipped with a large hatch at its front, which is used by passengers to (dis-)embark. Inside, the Renault is fitted with a U-shaped bench, a small luggage rack by the hatch and copious window areas.
Regrettably, Renault’s designers obviously weren’t willing to either really think EZ-GO through or felt inhibited when it came to breaking away from the expectations associated with a concept car. As a result, EZ-GO is neither fish nor fowl, bus nor car.
Its flaws start with its basic shape, which is needlessly sleek and features said showy front hatch in lieu of the usual concept car scissor doors. This results in a cabin that’s too short for passengers to sit comfortably and an impractical entry/exit procedure that’s impaired by the opened hatch hanging too low, even for not particularly tall occupants. That the opened hatch would allow excessive amounts of rain to enter the cabin during use in bad weather certainly doesn’t make the decision to go for this solution any more sound.
What EZ-GO does prove is that there’s a reason why buses use a completely different set of ergonomics and aesthetics than a passenger car. In that sense, it’s a bold attempt at challenging established concepts, but a failed one at that.
Also addressing the subject of autonomous driving, but in less ambitious and showy a fashion was the Honda NeuV, which the Japanese brand chose to present in such unassuming style, it appeared to have been brought along to Geneva mostly to prevent the stall to from appearing less barren (it was originally unveiled at last year’s CES). Which is a shame, as NeuV boasts a very Japanese product design aesthetic that’s unobtrusively original and more fit for purpose than the autonomous Renault.
Sharing the basic proportions with the Smart city car, but adding a cleaner, more sophisticated appearance, the NeuV is still very much part of the personal mobility realm, rather than a futuristic, impractical means of public transport. Yet the use of composite materials renders it more than merely a prettier Smart. In that sense, the NeuV (along with Honda’s delightful Urban and Sports EV concept cars, which were also present) may be going for lower-hanging fruit than the Renault, but certainly grabs them with a vengeance.
However, the question remains how Honda can deliver such a string of very good concept cars alongside a range of production cars of mind-boggling stylistic ineptitude.
Almost the polar opposite of the Renault EZ-GO was the concept car brought to Geneva by sister brand Nissan. In terms of conception, the Nissan IMx is rather lazy, in that it’s aim is no more ambitious than to grant a look at the Japanese future compact SUV production cars’ design. Yet disregarding whatever one may make of this category of motor car (or moderately disguised production designs posing as concept cars), the IMx proves that Nissan’s stylists still know the tricks of their trade, even after the retirement of the company’s long-serving chief designer, Shiro Nakamura.
Teaching the likes of BMW’s misbegotten X7 a lesson on how to combine an imposing presence with aggressive, yet sophisticated forms, the IMx diligently prevents its origami/samurai sword aesthetic from becoming too simplistic, through both careful surfacing and the incorporation of enormously pleasing details in the light units and air vents.
Over at Porsche, another similarly thinly disguised production car showed how easily such an exhibit can turn into a minor embarrassment. The Porsche Mission E Cross Turismo appears like a, well, crossbreed between the very good Mission E fastback saloon concept car and the not unpleasant production Panamera Sport Turismo. This sense of confusion is exacerbated by the addition of rather clumsy wheel arch extensions, sills, skirts and auxiliary lamps in contrasting colours. The end result is an Allroad Cross Country Mission E Panamera Sport Turismo that’s far less focused and infinitely less appealing than the models it’s based upon. What a shame.
Using a clean canvas for its luxury saloon/limousine was Aston Martin. One of the true surprise unveilings at the show, the Lagonda concept car envisaged how autonomous driving would influence luxury motoring. Aston Martin chief designer, Marek Reichman, and his team went for more sensible packaging solutions than usual, but preserved traces of both bonnet and boot on the Lagonda’s silhouette. Assuming that autonomous driving might also include high-speed Autobahn/orbital motorway stints, the Lagonda’s arrow-shaped outline makes some sense, yet neither the cabin, nor the exterior have anything truly meaningful to add to what other semi-MPV concept cars (like Peugeot’s excellent 2011 HX1) have shown already. Neither the marble pattern on the Lagonda’s front grille, nor the silly feud between Marek Reichman and Rolls-Royce CEO, Torsten Müller-Ötvös, about what constitutes modern luxury can distract from that.
Certainly more radical than the self-proclaimed ‘disruptive’ Lagonda was the Icona Nucleus, a large MPV with marine-inspired styling that took the opportunities granted by electric propulsion and autonomous driving to extremes. Despite its thoroughly unpleasant outside appearance, the Nucleus exhibited some ideas (like a daybed) on how to use the space ‘freed’ up by electric and autonomous driving that were certainly more daring than the token swivelling seats. That the Nucleus’ interior is as generously comfortable as its exterior is repellent incidentally also serves to illustrate that automatisation doesn’t necessarily result in equalisation. In that sense, it may well be the most valuable of the numerous autonomous concepts shown at Geneva.
Volkswagen’s Vizzion I.D. definitely couldn’t be described in such terms. Being yet another fastback saloon featuring swivelling seats and decidedly no steering wheel, the Vizzion I.D. thankfully also does without VW’s current Heidedesign 2.0 overkill of creases and lines. Instead, it’s clad in calm sheetmetal/composites, with VAG group’s ‘light is the new chrome’ mantra and the kind of pronounced shoulders that Volkswagen and Audi designers cannot resist these days. A large chrome arch across its daylight opening at the same time suggests that not all
brightwork will eventually be replaced by light units (arguably to satisfy Chinese aesthetics). Apart from that, it’s difficult to muster much enthusiasm for or outright reject what is one of VW’s better recent efforts. But then again, there’s that pesky old saying: Better leave a bad impression than no impression at all…
Sharing the calm surfaces and basic conception with the Vizzion I.D. was the latest effort by the most important designer to have ever worked for Volkswagen, Giorgetto Giugiaro. His new GFG Style outfit (with the ‘F’ standing for his son, Fabrizio) brought along Sibylla to Geneva. Featuring a showpiece glass canopy above the front cabin that slides across the bonnet to allow access and egress, Sibylla has an anachronistic air to it - even though it’s basically, yes, an EV fastback saloon.
The assured surfaces are very Giugiaro-like, whereas the boomerang-shaped taillights are somewhat reminiscent of his design of the Maserati 3200 GT. Despite the inclusion of plenty of touch-displays, Sybilla’s interior has a distinct late ‘80s, early ‘90s flair to it, thanks to the yoke controls, Brougham brown-red leather and quite a bit of chrome in presence. Yet in contrast to this, the rather ornate DRG betrays the market at which Sibylla is aimed: China.
Yet most surprising about Sibylla wasn’t so much that it’s not the most cutting edge of concept cars, but its size. Based on first acquaintance, it’s difficult to ascertain as to why a packaging fetishist like Giugiaro would need more than five metres in length to clad an electric four-seater.
The other survivor among the Italian styling houses is, of course, Pininfarina, who also chose to showcase their skills in the EV fastback saloon format. The result of Cambiano’s efforts is the Pininfarina HK GT, which also shares the trick (in this case double-gullwing) doors with Sybilla, but is overall more lithe a design than Giugiaro’s. Yet, despite these superior proportions, the slightly flaccid surfaces and lack of definition mean the HK GT isn’t as pleasing as it could possibly be. Neither is the very oriental frontal aspect or the unusual, but rather saggy trail outline behind the air outlet aft of the front wheels.
As far as aesthetic merits are concerned, it was therefore up to a Japanese marque to show the assembled Italians, Germans, French companies how to create striking beauty.
It is literally impossible to do Mazda’s Vision Coupé and Kai concept cars justice through photographic means. Their simply exquisite surfacing is a little wonder that proves that beauty not only still has a place in the automotive realm, but also that there are novel aesthetic achievements to be made.
Unlike most other manufacturers, who first come up with a form language and than try their best to come up with some kind of philosophy to try and explain it, Mazda’s designers find it easy to describe their creative processes (a trait shared with their colleagues at Volvo, incidentally). Looking at how the reflections dance across the Vision Coupé therefore makes it easy to believe that the modelling process that led to this concept car not only took a rather substantial two years, but that it also started with a bit of non-automotive sculpting. Almost any story sells itself if its subject is good enough.
For Mazda, the challenge is now to produce production cars on this basis that aren’t utter disappointments - Mercedes’ recent ‘crease-free’ efforts must act as a warning sign in this regard. But this daunting prospect mustn’t overwhelm the impression created by these exceptional designs. Instead, their sheer ambition and craftsmanship ought to be applauded. Domo arigato.
For the production cars of that resonated at the Geneva Motor Show, please click HERE.
© www.auto-didakt.com, all rights reserved