My design career can be traced right back to drawing cars as a small child. This was pretty much all I did. I’d even get requests to draw certain cars. My parents took me to the British Motor Show at Birmingham’s NEC (and at Earls Court in London on the odd occasion) for about 8 years on the trot, before it shifted to London’s ExCel Centre and then fizzled out completely in 2008. So it seems fitting that although I once dreamed of becoming a car designer, I still work in the design industry and still love cars… and still go to Motor Shows.
Last year I went to the Geneva Motor Show for the first time ever, and it felt slightly like being a child again. This year, after a somewhat last minute decision, I went again, accompanied by my Dad. There’s so much crossover in the design world, so I thought I’d do a brief rundown of the greatest things at this year’s show, plus a few slightly questionable things.
1. Touch Screens
Last year I did a similar blog posts on design trends in cars, one of them being the uptake of touch screens in cars. This year, that trend shows no sign of slowing down, with almost every single newly-launched car featuring the technology somewhere in its range. French brand Peugeot, in particular, appear to be going wild with it. Their new 308, which was recently voted European Car of the Year for 2014, features a nicely-designed dashboard with a touch screen controlling almost everything. The only physical button for the radio is a volume knob. Everything else is accessed via the screen, including ability to switch between DAB radio, Bluetooth streaming, music apps etc. In all honesty, most manufacturers are now jumping on this as far as in-car entertainment is concerned. But Peugeot have gone a step further (as have their partner brand Citroen). Heating and ventilation (including Air Conditioning) is also controlled via the touch-screen. Whilst I admire this innovation, I’m not yet 100% convinced that this works in a car. It was stressful enough sitting in the car on a Motor Show stand being presented with the different functions and options, let alone driving it and having to come in and out of menus just to turn the temperature down a few notches. There’s not necessarily anything wrong with the user experience or UI, either; it’s more the idea. Touch-screen tablets and smartphones work because (unless you’re that woman who walked off a pier in Australia after being too distracted by her phone) you’re giving them a large proportion of your attention. When you’re driving, you familiarise yourself with physical buttons, begin to know where they are by touch, and can largely operate them without taking your eyes off the road. I don’t know that people will find this especially easy to begin with, but I’m looking forward to seeing the technology develop, and it’ll be interesting to see if people take to it.
2. Car Play
Apple launched their new Car Play technology at the show. Available initially with some of the posher brands including Mercedes-Benz and Volvo, this will trickle down to the rest of the market very quickly. It allows you to mirror your iPhone with your car’s touch screen, allowing you to make calls and text messages, use satellite navigation and listen to music, all via your car’s touch screen. This presents an interesting challenge for some third-party apps which will be able to use the technology such as Spotify; it’s another screen to design for, beyond mobile, tablet and desktop. Some manufacturers are also displaying their own version; Citroen, Peugeot and Toyota have launched a phone-mirroring system with their dinky new C1, 108 and Aygo models, and it appears to work well, though I’m not sure whether this will eventually be replaced with CarPlay, as all of these manufacturers are planning to use the technology.
3. The Stands
They’re all fantastic, but often there are a select few that stand out. Citroen, Volvo and Renault impressed me with their stand designs this year. Renault’s stand was almost identical to last year’s offering, but is probably one of the most pleasurable to visit with the familiar floating pebbles, which change from blue to red and slowly rise and fall. The stand is faintly reminiscent of the hometown of the Teletubbies – Tubbyland, with small hills and pebble seating to make everything feel ‘natural’.
Volvo also impressed. It’s very, very typically Swedish and feels like a very high-quality IKEA flat-pack home. This year, they even had a lounge area with those trendy floor lamps, sofas and olive trees. Familiar wood flooring and a supremely slow and slightly disorientating turntable added to the theme.
Citroen really pulled out the stops. They had their two ranges (the C range, fronted by this year’s brand new C4 Cactus) and the DS range (their posh Parisienne luxury brand) clearly differentiated in different sections, yet it all tied together wonderfully. The C range was displayed all on clean, crisp white, highlighting its newfound simplicity and clarity, whereas the DS range was surrounded by dark wood, deep carpets and dark textures, with clever lighting installations and areas highlighting the brand’s ability to be heavily personalised. It all worked really well and of all the stands at the show, it felt by far the most spacious.
4. The Throwback
In all honesty, I’ve not seen a standalone digital clock in a car since I was about 7. But Toyota clearly think they’re still a ‘thing’, and have treated the new Auris to its very own ‘inspired-by-Casio’ clock, together with a disturbingly vertical dashboard which appears to have been inspired by Alton Towers’ Oblivion. Where other manufacturers (including Toyota themselves) are giving us attractive touch screens incorporating every bit of information possible, it seems a bit backward of the Japanese brand to include this.
5. If the X Factor did cars…
MINI launched their third-generation ‘new’ MINI, but it’s beginning to feel a bit like the X Factor. It’s the same as before, but a bit bigger, and a bit uglier, and still with just enough space for a family of gnomes. It’s a real shame, because the design team clearly have some very nice ideas, if the lighting details and sporty switches are anything to go by.
Audi also launched a new TT at the show. This would be a stunning car, if we hadn’t already seen the original TT and the Mk2 TT. With Audi’s goatee grille and A5-inspired headlights, it has lost some of the character and individuality that made the original car such a success, and has rocked up looking like a bit of a crowd-follower rather than a trend-setter.
6. The Citroen C4 Cactus
This was arguably one of the most talked-about cars of the show, and is possibly the most important new car to be launched in 2014. The C4 Cactus is the first of what Citroen refers to as their simple, well-designed, IKEA-ish range. It’s quite refreshing to see a car that markets itself in simplicity and not excess or overdone luxury. It’s also virtually identical to the concept car that preceded it in the Autumn. Automatic versions feature a bench seat across the front to create the feeling of a comfy sofa, whilst all versions get digital, iPad-like screens instead of physical dials, pop-out rear windows, airbags mounted in the roof (to make way for an enormous glovebox) and interesting air-filled rubber ‘Air Bumps’ on the front, sides and rear of the car, to protect it from scrapes and bumps in the car park. These are available in a range of colours and Citroen describes them as a ‘new kind of bumper’. I think they’re great, considering probably 99% of new cars now have body-coloured bumpers, showing off your finest dents and scratches. It certainly attracted a lot of attention, so this could be the beginning of an automotive revolution!
7. Lifestyle Vehicles
The show saw a return to ‘lifestyle concepts’. Years ago I remember a Citroen Berlingo converted into a sort of rugged beach-inspired buggy with two deck chairs in the back. This year they were back with a bang, with FIAT and Citroen both showing us how their standard models could look with a bit more imagination.
The MINI’s relaunch started the personalisation race following a decade of 90s drabness on Britain’s roads. In 2014, things are beginning to get a little out of hand, perfectly demonstrated by Opel (Vauxhall) and their Adam city car. They launched the rugged Adam Rocks alongside further personalisation options for the standard car, including a rather intriguing star-painted dashboard and peppermint green paintwork. You can even order one with tiny lights built into the ceiling, to give the impression of a starry sky!
9. Attention to detail
Detail is certainly getting better on the latest cars revealed at the show. Particularly interesting is the move towards very sculpted lights, and so-called ‘night time signatures’ – basically, the shapes a car’s tail lamps make in the dark, to make it recognisable. Here are a few examples.
There’s also plenty of detail to be seen on the show’s many amazing concept cars.
More of my Geneva photos, including the more exotic McLarens and Lamborghinis, plus Renault’s surefire hit of a new rear-engined Twingo will be on Flickr in the next few days! Hope you enjoyed that. Apologies if you got bored.