Geneva Motor Show 2012 Green Car Design Review

This year’s Geneva Motor Show saw some big reveals with some even bigger engines. Ferrari, Bentley and Lamborghini all revealed cars with V12 powerplants and, accompanied by a host of other thirsty performance cars from the like of Mercedes and Audi, memories of 2011’s eco-oriented show seemed to be long gone.

Enter Infiniti, Pinifarina and even Morgan. All revealed cars of pace, inspiring style (if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it in Morgan’s case), and low, if indeed any, emissions. The Infiniti Emerg-e, arguably the most impressive of the entire green contingent, even has a good chance of making it to production too. Additionally, before the show even began the Vauxhall Ampera had won the European Car of the Year award by an absolute landslide.

Below are some of the most talked about designs in the ‘green’ sphere.

Volvo V40

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Volvo says, “Every car we make, we take steps in pushing our image and our design but I think the V40 really captures what we believe to be the ultimate C-segment hatchback.” – Simon Lamarre, Chief Designer, Volvo Product Design.

Spec sheet: An all-new five-door hatchback that looks to square up to, amongst others, VW’s Golf. Luxury is very much the byword here and the V40 represents an introduction for Volvo’s ‘Designed Around You’ strategy.

Built on a Ford Focus platform, the V40 will replace the now slightly bland S40 and its estate derivative, the V50. In terms of Volvo’s model lineup, the V40 addresses the problem caused by the lack of a 5-door C30, which has hindered Volvo as competitor to Audi’s A3 and the BMW 1-series.

Chris Benjamin, the man responsible for the V40’s sweeping exterior design, describes the V40 as a “dramatic new statement” and it’s fair to say that it looks far more lithe in the metal than in any of the pre-show press shots. The V40 also looks far more consummate than a C30 with two extra doors squeezed in could ever have.

The V40 is also impressive in that Volvo have really moved their design forward whilst staying true to the hallmarks of their modern design language. The strong shoulder line we’ve come to expect from Volvo is still apparent, although more to the tune of the V60 than the C30 and there’s a rising rear window line that leads nicely into the C-pillar and belies the V40’s considerable size for this segment.

Aside from an undulating front air-intake that runs the width of the bumper, the front of the V40 is relatively conservative – it’s the contoured rear that’s the most striking. A more exaggerated design sees the rear window glass extend further down the boot-lid, mimicking the C30, and wraparound rear lights exaggerate the V40’s width and assured stance.

The aesthetics aren’t skin deep either. The cabin feels intimate, losing the Spartan approach of Volvo interiors past – something endemic in the C30. Furthermore, the V40 represents a further step for pedestrian safety with an airbag in the bonnet, a world first. Well, it was going to be either them or Saab….

Nissan INVITATION Concept

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Nissan says, “From front to rear, the exterior has a very strong dynamic movement, with the front and rear displaying iconic headlamps and tail lamps. This sets the car apart from our competitors.” – Shiro Nakamura, Head of Design, Nissan Group.

Spec Sheet: Nissan’s next generation B-segment contender. A low drag coefficient and lightweight platform means the INVITATION offers class-leading efficiency to match the concept’s clean, fluid silhouette.

With salient lines and a colour scheme rivaled in conspicuity only by Bertone’s Nuccio concept (incidentally the same colour), the INVITATION caught a lot of attention on the show floor for many of the right reasons. Leaving caps lock on, however, wasn’t one of them.

There’s symmetry to the INVITATION that has been lacking in recent Nissan designs, notably the Juke, and this is as much due to the little details as it is to the overall shape. Notice how the headlights use two solid lines and the rear lights use three and the way the car’s roofline rises almost imperceptibly at the rear? Balance. The concept’s surfaces are also tighter and less superfluous than models in the range that the production version will eventually join, and join it will. Unlike many manufacturers, Nissan’s concepts often come through to production relatively unscathed – look to the Quashqai or Juke for a case in point. Not all is zen on the INVITATION as there seems to have been an argument over how the area between the C-pillar and beltline meet that looks tense and unresolved.

“It’s very dynamic in its looks and that’s not by accident, that’s by design,” said Michael Auliar, Nissan Europe’s Product Manager for small cars, on the INVITATION’s turntable show stand before revealing that Nissan aim for all production variants to put out less than 120 g/km CO2 emissions. “It also uses Nissan’s advanced engine technology and our new V-platform technology to deliver strong fuel efficiency,” added Auliar.

In case you were wondering about the distinct arrow-shaped line adorning the side of the INVITATION, Nissan call it the ‘squash’ line. The reason being that it traces the trajectory of a squash ball bouncing off a wall…simple as that.

Infiniti Emerg-e Concept

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Infiniti says, “Infiniti was conceived as a front-engined, rear wheel drive brand and this is what the design architecture has always been about. The challenge for the designers has been to apply that to a mid-engined car.” – Wayne Bruce, European Communications Director, Infiniti.

Spec Sheet: The Emerg-e’s lotus-derived range-extending drivetrain develops 300kW allowing the Emerg-e to hit 60mph in around four seconds. The concept can also manage 30 miles of pure electric driving, and this expands to 300 miles with the help of a 3-cylinder engine.

Three years ago Infiniti revealed the Essence concept, which was a petrol-electric hybrid sports car. Whilst Essence was exciting to look at, it was very much in the mould we were used to from Infiniti. Emerg-e is different. It’s the first time Infiniti has built a car in style of a traditional supercar, and as first-attempts go in this industry it’s a staggering achievement aesthetically.

Moving the twin electric motors from in front of to just behind the cabin has allowed Shiro Nakamura and his design team to taper the front of the Emerg-e beautifully, and the side of the car is characterized by a feature line that extends from the front grill, up the bonnet and over the wheel arch before falling towards an air intake on the rear haunches. This, says Infiniti’s Communications Director Wayne Bruce, has been designed to express the allusion of a long bonnet – something alien to mid-engined cars.

One of the features carried over from the Essence concept are the ‘crescent cut’ C-pillars which look fantastic on the Emerg-e and the headlights, inspired by the eyes of a Japanese god, flaunt the new headlight graphic for Infiniti production cars. So far so good.

Although the vehicle at Geneva was only a fragile 20mph model, Infiniti are currently working on two running prototypes that will be capable of holding their own against everything this side of a 911. Interestingly, Infiniti have had to use a mid-engine platform supplied by Lotus, a partner of theirs for a long time and so the Emerg-e is in fact a close sibling to the Evora 414E. It would be fantastic to see Infiniti carry the electric supercar flame now that the Tesla Roadster is on hiatus.

Pininfarina Cambiano

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Pinifarina says, “I wanted to create a strong visual impact into the Cambiano using as few lines as possible, while avoiding any decoration,” - Fabio Filippini, Chief Creative Officer, Pininfarina.

Spec Sheet: A greater all-electric range that anything else on the market is a good starting point. The drivetrain is based on four electric motors, one on each wheel, and produces a maximum of 600kw – enough for the Cambiano to hit 60mph in just over four seconds.

Very much a luxury cruiser, Italian coachbuilder Pininfarina’s latest creation is powered by 79bhp electric motors on each wheel and is good for up to 125 miles using only electric power. It has, unsurprisingly, been likened to an eco-conscious Maserati. Pininfarina describe this concept as a new approach to luxury in a car, and whilst there is plenty to talk about the exterior, the Cambiano’s interior design is the real deal. Getting inside is interesting in it’s own right – the driver’s side has one door but the passenger side has two, à la Hyundai Veloster. Once inside, you’re greeted by a myriad of recycled and reused materials – the main event being the wooden floor made from the recycled oak poles used in Venice to designate moorings. Furthermore, much of the upholstery is natural and imitation leather and panels are wrought from polylactic acid, a plastic derived from sugar and milk serum, which reduces the use of petroleum. The Cambiano is starting to sound more like the Fisker Karma than a Maserati.

Other features include a panoramic roof that varies between translucency and transparency as well as a unique lighting system that exploits light channels inserted into the ceiling. Finally, and perhaps most surprisingly, the generator in the front of the car is powered by diesel.

Toyota FT-Bh Concept

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Toyota says, “One year ago, we challenged our engineers and designers to come up with small, super-efficient car at an affordable cost. FT-Bh is the result.” – Didier Leroy, President and CEO, Toyota Motor Europe.

Spec Sheet: A corresponding idea to Nissan’s INVITATION: light, with a low drag-coefficient and a full hybrid powertrain. FT-Bh averages 134.5mpg and produces just 49 g/km CO2, and may lead the way to a compressed natural gas hybrid.

Toyota’s quirky looking FT-Bh concept is very much in the same vein as the aforementioned Nissan INVITATION; it weighs just 800kg and is designed to compete in the B-segment. It, too, has a very low drag-coefficient of just 0.235 (bear in mind that the slippery looking Emerg-e’s coefficient is 0.34) that allows it to move through the atmosphere like a hot knife through butter. The two silhouettes are similar as well. The FT-Bh, however, definitely has more a ‘concept’ feel about it.

The prevalent design feature is a lattice theme, which can be found all over the car; from the smaller, delicate lattice on the arching rear lights and front bumper to the augmented, more abstract interpretation of the dashboard and biconcave shaped display behind the steering wheel. Where the FT-Bh differs drastically from the INVITATION is its paneling. Absent are the taut lines of the Nissan and instead the Toyota designers have opted for large, seamless surfaces that elegantly contrast the latticed areas.

What the photos won’t convey are the proportions of the FT-Bh. It’s around the same size as its stable-mate, the Prius, but you wouldn’t think it to look at it. It seems much smaller and more compact. This could be due to its relatively long wheelbase in relation to its overall length, which leaves precious little overhang at each end. This compactness doesn’t project through to the interior however, and that must be judged as a success for Toyota.

Hyundai i-oniq Concept

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Hyundai says, “Two arched curves are the key theme behind i-oniq, creating a strong and playful contrast between sharp character line and soft but muscular features.” - Thomas Bürkle, Chief Designer, Hyundai Motor Europe Technical Centre.

Spec Sheet: An electric hatchback with a three-cylinder range-extender petrol engine. The i-oniq can travel up to 120km in electric-only mode and reach around 700km with help from its engine. CO2 emissions are just 45 g/km. Top speed is 145kmh.

The i-oniq concept, like the Toyota FT-Bh, is also a car that feels as though it should be larger - after the pre-show press shots, a Cayenne-sized shooting brake was expected. In reality, the i-oniq resembles a lowered VW Golf Plus dimensionally, albeit much, much easier on the eye. A potential criticism, however, is that the i-oniq is a little too vague with its styling, something that the multi-spoke wheels and corresponding front grill try to apologize for. Hyundai describes the i-oniq’s shape as “functional”. Debatable! Nonetheless, the pretty concept continues Hyundai’s “fluidic sculpture” design language and comes complete with doors that are halfway between ‘scissor’ and ‘gullwings’, hinging on the A-pillar, as well as a unique boot-lid mechanism that operates from the roof. The i-oniq also features a targa-esque roof, where the windscreen extends back over the drivers head towards the rear boot hinge.

The cosseting cabin features ‘lounge’ area in the back which Hyundai claim creates a positive contrast to the sports-oriented front area. ‘Mundane’ may be harsh, but for a show car that is purely conceptual, the i-oniq’s interior doesn’t offer much imagination. It’s a nice place to be, but so is the cabin of a production 5 Series. Whilst the i-oniq itself won’t make it to production, it’s hybrid powertrain, or a derivation of it, probably will.

mia rox

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mia says, “Traditionally, people used to buy cars to make themselves like the character of the car. This is the complete alternative, the car becomes the character of the person.” – David Wilkie, Design Director, mia electric.

Spec Sheet: Several cars in one. The next step in the mia range aims to offer “the opportunity for extensive personalisation.” The real trick the rox has up its sleeve is that it presents the owner with an option between full convertible and ‘coach mode’, i.e. fully covered.

This intermediate mode is called “top mode”. In this mode the doors, which are made from slats (much like those on a bed), are pulled up from the floor whilst the windows operate via a similar procedure except from the roof. Additionally, the rox has a fabric roof (for which there will be a number of designs, unsurprisingly) that broadens the runabout’s versatility further still – fabric windows and covering can be brought down or tied up on both the sides and the back of the rox. A final variation, where the fabric cover is completely removed, sees the rox turn into what is probably the only rival for the Smart For-us concept. This does, however, leave the somewhat unsightly metal framework on display.

In the metal, the rox seems a little more graceful than its siblings and with details like the hanging head and rear lights and the surfboard-esque shoulders that run down the side of car (interrupted only by the slatted door) the rox has a lot to offer visually. The rox could in time prove an extremely astute move from Messers Günak and Wilkie. Should it make production, the rox will be relatively quick and cheap to produce as, with a few notable exceptions, it shares its core construction with the mia electric. The emphasis is on the word ‘core’ as the rest of the rox is, of course, interchangeable.

Volteis by STARCK

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STARCK says, “I wanted to offer an alternative. A different solution making it possible to return to the minimalist definition of a vehicle. A really simple vehicle that is almost child’s play, with four wheels, a steering wheel, and electricity.” – Philippe Stark.

Spec Sheet: Starck’s focus is very much on what is necessary, and cars have their own specific role that is dictated by necessity. As a result, the Volteis has a top speed of just 65kph and a range of 60km. The consequent charge time is 6 hours.

Nicknamed V+, this resemblance to a golf-buggy is a collaboration between Volteis, a French electric vehicle manufacturer owned by the Electric Car Company, and Philippe Starck, designer and architect. Starck has successfully tried his hand at a number of disciplines, and is famous for his yachts (“A”) and furniture amongst others. Now he has added a car to his illustrious portfolio.

Born out of recognition of the inappropriate use of vehicles, the Volteis is conceived very much as an alternative. STARCK describes it as a “light, desirable, minimalist answer for those who are looking to travel aptly, differently”. Designed with warmer climates in mind, the Volteis features a panoramic windscreen, a plaited front basked and a cast aluminium frame that keeps the weight at 736kg.

Starck’s view is that designers are creating electric cars that fit the mould of high performance internal combustion engined cars. Seeing as electric cars neither travel at the same high speeds or long distances that ICE cars do, then why should they be face the same design constraints? Hence the Volteis is fairly unconventional. Or does it demonstrate what the convention should be? The Volteis will retail at around $40,000. Not cheap, but with very few moving parts at least maintenance bills are likely to be minimal.

Tesla Model S

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Tesla say, “The Model S got its roots from the idea of being not only the best electric car but the best performance sedan in the marketplace.” – Franz von Holzhausen, Chief Designer, Tesla Motors.

Spec Sheet: Tesla’s second, and arguably most important, model will hit 60mph from rest in lest than four and a half second with a range of up to 300 miles (for the top spec model). Tesla has already received over 8,000 orders for the Model Sand aims to build 20,000 units in 2013.

Tesla’s second car has finally afforded Franz von Holzhausen and his team the indulgence of of creating their own design from a blank canvas. There’s an obvious lack of design cues shared between Model S and the Roadster and more shared family traits between the Model S and Model X - alas the birth of Tesla’s very own design language. The ‘Signature Red’ example on display in Geneva really served to highlight how magnificently well proportioned the Model S is. Much like what BMW achieved with the E36 3-Series for the coupe format, Tesla has really epitomized the saloon/sedan form with the Model S.

The entire design has simplicity to it that’s rarely seen today, just consider the Germanic and French manufacturers for reference, and the front is characterized by an inverted clam-shaped grill and sharp shut lines on the bonnet that flow into the A-pillars. The entire stance of the Model S is one of equanimity. Does this come from naïveté or experience? Time will tell.

The interior is dominated by an enormous, 17-inch touchscreen display that is Wi-Fi enabled and high resolution. Panels are finished in wood and leather and although the fit isn’t of the same caliber as the established European marques. Bearing in mind that the model on show was in Beta state, 80% production-ready, and build quality is an ongoing process and Tesla as a brand is in it’s infancy things are certainly looking good so far.


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