Frankfurt 2009 Trend - Light and Layered

GCD was at the Frankfurt Motor Show, IAA, recently were happy to see that despite the economic duress and eco bashing the auto industry has been under there might be light at the end of the tunnel. Although there were slim pickings in terms of show cars the quality of ideas and details seemed to be flourishing. Most interestingly to GCD is the appearance of the first solid definable ‘green car design’ trend…

Light and Layered

Designers see the need for new cars to be LIGHT in every sense of the word, from materials to visual composition, in order to achieve the green look and efficiency. In order to get this lightness the use of LAYERS is the new surfacing movement. As designers gain more experience in addressing green design issues, auto design is becoming more intelligent and sophisticated. The brightest example of this trend was undoubtedly BMW’s Vision Efficient Dynamics, yet the trend flowed throughout the show like Feng Shui opening up the traditional auto-box and people’s minds to the future of automotive design.

The design team at BMW headed up by Adrian van Hooydonk has been soul searching for the meaning of the future of BMW design. At this moment in time when all the rules have changed you have to make your own future, and BMW is banking on Efficient Dynamics. Until now Efficient Dynamics didn’t have a face so the team not only gave it a face but a body too with an outfit to die for and a slew of must-have accessories to boot. More importantly the Vision has redefined green car design for the foreseeable future.

The team took apart BMW’s DNA and cleaned it of all superficiality and weight and reassembled the parts with the lightest of touch. It is in no way fragile or skeletal, eventhough it weighs in at a mere 1400 kg, it is the layers and the spaces in between that give the Vision strength and prowess. One can’t speak of the Vision in terms of exterior and interior design because the concept truly flows dynamically in and out within the external surface and internal surface. They fold in on themselves to create a third dimension that may contain another surface, often illuminated. A plane floats just above the tarmac at the front end of the car twists and thins out to the rear then folds around the taillight and hugs the road again. The space between surface and the side panel creates a form that acknowledges new technology in the use of thin tyres yet gives it visual weight recalling the quintessential BMW stance. The doors are more like windows in that they show off the entire interior and protective internal structures.

Layers continue to spread around the internal spaces from the rear passenger seats that are composed of a thin seat cocooned by a back support that in turn flows into the centre console leading up to the cockpit. The contrast in colours makes the seats float above the floor and the controls stand out on the console while the spaces and folds in the dashboard incite speed and control. All senses are propelled forward formally as the console dashboard and IP all meet to point forward directly into the bonnet. Von Hooydonk explained that this feature is symbolic of BMW moving forward into its future with Efficient Dynamics.

BMW’s Vision wears its heart on its sleeve compared to Audi’s R8 e-Tron. The R8 e-Tron is totally closed on the outside lacking entirely a rear window with all intakes featuring layers of aluminium spokes. Its visual solidity belies its weight, it only weighs 1600kg because the body structure is based on Audi Space Frame (ASF) technology and was is a hybrid construction with ll add-on parts – doors, covers, sidewalls and roof made of a fibre-reinforced plastic. Exterior designer Torsten Wenzel told GCD that the R8 e-Tron plays with light and shadow as a sculpture would. The movement and role of air is highlighted by the repetitive big surface coverage made up of the linear spokes. Not only a visual statement they also perform a function of increasing aerodynamics when closed and allowing air intake when opened via the grill, side intakes, and rear.

Inside is a private protected 2 seater cockpit trimmed with natural materials such as aluminium and leather in natural colours. The inner door area and dashboard unite in a sweeping gesture that creates a wraparound horizon with hide brown inlay. Sandra Hartman, in charge colour and trim, emphasizes the need for honesty in materials and lightness to reflect the car’s electric drive underpinnings. Of particular interest is the treatment of the seats where the leather has been considered as a layer rather than a covering by using thin padding instead of the typical overstuffed lounge chair of yesteryear. BMW also used this use of thin layers of materials, in their case wool and leather, proving that less is more, more eco and efficient.

Although the light and layered look may appear more adapt to sporty or saloon cars, city runabouts were not about to be left out of the game. What is lighter than a car? A scooter perhaps? So Peugeot design team fused two together and brought BB1 to life! Compact and fun, quirky and speedy this little electric concept comes purely from layers of city life moving simultaneously and morphing like a Transformer. Layers are evident in the front and back with head and taillights floating away from the body. Lightness is both functional with doors that have intakes to allow air to cool the small internal space and visual with the top 30% of the car being clear. Inside the front seats fold down on themselves to further open up the four-seater space giving a freedom of movement enhanced by the doors that open to almost 90 degrees. Jump in, jump out, different levels of urban life.

At the show two-tone colours were a popular way of achieving the feeling of floating and lightness while repetitive patterns equated to layering. No interior was more minimalist than VW’s E-Up with all entertainment and info functions integrated into a side view mirror iPod styled control to the right of the wheel and a super compact centre controller hints that Bauhaus could sneakily be making a revival. Again the two-tone effect divides a small space to give the illusion of more with less. Although the E-Up was the simplest of designs it was the most visited by far, and its quietness made people adore it. The excited Hyundai ix Metro took the concept of patterns to an extreme in the grill, front and rear lights, and vents but it was the refreshing treatment of the wave themed dashboard that connected the viewer to the interior that was most satisfying.

Beauty is in the details

There is an explanation as to why the IAA was marked by obsessive attention to details. Designers cannot achieve lightweight without removing mass, and likewise cannot achieve a solid structure without the use of layers. These two techniques have been used in architecture and furniture design for many years and yet it is now, when materials cost so much to us and the earth that we may reconsider their functions in car design terms. Ironically this brings the car closer to being a natural product, more like an animal that efficiently cohabitates with its environment instead of a machine that consumes it. At a time when people are questioning every aspect of life, a veritable tipping point in automotive history is unfolding. The fact that it has started with basic concepts such as Light and Layers is delightfully honest and transparent.