Geneva Motor Show 2008

The 78th Geneva Motor Show 2008 would make any auto show green with envy! This year’s World and European premieres were over 130, with 10,000 press visitors and a grand total of 715,000 visitors from the public, placing it amongst the top 5 auto shows in the world. However, the GAS'08 is unique like no other show in its own right. Like Geneva, its a show that invites companies and individuals from every corner of the world and treats them all the same. This tradition for neutrality allows for small and large companies alike to show their latest innovations and design creations. Sometimes these ‘creations’ are quite bizarre, eccentric, and even funny, but they do push the envelope and stimulate the market, and our imagination. This year though, there was one idea that everyone embraced, the need to design and manufacture environmentally responsible vehicles. 

Saab 9X BioHybrid

Green Tech Specs: 1.4 litre BioPower engine, Hybrid electric motor/generator with lithium-ion battery pack. Consumption 6.4l/100km (E85) 4.9l/100km (gasoline)CO2 emissions 105g/km (E85), 117g/km (gasoline).

Following in the successful footsteps of the AeroX and 2001’s 9X concepts Saab unveiled their 9-X BioHybrid concept at a launch party in Geneva prior to the opening of the show. It is a compact 2+2 85% (E85) bioethanol Li-On battery hybrid. After positive feedback from their 9-4X Crossover the 9-X BioHybrid is another signal which confirms GM’s investment in the brand as they round out a complete Saab range.

Good design comes from staying true to your roots and if any brand has successfully done that in the last 5 years it is Saab. They have analyzed and defined what Scandinavian design is and implemented it consistently into all their cars. The 9-X BioHybrid is another example of Saab’s aircraft heritage with the body of the vehicle echoing the ‘fuselage’ and the driver orientated interior that of a ‘cockpit’.

The design language, now familiar to us, is more refined in the 9-X BioHybrid and is minimal to the max. Scandinavian elements such as ice and light are used as inspiration for humanising technical components on the interior, while Wi-Fi technology from your Sony Ericsson can open the car as well as be used for streaming info. It is pointless to speak of the exterior design in parts because the design is so pure and flows so seamlessly its almost not a car! The form looks as it has been carved from a block of compacted snow that has captured the Northern Lights inside. While other companies stuff their existing designs with green technology the design team at Saab has managed to translate nature and purity to both the exterior and interior giving the 9-X BioHybrid 100% green credentials.

Italidesign Quaranta

Green Tech Specs: The Toyota Hybrid Synergy Drive V6 3.3 liter gasoline engine/ two electric motors with fuel consumption of 7.1l/100km and CO2 emissions of180g/km.

The Quaranta world premiere was so well staged you would be forgiven into thinking that they re-invented the wheel…actually they used the oldest trick in the book, ‘lovely ladies’. Once you get past them you see that Giugiaro’s fortieth anniversary commemorative car, Quaranta, is a mishmash of concepts past with contemporary themes such as environmentally conscious technology. The Quaranta is reported to be an “extreme” product, an environment-friendly, 4WD super sports-car which incorporates a series of innovative aspects combining a hybrid engine with solar energy (little enough to cool the carbon monocoque). Although the exterior lines are dramatic, and on occasion balanced, the overall aerodynamic flat body shape is nothing more than a nod to Guigiaro senior’s designs past. This would be acceptable if the theme had followed through to the interior but the reality check gets worse when the upper door opens up almost vertically…you better not have underground parking!

Its internal layout, which despite its mid-mounted rear engine, can accommodate three adults and a child (if you are an irresponsible parent) is heavy and outdated in style. The IP is overloaded with useless information, 2 screens, too many vents, and buttons. The Q is not a spaceship, but it is a flight of fancy. It is true that forty years is a legacy but the Quaranta doesn’t reflect the quality or innovative design that precedes her. If Italdesign want to regain their legacy they would be better off showing their glory cars, which were on display next to Quaranta and, unfortunately, leave her at home.

Magna Steyr MILA Alpin


Green Tech Specs: 1.0 litre CNG/LiOn Hybrid with CO2 emissions targeted under 100g/km.

The MILA Alpin concept, the third concept proposed by Magna Steyr, is a 3+1 configured natural gas hybrid compact off-roader with high seating. The design was led by a concerted effort to make the car modular hence lowering the production costs. Although the modular concept is not a new one it is one worth revisiting now that technology is changing. By assigning all the technology to the lower section of the car the top part is free to change shape and configuration at a lower cost than redesigning and re-tooling a whole new car; his concept is natural to Magna Steyr as they are specialists in engineering and vehicle assembly.

Aesthetically the MILA Alpin takes it cues from rocky snow capped mountain tops, the very terrain its meant to conquer. Inspired from ice, top, and rock, bottom, with details such as wind sculpted accents on the sides and an ice cube captured in an air-bubble as head lamps, the MILA Aplin is cool and collected. Even if you are wrapped up to your nose in extreme weather gear you just have to nudge the side of the doors to gain access. It is not complicated or pretentious, in fact it’s toy-like quality gives it an extra likability factor. While it will not win any awards for best in show is does pack a list of nice ideas that further nourished would perhaps make for a very sellable product, even in the urban context.

Toyota IQ

Green Tech Specs: In production later in 2008 will have the choice of one of two petrol or one diesel engines - along with the compact design, low weight, and aerodynamic shape will create outstanding fuel economy and low CO2 emissions, starting around 100g/km. Euro V NCAP certified.

At the unveiling of Toyota’s IQ show car there was a pause, no car? Is that the solution for today’s environmental paradox? Then the floor opened up and out came the C- segment production version of Toyota’s IQ concept. With a passenger capacity of 3+1, 3 adults and one child or luggage combination, the interior space is100mm roomier than the Yaris due to six engineering innovations: differential, flat under-floor tank, smaller heating/ac unit, asymmetrical dashboard, centre take-off steering gear, and slim seat design. And it is this very refined smallness that makes the IQ an ‘i’nnovative and ‘q’uality driven product that is a practical environmentally conscious solution.

The IQ is quintessentially Japanese, and this is because Toyota set themselves a very clear vision with respect to its design with J-Factor influences at its core.J-Factor is the Japanese factor, their ability to make design sense out of apparently opposing factors such as ‘small yet spacious’, ‘high-tech yet human’ and ‘emotional yet functional’. IQ’s new found identity is a far cry from is conceptual partner, its bold with a determined stance, its chic and tough inside, its resolved in its surface treatment, and most of all…its not too cute!

The interior is smart and un-compromising in its use of materials and spaces saving designs. The use of Toyota’s ‘techno-organic’ design means that although the interior is technically contemporary it feels natural because the shapes have their origins in nature, like the manta ray styled handles on the door or rich chocolate-plum colour scheme.

Morgan LIFECar

Green Tech Specs: Hydrogen-Fuel Cell 150 mpg on petrol with a top speed potential of 80-85 mph, a 0-62 time of under 7 seconds and a 250 mile range.

Morgan’s LIFE, Lightweight Fuel Efficient, concept car was like a page out of ‘Back to the Future’. With ultra-capacitors that allow almost 50% of stored energy to be re-used, an ultra minimalist interior, and exterior styling that is a cross between the Batmobile and Dick Tracy’s car you have to pinch yourself to know its real, a real concept that is. Mathew Humphries in charge of exterior design has managed to melt the Morgan DNA with a super modern design vocabulary that carries the eye around and over the cars sections, fenders, roof, rear, and front so smoothly that its hard to take your eyes off. Nowhere near the complexity or quality of any other concept cars the LIFE shines only because of its purity, and over simplicity.

The company’s commitment to designing an eco efficient car was reflected on the inside as well. Using the lightest materials available, with the vehicle’s entire body made from aluminum at 650 kg, interior paneling in wood and seats from naturally tanned leather the car is very ‘environmentally sensitive’. A nice reality reminder that ‘eco is in the details’ are LIFE’s Continental ContiEcoContact EP CO2 emissions reducing tyres!

The project, however, was not a simple one. As members of the Morgan Motor Company’s LIFECar consortium formed by Hugo Spowers of RiverSimple LLP, Cranfield University developed the Vehicle System Controller (VSC), Linde provided the hydrogen know-how, Oxford University responsible for the design and control of the electric motors, and QinetiQ the 4 stack hydrogen PEM fuel cell. The only emission from the QinetiQ fuel cell will be water vapour. This, however, goes to show that often it's the small companies that have the flexibility and ambition to seek real solutions for today’s ecological problems.

PGO Cévennes Turbo CNG

Green Tech Specs: 1.6-liter Turbo-CNG engine, 450 km on a single tank, CO2 emissions 118 g/km.

A bit of a local hero was the PGO Cévennes Turbo-CNG concept roadster. Reflecting the increasing number of natural gas-powered vehicles in Switzerland (numbers rose by 2,500 to 5,800 in the last year) the stand was very green and was trying to appeal to young individuals and families, as well as the sporty driver with this green and white little roadster with yet another James Bond theme ‘Licence to drive’. As a major sponsor of the Geneva Motor Show Erdgas is the biggest distributor of mobil natural gas in Switzerland partnered with PGO to bring this zippy eco car to the stand.

PGO is said to turn its back on mass production, which allows them to create quality driven vehicles combining ‘neo-retro’ style with modernity. This is true, the car is a little green gem, it looks sensual and just fast enough to make racing around Switzerland’s windy Alpine roads feel like you are in a Bond movie. The fact that's its totally green with relatively low emissions but more importantly no particles or soot being released into the atmosphere and can do 0-100km/h in just 6.5 seconds the PGO Cévennes is the perfect guilt-free weekend roadster.

The interior was perfectly retro and the quality of the finish just made one want to jump in and cheekily drive away!

Pinifarina Sintesi

Green Tech Specs: Nuvera fuel cell technology.

Pininfarina’s Sintesi concept, which means synthesis, is exactly that a fusion of many technologies and design ideas into one harmonious product. With the support of Nuvera’s fuel cell system the designers were allowed to push elements around the vehicles to create the space they wanted for the passengers; Pininfarina calls this ‘Liquid’ Packaging. An innovative approach that doesn’t consider the car as a shape that covers the mechanicals but as a form that gives shape to its mechanics. This not only allows for better and more people oriented design solutions but also helps make the car more efficient with lower drag and better aerodynamics.

The smart technology developed by Pi Shurlok gives intelligence to the car in cases of an emergency. The potential of this ‘Transparent Mobility’, however, is more interesting. It suggests that a future without traffic lights or road signals will be redundant and that the cars themselves will navigate and have signaling integrated on board.

Freedom has its rewards. As the designers had an open package thanks to green technology they sculpted a truly unique and fresh form true to Pininfarina’s sense of style. The front grill is wide and aggressive almost like a shark to let in enough air to cool the fuel cells, while the body plays with negative and positive shapes that complement each other sinuously. Likewise, the interior has a very open feel with a simple colour scheme of white on black and the seats wrap around inwards as if to ‘hold on’ to the center console. The dashboard made up of a luminous honeycomb structure feels ethereal and speaks to the very technical and dreamlike nature of the rest of the car. Yet again, the Sintesi seems to be more than a car, its seems to be alive.

Renault Mégane Coupé

Green Tech Specs: 2.0 Turbo petrol yet it returns economical fuel consumption of just 6.5 litres/100km CO2 emissions of 154g/km).

Mégane Coupé Concept show car foreshadows a compact production coupe to be released at a later date following an evolution in visual language towards more fluid, sportier styling from Renault. Character and dynamism are the two traits that Renault wishes to epitomize with the show car's distinctive and unprecedented door-opening kinematics, while the strong sensual section of the car pulls the viewers eye straight back to the voluptuous rear end. The mesmerizing Dragon Grey body-colour with hints and accents of black and red are reversed on the interior where the almost Japanese-like lacquered dashboard pops out visually against black nubuck bedding and inserts.

"This show car emphatically showcases the evolution at Renault Design. Its squatter proportions and powerful, energetic styling talk directly to the driver's senses; they say 'driving pleasure'. The spectacular, unprecedented door-opening kinematics add that little touch of magic which contributes to the dream factor associated with the automobile," explains Renault's Patrick Le Quément, Senior Vice President, Corporate Design.

As with several other concepts at the shows the Mégane Coupé Concept is locked and unlocked using a Samsung F700 mobile phone, which serves as a hands-free card and connects to the centre console. Both rear passengers benefit from a portable Samsung P2 audio/video multimedia player with touch screen, which they can use to swap files using the mp3/video Bluetooth controls.

Land Rover LRX Black

Green Tech Specs: Hybrid 2-litre turbo diesel with bio-diesel facility which could offer fuel consumption of around 60mpg/UK gallon - 49.9mpg/US gallon - 4.70l/100km. Potentially reduces emissions to approx 120g/km. At low speed LRX runs on electric power alone which is recharged by a regenerative braking energy system.

“Clean and lean, LRX is a car for the conscience” is how Land Rover marketed their LRX Hybrid Concept which made its European debut at Geneva this year in ‘White and World Premiere in ‘Black’; in fact they look like they have stepped off a Hollywood movie set, one from Casablanca and the other from Casino Royale. Despite their elegance and super taught stance both cars are sexy in a very subdued way, shedding the utilitarian luxury standard that typifies LR designs. The LRX Black uses ‘intelligence’ to give the user more design flexibility and personalization inside and out. The Electric Rear Axle Drive (ERAD) saves mechanical and electrical energy which can power the SUV on its own up to 20 mph. At low speed, such as cruising around town, it runs on electric power alone which is recharged by a regenerative braking energy system.

Although the Black version didn’t have an interior to speak of it will most likely follow cues from the White version but in tan and dark chocolate tones while boasting an environmentally innovative interior with chromium-free vegetable tanned leather, recyclable aluminium, carpeting from sustainable sources and a fine suede-like material, made of 100% recycled plastic bottles and fibres. The overall weight issue is addressed by using design as a material reducer with the use of an open ‘spider’ frame and polycarbonate side windows and roof which is 40% lighter than glass. And for the first time ever for LR the LRX features an Eco-mode which configures car’s system to optimise fuel economy.

Rinspeed sQuba

Green Tech Specs: Rechargeable Lithium-Ion batteries. 3 electric motors, one for land, and two for underwater, plus 2 Seabob jet drives. Zero emissions.

Yet another take on a movie, this time intentional, the sQuba concept car from Rinspeed debuted this week at Geneva in honour of the James Bond flick The Spy Who Loved Me movie from 1977. Taking a not so ordinary Lotus Elise and morphing it into the world’s first real submersible car, all that was missing was a huge water tank so viewers could see the car in action, we are left to imagine what such a fantastically fun, if pointless, trip it must be to ‘fly’ underwater. The video playing in the background is of a maiden voyage made at a safe level of 10 meters. The open plan of the car allows the car to sink and resurface quicker than if it were covered (which would also make it much heavier underwater).

Eventhough this concept was more of a technological feat than a design enterprise Mr. Rinderknecht is not one to shy away from ‘taking it all the way’. There is not one detail left un-resolved on the sQuba. From the aquatic themed interior design with yellow snapper designs and foil fabrics resembling scales to the biodegradable Motorex lubricants the mighty amphibious vehicle is set to develop a cult following and will no doubt appear again.  Q would be proud!