The 81st Geneva Motor Show 2011

The Geneva Motor Show 2011 was back on top this year with over 40 alternative powered car premieres and two press days full of journalists and aficionados alike.  It was uplifting to see that the economy has loosened its chokehold on the industry and this meant free reigns for creativity and design.  Also in the limelight was ecology; the Green Pavilion has grown in importance as has the number of electric vehicle testing available at the Palexpo grounds.  Inside the main halls the big automakers were committed to forging ahead with alternative fuel R&D, the flavour of the year being electric fuel.  Opel displayed its production Ampera available to customers at the end of this year, next to its ENV concept two seater Segway pod developed for last year's Shanghai Expo.  As always Geneva is neutral ground and gives a voice to small and large on a level ground.  This year's welcomed surprise was Mia Electric with their Micro.Bus redesign and launch of 3 production version of the Heuliez 'Friendly' first seen at the Paris Auto Show 2008.  Renault was probably the most visited stand with stages 2, Captur, and 3, R-Space, concept cars in a series of 7 inspired by the cycle of life, while BMW premiered its Vision ConnectedDrive, the embodiment of the future of connectivity, to much acclaim.  Below a selection of concepts  Below a selection of concepts from the show; 2011 promises to be a year full of promises, we will see if they can be delivered. 

Nissan Esflow

Nissan says : a pure EV sports car concept, 0-100km/h in under 5 seconds and over 240 kms on one charge.

It is no secret in the business that Nissan-Renault are fighting hard and dedicating all their efforts into the electric vehicle market.  It makes sense, both representative country markets have good facilities for supplying electricity in an efficient way.  So far however, Nissan, has come up with typically small urban electric cars that have a very feminine feel to them, perhaps appealing to women and their nurturing desire to save the planet.  The ESFLOW speaks a whole new language for Nissan electric design, it says “that owning an ecologically sound car does not have to come at the expense of driving enjoyment”.  Knowledge is freedom, and clearly the knowledge they have derived from building the Nissan Leaf and their reknown love for performance cars has given them the freedom to create ESFLOW.  It drives on two motors integrated into the two rear wheels independently controlling the left and right wheels to optimise torque to achieve 0-100kph in under 5 seconds.  The exterior design was difficult to truly appreciate, mainly due to the mercurial paint finish and perhaps unconventional stance, drawing mixed reviews at show.  Hints of the Z were here and there, as were mixed functions with secret charging points built in to the air ducts.  Creativity was at its best in the interior where the understanding that ecology does not mean economy in terms of luxury was clear cut.  The seats are sculpted into the rear bulkhead of the car disposing with the need for steel frames that add weight to the seats and the fly-by-wire steering adjusts to the driver instead.  There were cool details such as the indicator stalk and controls in the centre console that along with subtle blue and gold colour and trim was remarkably savvy and future chic!

VW Bulli

VW says : a six-seater, 3+3 configuration, gives maximum flexibility, powered by lithium-ion 85 kW electric motor with a theoretical range of up to 300km on one charge.

Speaking to Flaus Bischoff, Head of Volkswagen Design, at the show we learned that the Bulli is not just the latest evolution of the iconic Microbus but was designed around a new concept of mobility.  “The Microbus was about a certain lifestyle, freedom to travel with friends and family, and also communicate inside the car”.  Radically there is no centre console, all infotainment is controlled via a removable iPad, and the gear lever has been replaced by a rotary switch which also turns the motor on and off.  The origninal flat floor concept fits nicely to new battery technology and this is where the lithium-ion batteries are sandwiched in; Bischoff is quick to point out that the technology is still expensive and options such as highly efficient petrol or diesel alternatives are better solutions at the moment so that price is in line with its young buyers.  But it wasn’t all this technical stuff that really is appealing, it was the simplicity of the design gesture and architecture of the car that is so innovative.  The friendly driving position, the bench seats that place you next to your friends, the open air feel of the cabin that encourages conversation; in a time where technology has taken over our communication skills it might be nice just to chill for a few hours on a road trip and perhaps check with the iPad to find some choice waves!

Mini Rocketman

MINI says :  A new study car which boasts a unique and agile concept, a 3+1 seater with 3 doors and exterior length of 3.3 metres and fuel consumption at 3 litres per 100 km.

We like that the Mini Rocketman was introduced as a study car, it suggests that there are lessons to be learned from this concept, not just design flexing.  The Mini has always been predisposed to being a green car with its restrained dimensions and lightweight frame, but its design evolutions in the forms of the Clubman, that looks a little swollen, and the Countryman, effectively an extended hatch version, did not maximise the original's minimalism.  The Rocketman does this very magic trick with an entire personality of its own.  While keeping within MINI DNA the Rocketman reaches new heights of design within a small space.  It may sound strange, but just when we thought that no more agility or flexibility could be found inside the MINI, the design team have found it!  On average people drive alone in the urban context so the 3+1 seater solution allows for extra cargo room for those everyday errands that send us frenetically around town while lightweight seating permits changing scenarios.  Its also sub-compact on the outside, at just over 3 metres, it is full of life and character with big round signature headlights and a large grill that could eat up the road.  The muscular fenders leave no room for surface treatment between themselves and the wraparound greenhouse and yet it is this feature that enhances and tightens the lines that define the car’s stance; simple, sincere, and new.  Like many contemporaries the Rocketman seeks to lighten its load to achieve efficiency and in doing so uses a carbon spaceframe that cocoons the glasshouse and runs in and out of the car.  Sandwiched between surfaces around the windscreen, the door sills, and the armrest area is a specially folded paper that adds rigidity and air pockets in addition to playing a supporting role to the light show featuring the Union Jack on the roof.  Not to be left behind gadgetwise you can remove the Centre Speedo to use as a computer at home and upload info and entertainment for the next trip ahead.  MINI welcomes the future!

Renault Captur

Renault says : Captur makes use of the Energy dCi 160 Concept twin-turbo engine with less than 99g/CO2 emissions and a top speed of 131 mph.

Captur is the second in a series of concept cars put out by Renault to explore the different stages of the human life cycle, the first being the DeZir shown at the Frankfurt Motor Show last year.  The Captur captures the phase of two people, already in love having met with DeZir, exploring the world around them tagged as “A Crossover That’s All Muscle in Motion”.   As in the DeZir lights beat around the outer body via LEDs on the matt-finished wings and running round to the back of the car.  Another example of the use of carbon fibre at the show is fitted in Captur’s hard top convertible roof that reveals an exotic interior created by a matrix of orange elastic ropes layered upon them to make individual seat volumes as well as a mono fan seat in the rear.  Mimicking the rays of light that ignite curiosity and emotions on the exterior the elastic ropes move the eye around the interior and build up behind the centre console and dashboard frosted skins.  Although the initial feeling is overwhelming once the brain has connected all the areas the individual chaos of so much rope settles and forms volumes that are vibrant and intriguing.  The Captur was also a showcase of technology for Renault’s new Energy dCi 160 twin-turbo engine with a dual clutch EDC gearbox coming it at less than 99g/km CO2 emissions.  As in every relationship the Captur is a more mature but no less intense evolution of the DeZir, it leaves the innocence and naivety of the love phase to embark on a much more intense exploration of all the senses.

Renault R-Space

Renault says : R-Space makes use of Renault’s new Energy TCe Concept turbocharged three-cylinder engine with less than 95g/km CO2 emissions and a top speed of 200 kph.

The third in the cycle of life series the Renault design team has set out for themselves is the R-Space concept car and it represents the “Family” stage.  This approach is interesting because it gives meaning to Renault’s fleet and brand loyalty as it looks not only at the meaning of life but more at the meaning of the car in our lives.  As the petals of the symbolic circle of life, featured on each concept car on the rear pillar, get filled in what started off as perhaps a bit of a fairy tale is taking on a more profound meaning.  Renault is more about our life in its entirety, not just one decision in a long span of time that is our lifetime.  And it's the R-Space that seals that tipping point for the series.  The exterior is typically Renault with soft interlocking shapes, the large floating logo of the new face language, big friendly headlights, and an panoramic roof with graphic details that play with the natural light.  The design is, despite the origins of its designers, very French as well.  The interior is a mix and match of poetic symbolism and whimsical utility; the front space is still dedicated to the couple, a little more mature and refined with lounge chairs and simple colours while the back is the children’s play area with colourful blocks that move and shape themselves around the passengers.  The eco responsibility is not lost on the passengers as the grownups can monitor their driving efficiency while the kids can play eco games in the back on the infotainment system.  The colours is what mostly makes the formal distinction work, inspired by the Sunday breakfast “(t)he tenderness and warmth of these shared moments find their expression in tones that are hot and sweet: the white of the milk, the golden shades of the honey, the brown of the chocolate,” explained Laurence Widmer, Head of Colours and Materials on the concept.  We will be looking forward to number 4! 

BMW Vision ConnectedDrive

BMW says : the BMW Vision ConnectedDrive concept car presents the automobile as a fully integrated part of the networked world in both design and technological innovations.

The BMW Vision ConnectedDrive concept car is obviously more than just a car, it is BMW’s vision of the future; a future where the car and your car company connects you to the ever more integrated digital world that is coming about from the phenomenon du jour, the simplest of gadgets, the smartphone.  In fact it is your smartphone that gets this concept car going.  Once you are connected the car comes alive, packed full of features hidden within touch technology and light installations making the car is more of a moving computer, or dare we say a robot, than what we know to be our cars of today.  Much like the Vision concept that debuted at the Frankfurt Motor Show the design in based on layers, and the space between those layers.  In this rendition the layers have taken on another role, or rather 3 roles – comfort (green light), infotainment (blue light), and safety (red-orange light).  Comfort, defined by the green flow of light, relates the driver and the car to the world around it by flowing around the wing mirrors and the sides of the vehicle and providing a data link to the environment around you.  With this function the driver can get up-to-the-second directions, efficiency readings, and the car can park itself.  Infotainment, defined by the blue flow of light, extends to the passenger side allowing for social connectivity and sharing of information downloaded and passed to driver by simple touch slide on the dashboard.  Lastly Safety, defined by the red-orange flow of light, wraps around the driver and comes together in a cone on the bonnet.  There are many safety features connected to this system all aided visually with augmented reality.   Then there is the styling of the car itself that seems to be secondary but elegant nonetheless yet begs the…does it need to look like a car?  I think the answer is, “why not!”.

Infiniti Etherea

Infiniti says: ETHEREA encapsulates everything that Infiniti stands for including a no-compromise hybrid power in 4.4m long car.

“ETHEREA is completely different from current luxury compact cars,” says Senior Vice President of Design, Shiro Nakamura, “that is appropriate for a new generation of drivers who think themselves as different…ETHEREA is highly significant and a breakthrough in what Infiniti thinks about itself.”  Since its inception Infiniti has always struggled to create an identity of its own, Nakamura himself even struggled in perhaps visualising that identity.  Caught between being simply the luxury end of Nissan in the US to compete with Acura and Lexus it now seeks to establish roots in Europe.  The ETHEREA is in fact a breakthrough, not just in the press release but also in the flesh.  You need to observe it, travel around it's complex positive and negative contours to come to the realisation that something new is happening here.  It feels as if Japanese design has found its point of maturity on parallel with the daunting legacy that always cast a shadow from the great European automakers.  ETHEREA is not shy about its Japanese flow of form with very expressive eyes akin to Japanese Opera face-paint, nor does it hide behind such a mask.  Unconventional it is, yet at the same time very calculated and balanced; as the headlights look straight on the eyebrow line sweeps back into a beautifully crafted ripple that is the shoulder line of the car.  The rear pillars feel as if they have been painted on in one concerted brushstroke finishing in a whisp of a tail.  Equally Japanese is the design of the interior with the use of smooth stone shapes for the seats in light colours trimmed with Kumihimo, kimono-inspired piping, contrasted by the vertical strips on the inside of the doors called Inuyarai.  The tachometer radiates outward as do the ripples that emanate from a drop in the water or the contours of a Japanese garden.  Nothing is left to chance.  This compact luxury car aimed as an exploration of a future entry-level Infiniti production model redefines what a traditional coupé might look like as imagined by a new generation that has come of age and purchasing power and most definitely does not want to drive their parents’ old Mercedes! 

Sbarro Two for 100

Sbarro says: 3.5m long, 500kg aerodynamic vehicle that consumes 2 litres of petrol per 100km!

The Two for 100 gets its name from its consumption of allegedly 2 litres of fuel per 100km travelled.  It is Franco Sbarro’s first attempt at an ecological car; he is in fact renown for his gas guzzling fancily designed sports cars.  Speaking with him at the show he played down the fact that it looked so futuristic, he just said that he did it because people said he couldn’t…often something different can come from this kind of challenge.  He doesn’t believe in electric cars, he leaves that up to the big car manufacturers, instead he designed the Two for 100 to be as aerodynamically perfect and as light as he could possible manage from parts that already exist; the less is more principal.  The design is a mix between the Jetsons and American hotrods tackled with a very child-like approach.  The latch of the cupola cabin is manual reminiscent of convertibles from the 50’s, while the faired-in wheels almost completely hide the whole tyre adding to the feeling that the car could fly, or at least hover.  The negative sweep at the rear accentuates that feeling of lift and lightness as the body floats between the four wheels with exposed suspensions.  The exo-rollbar holds all the pieces together, and while it works structurally it is perhaps the least harmonious form in the overall design.  At an estimated 18,000 euros retail Sbarro sees this cabrio coupe as a real solution to today’s problems as opposed to being “handicapped” by an electric car that will cost significantly more.  One of our favourites at the show!

Rinspeed Bamboo

Rinspeed says : four-seater with electric motor with 54kW power, top speed of 120 km/h and a range of 105 km.h.

Rinspeed never fails to entertain at the Geneva Show.  Like Sbarro he has attended the show more times than he cares to remember yet it is always his, Frank M. Rinderknecht, ambition to stimulate and provoke the status quo.  The Bamboo, a four-seater summer buggy, similar in spirit to the Moke from back in the day, aimed to brush away any anxiety about the economic state of affairs around the world, to lighten our concern about the environment by being electric, to bring back a little bit of lightheartedness to the automobile which has been long lost.  There is value in these aspirations yet the reality of the Bamboo fell short.  The idea was so strong, so powerful, and so poignant yet in reality the gimmick outsold the concept.  Although there were cool details such as the inflatable roof, the very fun portraits of him and her on the seat fabric, and the flower petal speakers by JBL the overall proportions of the car were neither retro nor buggy nor avantgarde…in short neither here nor there.  However, the ‘lifestyle’ built around the car accessorised by the suppliers that made the development of the Bamboo possible were more interesting individually than together.  Connectivity was a big part of the Bamboo with the Rizzi bird on the rollover bar changing colour to indicate green “I am single”, blue “I am in a party mood”, and orange “I need a break”.  The rear seats and roof are inflatable, can be removed and taken to the beach and instead of a grill there is a conversation panel supported by “Identiface” an intel product developed by Daimler MBtech.  The rhetoric behind the scenes, also known as the press release, talked a lot about pushing boundaries, not caring about what other people think, and literally that “this car irritates”.  It is a very strange way of communicating a product that is meant to be about joy and pleasure, instead the Bamboo was unfortunately common.  We were expecting so much more.

Mia Electric

Mia Electric says: the Micro.Bus comes in 3 versions, mia L (large), mia, mia box van, all with a standard 8Kw batteries with a range from 80 to 90 km that can be charged in 3 hours.

It was a pleasant surprise to see the mindset crew headed by Murat Günak, formerly of Volkswagen, and David Wilkie, formerly of Bertone, back on the stand at Geneva.  After many lessons learnt about developing the mindset prototype they have come to the realisation that it is better to build this kind of business from the bottom up not the top, being the luxury segment, down.  Speaking with Günak at the show it was evident that the electric revolution is close to his heart, ask him why the company and concept cars are named Mia and he will tell you, “it’s my daughter’s name and it means ‘mine’ in Spanish…we don’t want to be a technocratic brand, we want to create a human product”.  The project could not be more efficient.  Instead of creating an entirely new car and factory they bought a Heuliez concept which made its debut in 2008 at the Paris Auto Show, it was called the 'Friendly'.  Due to economic reasons the factory was going to close as Heuliez was bankrupt at which point mia electric took over 70% of its partnership with the original partners the French region Poitou-Charentes.  With re-branding in place it was a matter of changing the style of the 3 versions developed under the new design team and making them more urban chic than the original ‘Friendly’.  Cool details such as faux carbon-fibre finish can be done because the external body is all made out of plastic, an iPad module can be easily added to the interior, and there is no need to make changes for left-hand or right-hand drive due to the central driving position.  The flat floor allows for multiple and easy configurations from a van style layout to a family style layout with driver and three passengers directly behind.  The dash is also ubiquitously modular and simple allowing for a variety of customisation options…this could be a cultural phenomenon of its own.  The cutout in the roof and floor as you enter the vehicle accentuated its tiny footprint and efficient use of space definitely earning itself the name Micro.Bus.  VW never got their design as punchy, petite and practical as this!

Heuliez Friendly