IAA 2013 - Frankfurt Motorshow

The media has been overwhelmed with news regarding dropping car sales all over Europe, yet this reality was not at all the reality on show at this year’s Frankfurt Motorshow 2013. There was an inordinate number of concept cars launched with the German brands aiming to impress with exclusively, and sometimes stragely (AUDI!), exhibition stands and marketing campaigns onhome turf.  According to Dieter Futschik, Director of Exterior Design at Daimler AG, one of the trends of the show was 'responsibility and pleasure', which was highlighted by the huge amount of compact and micro cars debuted with low emissions - a response by manufacturers to meet the European Union's fleet average emissions standards.  BMW pulled off a veritable hat trick by pushing their i-brand as a non-guilty pleasure and presented its life changing products en force with an armada of BMW i3s in various colour and trim options.  Driving around an indoor infitinity slot car track in the zen-like pavilion and used as shuttles between the show halls their BMW i3s could be booked for test drives and were often seen parked in front of the Audi hall...raising some eyebrows.

Presenting their E-Up! and E-Bettle was Volkgswagen (again with a vast space that was difficult to enjoy let alone read the cars), whilst Kia promised to launch an E-version of the new Kia Soul in 2014.  Another big trend was premium, it appears that traditional volume and mass brands like Ford and Opel now seem to want to push their brand’s image and looks towards a more premium appeal while still trying to be affordable.  Ford launched a top of the line Vignale Mondeo in new nocciola colour whilst Opel launched the 2nd, face lifted generation of the Insignia which is far removed from its bread and butter Vectra of old days.  This is probably due to the fact that Western manufacturers seem to foresee an invasion of the entry level car market by the rising amount of Chinese manufacturers in the near future so raising the image and desireability of their brand is a wise move to raise the image and desirability of their brand to stay competitive.  In terms of design and form, the trend seems to go towards even bigger and defined grills and branded grills combined with small headlights and rear light elements which often appear as a horizontal or even vertical strip.  This might be due to advancements in LED light technology to make light clusters even smaller but it is also used as a stylistic element to make a car appear visually wider.

Volvo Concept Coupe

The Volvo Concept Coupe is the first all-new concept car launched under the supervision of Thomas Ingenlath, Vice President of Design at Volvo Cars, who can look back at a long successful career at the Volkswagen group.  The Concept Coupe is the very personification of Skandinavian calmness.  Presented on a very relaxing and interior design driven show stand it donned a very subtle yet enigmatic blue.  The overall design features big gentle surfaces with a few sharp, very well defined and placed lines.  The design language is much more angular and edgy compared to the current, much softer design language which appeared on Volvos before the 2013 facelift. 

The very dominant, angular, almost muscle car grille pops out with concave elements that in combination with the sharp horizontal headlights give the face a very strong masculine expression. When you first look at the car, you realise that the top of the shoulder line accelerates down rapidly at a certain point at the rear of the car after the rear wheel arch creating an angled edge in perspective.  If you look at this detail and the shoulder line in general, you realise that there is a reason why Volvo has a lovely creme white P1800 on show just above the conept as it features similar design cues especially when it comes to the shoulder line.  Its reduced styling allows these elegant elements to really stand out together against the double cut wheel arches and the door handle which is used as a design element to continue the dynamism of the shoulder line.

The interior of the Coupe works on a very similar level, it has a lot of lovely little details like a little swedish flag sewed into the grey leather of the dashboard, or golden buckles around the seat shoulders and you can tell that every little switch is desigened down to the very last detail.  The brushed aluminium works very well with the grey leather and gives the cabin a slight 1960s retro feel but manages to combine it with modern elements very well to achieve something of a retro-futuristic, yet comfortbale appearance in which everything seems to be in the right place.  In general it can be said that the Concept Coupe is wearing a sharp Skandinavian suit, perhpas like Ingenlath's, which has been tailored to its wearer in a very sophisticated and personal way.  The car is a big statement by the brand that it aims to return to its original strength, and glory, by quietting its 'safety' message andhighlighting its 'design' language.  It is not overly sharp like an Audi but extremely but it is extremely controlled and balanced without any crude aggression or forced dynamism, it seems that Ingenlath and his team have added German precision to Swedish swagger and made a Volvo car just as it should be.

Kia Niro Concept

The Kia Niro Concept is exploring the possibility of a B-segment car, which follows up on the earlier Provoke Concept Coupe but this time not as a pure driving machine with a racing attitude but more as a sporty concept which fits in for daily use.  On show as a pure 2-seater, the Niro can also be equipped with optional rear seats but the general idea is a fun vehicle for a young generation of drivers that just throw their outdoor sports gear in the back and go for a spin in the Niro. 

The exterior design appears very robust and simplistic with really big, muscular arches giving the Niro a very capable appearance.  The wheel design in anodised aluminium merges visually with the tyres to give the vehicle a very robust stance.  One dominant exterior feature is the brushed aluminium roof with a strong C-pillar but a very thin A-pillar which then runs down around the side windows to be connected again with the C-pillar to form one enclosed shape.  The next dominant feature is an underlying carbon tub which sticks out of the lower body shape to form the front and rear bumpers and the side skirts.  We spoke to the Niro’s interior designer Leslie Lau who explained that the Niro was designed 'in Frankfurt for Frankfurt' in Kia’s design centre just around the corner from the show site.  Leslie’s aim was to continue Kia’s simplistic design language with a very reduced, driver orientated interior design. 

Even though the interior is definitely aimed at the driver, the driver and passenger are visually connected through the silver seat material which wraps around the transmission tunnel to make both seats appear as one single unit.  Although the design appears simplistic, there is a lot detail work inside the interior and also on the exterior making the Niro really stand out from the pack of concept cars on show.  Wondering what those poles are doing on the interior? They accomodate the vehicle’s controls - the pole next to the driver features the gears and engine start button, the driver just shifts by twisting the pole.  If the controls are not needed they can be hidden with a cover, similar to a breech lock.  This Niro has a very refreshing attitude - Kia has surprised again with a compact and funky concept which will hopefully be the footprint of something that will go into production soon!

Cadillac Elmiraj Concept

The Cadillac Emiraj was one of the unexpected surprises of the Frankfurt Motorshow.  Cadillac has been struggling for a long time to regain its old strength dating back from 1970s and 1980s when it was one of the most relevant luxury brands on the market.  The Elmiraj now seems to pick up the pace which was lost so many years ago.  Presented as a 2+2 Coupe with a length of 5.2m it makes an immediate impression on the viewer. At first sight the car looks like a design sketch – massive wheels, huge grill, small lights, very low and dynamic roof line plus very sharp lines.  However, the designers managed to make the concept not look comical, it looks mature, a quiet achievement as the design elements work well together and form a very convincing overall image. 

The Elmiraj obviously has a retro charme to it, reminiscent of that 1960s and 1970s Cadilliac design language and its strong angular design with very defined creases is probably the definition of what a Cadillac should look like.  Even though the dimensions of the Elmiraj are massive, the designers managed to make it appear quite light for a vehicle of this size - a trend that echoed throughout the show.  This was mostly achieved through the removal of a lot of visual weight on the side surfaces that taper rapidly into the lower body, exposing some tyre tread of the rear wheels.  This is also helped by the lowering of the shoulder line and the rising ground line which make the side surface appear much more atheletic and less heavy, an effect shared with the Opel Monza Concept

The interior really gives the concept a modern and futuristic touch.  Very traditional materials like brown leather and wood have been used in a confident way to give the interior a very nice form flow.  The angular form language continues in the interior where all significant control elements and dials are enveloped by brown leather while the controls are mostly covered in brushed alumium.  The seats are massively detailed with a spine theme which divides the back rests into individual elements.  Even the belt buckles are incorporated into the overall design and the long, stretched dashboard gives the interior a very roomy appearance.  Overall the Elmiraj manages to impress and leaves you with a strong message that Cadillac is fighting to return back to its old strength – hot on Lincoln's heals - lets hope that they will reinforce this intention with a production model soon.

Opel Monza Concept

The name Opel Monza dates back to 1970s when Opel released a big six-cylinder coupe that was intended to compete with the likes of Mercedes-Benz and BMW.  This year's Opel Monza Concept does not seem to relate to the original Monza in in terms of vehicle architecture or styling eventhough the intention might have been there.  The Monza concept is a luxurious 2 + 2 study with a very long wheel base and two massive 'magical' gullwings.  There is no B-pillar and the concept appears to be extremely low for a vehicle this size. 

The concept, however, is not new as this type of vehicle typology has been presented by Citroën and Renault before – so what is the point?  The overall design features very large surfaces which appear quiet soft but very controlled and don’t need many brake ups or overly sharp lines giving the vehicle a certain understated dignity.  The really big side surfaces have a lot visual tension that flow into the signature Opel blade signature near the front wheel to connect the front and rear aspects of the car.  Due to the simple but refined surfaces, defined lines like the famous crease line which runs around the hood and roof really stand out – the overall stance of the Monza concept is impressive.

The interior features a twist theme that plays a lot with wood and aluminium to create very interesting sculptures within the individual interior elements, a trend spotted in other concepts at the show as well.  Inside the traditional center console is absent and in its place a twisting transmission tunnel just seems to fold in on itself and viusally disappear underneath the dashboard adding to the lightness of design.  Because of this twist most lines seem to naturally flow towards and around the driver in a cosseting manner.  The interior is without a doubt the star of the Monza Concept as the clever use of wood and aluminium really give the interior an organic and contemporary look.  In general it seems that the Monza is reaching for a more premium level for Opel – albeit a year late in the game - the new, more simplistic design language with the use of big surfaces really works in combination with the very well considered interior.  The Monza will probably have no chance of ever being produced but the message it sends seems to be much more important. Like the original Monza it wants to raise the image of the brand to get away from the bread & butter stigma of recent years. The Monza definitely points Opel in the right direction.

Lexus LF-NX

As press pictures of the LF-NX have been released before the offical launch at the Frankfurt Motorshow there has been a lot of controversy and even uproar about the LF-NX in the media.  On first sight, the LF-NX appears vey confident, absolutely radical and even brutal.  Bizarrely, the compact proportions really seem to work on a package that seems to be similar to the Range Rover Evoque and Audi Q3.  The overall design is an evolution of the L-finesse design language with a VERY large, and almost comical, three-dimensional spindle grille and an extensive use of angular surfaces.

The rear view seems to be particularly successful as the rear light detail manages to combine the rear wheel arch and bonnet in a very extreme, yet brave way which helps giving the concept a very good stance by creating a triangular shape in the middle of the rear.  The triangular shape is used (too) intensively all over the body of the LF-NX which gives the concept a lot of forward dynamism.  However, such a radical and brutal design language has its flaws and from certain angles, the LF-NX really looks unbalanced and unnerving.  Visually, the rear wheel arch seems to be lower than the front wheel arch, which slows the overall flow of the design way down. 

Notably the plain triangular shape at the end of the sill line towards the rear wheel really adds to the stop of the overall flow as it looks stuck-on and not considered at all.  Another factor is the bonnet line which dramatically drops down at a certain point and again stops the overall dynamic essence of the LF-NX and creates some really odd corners in perspective - making it difficult to even photograph!

The interior looks much more balanced, although conventional when compared to the exterior, with a very strong center console which rests heavily like a block within the dashboard.  There is a very interesting mix of softness and sharpness within the interior reminiscent perhaps of transformers robotic yet human attributes.  Bold shapes give the interior a very tidy appearance and the mild orange leather really works in contrast to the extensive use of aluminium and grey leather.  Finally it can be said that the LF-NX is a very brave, unconventional, concept car with good proportions and some very intersting details and one must take into account that it was not launched in Tokyo but inside the heart of the German automotive industry to send a signal to its German rivals – well done Lexus.

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