March 11 2011
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The Geneva Motor Show, 2011 – The Journey Continues…

Instead of commenting on what’s new and interesting, I prefer to simply download a few observations and thoughts that occurred whilst in Geneva this year.

The Geneva show is typically where most of the Car Design Community agree to catch up and get a snapshot of where the world’s automakers are at this point in time. Talking with attendees at the Car Designer’s Night at La Sip, it’s evident that they are all too aware of the issues still facing their industry.

Frustrated by the lack of  progress  in weaning the planet off petrol, they are also anguished by their own petrol-fuelled desire to fulfil that childhood dream that brought them to work in this fascinating area of activity, and yet they are compelled to do the right thing and design for ‘the rest of us’.

The conversations were serious, and beyond car styling.  One subject discussed was that of mass migration: people will  continue  to move from the countryside to cities – 50% of the world’s population live in cities – this will be 60-70% sooner than we can imagine. Worldwide population zones will experience further social, economic and ecological differences. Most of the people I spoke with recognise the need to create multi-modal systems that not only deal with demographic, social and economic needs, but also the emotional needs, wants and dreams of individuals. All whilst keeping the impact on the environment to a minimum.

So cars are part of a space problem: we don’t have enough of it and the space we want / have to be in, is more often than not where we are now. Our frustrations are compounded by the fact that cars are parked for 90% of the time: in car parks, at the side of the road, in garages…in traffic jams. And so they will remain: part of the problem, part of the solution. We agreed that motorways are mono-functional things that look very 20th Century when compared to the internet and the smart-grid. When telematics systems eventually take control of the journey, ‘time spent in traffic’ will become merely an extension of work or leisure time rather than an interruption. Designing cars is no more difficult than any other activity (awaits buckets of angry comment) but it is none-the-less very hard work to create simple and different but relevant solutions to transport issues.

Cars need to develop beyond the physical: when they get truly blended with the ethereal things will get interesting. (See  BMW’s Vision ConnectedDrive concept).

Being there at the right time is important to us all – most people would say they don’t care how they do this – “Just get me from A to B!”. Deep down we know that the car alone can’t solve all transport problems: the future will continue to be multi-modal – a mixture of bikes, mass transit, footwork, scooters, Webex, Face-time…dependent on what day it is and where we want to go. Interesting: the car becomes another way to  connect , not a mode of transport but a form of connectivity.

Consumers will eventually think about cars differently but they do need help. We can never truly control them, nor release ourselves of the hold they have on us. Is it because, as Stephen Bayley suggests, that cars are too much like humans? Huffing, puffing, complicated and temperamental? Or are they like the horses that we domesticated so long ago: mysterious creatures that we long to befriend, tame and understand?

One thing is sure, I sensed that at this year’s Geneva show there was more variety than in recent years, due no doubt to the tough times we’re living through inspiring some risk-taking. Choice is good, so more choice is better isn’t it? But research shows that if we’re not suffering from option paralysis then we’re more likely dissatisfied with the choices that we have actually made. The vehicles with the legible, recognisable surfaces, details and ‘faces’ will always be easy to understand and will grab our attention. But looks are one thing: it is narrative that makes the difference and that really turns our heads. Humans like to listen to stories and take on different personas to escape the everyday – it is the car companies that lift us out of ourselves that we’ll allow to escort us on the rest of the journey. As with most things ‘letting go of the wheel’ is key to moving on. Perfecting the future is an iterative process, and creating visions of Utopia often lead us to places we never expected. If only the journey wasn’t as interesting as the destination…

For some of the best concepts and cars check out our article   Geneva Motor Show, March 2011 – Things we saw…

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Posted by PDD

Languages spoken: Global.
The last thing that inspired me: Design and Innovation.
My dream project: A project that makes a difference in the world.
My obsession: Develop successful, award-winning and world-first products and experiences.