Industrial Design Archaeology: New Edge to Kinetic Design

After “New Edge” came what exactly? And when? And why

2007 Ford Mondeo. Image: racem.org

For some considerable time I have been wondering about the legacy of Ford Europe’s design director, Chris Bird. What did he achieve and where is he now? First a short review of the received wisdom. Prior to taking up his position at Ford in 1999, Bird was at Audi (where he did the first A8) then renowned for its ice-cool design approach.

At the same time, Ford was enjoying considerable critical and commercial success with the design and engineering of its New Edge cars, the Focus and Ka*. The simple story is that Ford wanted to Continue reading “Industrial Design Archaeology: New Edge to Kinetic Design”

Internal Correspondence 3

2014 Biofore concept car interior: an important Geneva show car

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Dear Simon:

Nice to have you back. I met Eóin (briefly) at the Geneva show. He was very busy and I didn’t want to disturb him. For my part, it was a successful show and I really feel as if I’ve covered the most important vehicles plus the little black and white job above. Great to see Mr. Doyle mopping up the details. The Hotel des Bergues was even better than expected, (did you get the fax with the bill?) and the room service sublime.

I hope Eoin’s stay at the budget hotel was tolerable. I decided to Continue reading “Internal Correspondence 3”

Geneva 2014 – The View from the Sofa

2014_Geneva_Motor_Show_4Look, anyone and their dog can get on a plane and physically attend the Geneva Motor Show, but frankly that’s a little passé now. No, by far the more arduous, some might even say, daring approach is to stay at home, in pyjamas, eating toast and allowing someone else do all the legwork. Well that’s my justification anyway and no, you can’t have any more jam until you behave yourself.  Continue reading “Geneva 2014 – The View from the Sofa”

The Three Brothers – Part Deux

panhard24b2I’ve just spent a few days and 2,500 km driving around Eastern France. In that time, I saw two Citroën CXs, a Renault Dauphine, a Renault 12, a Simca 1100 and a Peugeot 504. And I also saw an Onze Legere Traction, but that was UK registered. Those staple cliches for the location director setting an episode of a popular UK TV series in France, the DS and the 2CV, were nowhere to be seen, save for a battered Snail sitting on the roof of a scrapyard. Of course a French person visiting the UK would notice the dearth of Morris Minors and Rover 2000s but, somehow, the homogeneity of the modern French industry is so much more depressing. Even a Peugeot 406 and a Renault 21 were almost cheering sights, being pretty Gallic compared with today’s eurocars.

Continue reading “The Three Brothers – Part Deux”

Something Rotten in […] Denmark: Lancia Delta

The Lancia Delta nameplate deserved better than this.

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The first Lancia Delta (1979 to 1994) was two things. It was an neatly uninteresting, Italdesign five door, front-drive car of little obvious merit. And later in life the same car was a high-performance sporting hatch. From 1993 to 1999 Lancia tried to cash in on the Lancia Delta name with this iteration, sold (if it sold at all) in three and five door guise. The second version was a badly considered blend of the predecessor so it had moderately sporting capability and almost, but not quite totally bland styling. Continue reading “Something Rotten in […] Denmark: Lancia Delta”

After the Great Leap Forward

Qoros are not selling on looks and they are not selling on price. What then?

2014 Qoros side view

The 2014 Geneva expo had among its new car launches the Qoros 3 hatch, a variant of the Qoros 3 saloon. Founded in 2007, Qoros’ first car was presented at Geneva last year. This time around they have chopped some length off the car to woo customers in a lower price range.

The company is a joint venture between Israel Corporation and Chery Automotive; for a while the firm was called Chery Quantum Automotive but a new product demanded a new name, hence the change. Whilst you may have heard of Chery, you might not Continue reading “After the Great Leap Forward”

Specifications May Vary

Like finding empty spaces in a tray of chocolates, but worse

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In a perfect world there would be no such thing as a switch blank. You’d have enough money to buy the car with every conceivable feature fitted. Or, if you wanted a simpler, lighter car, that version would have a console and switch panel designed for that exact level of trim. If there were four switches required for the four functions, there would not be a fifth and sixth hole stoppered with an unmarked plastic plug.

Ideally, the designers would arrange the buttons so that there was no evidence of anything being omitted. For the manufacturer this might mean designing and tooling a large number of variant parts. But in a perfect world, you wouldn’t mind paying that little bit extra. What we find in reality is that manufacturers need to make hard-headed decisions. On the one hand they want the possibility of fitting as large a number of functions as possible but also they want to have, on the other hand, the possibility of selling the car for the lowest price possible.

A circle must be squared. The resultant squircle is the existence of glaringly obvious non-functioning buttons and blanked-off switch holes around the dashboard. They say to the owner: you were too cheap to opt for the rear-view mirror demisting function. You did not have the wherewithal to afford the heated rear armrest or the electrically-actuated glove-box closing feature.

1997 Volvo 850 centre console1997 Volvo 850 centre console

The other puzzle is the existence of switch blanks on quite expensive motor cars. My research indicates that the highest ranging prestige brands from continental Europe are among the worst offenders. There are Porsche Panamera’s with switch blanks. Conceivably even Porsche can’t fit everything as standard despite their high prices but their customers are not so price insensitive to be able to pay for custom trim, designed for the number of buttons for that trim level and no more and no less.

Looking backwards, it was drawn to my attention that the rear doors of the Peugeot 604 had grommets where the manual window winders were to have been placed despite electric windows being standard on the car in W. Europe. You’d think the entirety of W. Europe was large enough a market to warrant  a grommet-less door card.

Anyone who has ever peered inside a Mercedes W124 will find a wealth of switch blanks, none of which quite fit the panel they sit on. Is this phenomenon still with us? It has been a while since I looked at an E-class interior. I must suppose that as more and more functionS migrate to touch-screen interfaces, the days of the switch blank are numbered.

1995 Tacoma 2
Deleted option: remote control for rear ashtray?

Goodbye X150! (2006-2014)

Why you will be missed… 

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  • Because you were a first glimmer of hope for any creditable Jaguar enthusiast after a great many, very dark years.
  • Because your crisp, Ian Callum style lines – albeit still fairly conservatively executed – were nothing short of a relief after years and years of doughy blobs.
  • Because you always were a decent drive.
  • Because you were the first Jaguar in ages that was more appealing than what the German competition had to offer.
  • Because a competent facelift kept you from appearing like some undignified pensioner (one lesson you learned from your grandfather, the E-type, who was kept on life support far too long).
  • Because you still are more appealing than any modern Mercedes SL.
  • Because your high performance derivatives served so well as testbeds for the F-type.
  • Because you hereby prove that you won’t outstay your welcome.
  • Because you were the car that gave me hope that all was not lost for Jaguar when I saw you for the first time in the aluminium, at the 2005 IAA.

XJ-S: Reconvening the Committee (Part 3)

The XJ-S marked a entirely fresh direction for Jaguar style. We examine its birthpangs.

XJ27 takes shape in Jaguar's Styling studio - image via ARonline/Jaguar Cars
XJ27 takes shape in Jaguar’s Styling studio circa 1970. Image: ARonline

Early in 1969, work on XJ27 began in earnest. Due to BLMC’s straitened finances, funding was limited to utilising a modified version of the existing XJ saloon substructure and hardware component set. Structurally and mechanically then, there would be few surprises. Stylistically however, Sayer had something far more radical in mind.  Continue reading “XJ-S: Reconvening the Committee (Part 3)”

Also Starring : Sideshows at the 2014 Geneva Salon

Some of the less well-known faces at Geneva 2014

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The Geneva motor show is usually the place for the major manufacturers to display their latest models and concept cars. I decided to see what was being presented by less well-known firms, some of which are tiny and new and some of which are massive but not much in the public eye. And there’s Giugiaro, now a wholly-owned subsidiary of VAG and, I would guess, eventually to share the same fate as Ghia, Ford’s one-time laboratory for innovation. Continue reading “Also Starring : Sideshows at the 2014 Geneva Salon”

Decoding Audi’s TT Press Release…

…so you don’t have to.

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A wise man once said that you can prove anything with facts. He was right – you can. However, float above the narrow prism of the factual and reality becomes a more nebulous concept. For it is within this white space the automotive press-release copywriter dwells. A land of fairies and elves, where steaming troughs of hyperbole appear as tureens of nourishing broth.

Illustrating that despite the nature of the current motoring landscape, car manufacturers appear to Continue reading “Decoding Audi’s TT Press Release…”