Some of the less well-known faces at Geneva 2014
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.
First, we have the XLV (top photo), a return from the grave by SsangYong, which as you can tell by the rather ornate appearance is now under Indian control and is presumably aimed at the Chinese market. The press release from the Salon offers this insight “…the Korean manufacturer SsangYong is continuing its recovery by unveiling, for the nth time, another imposing concept here. Let’s hope that this XLV will finally become a commercial reality”.
Under the surfaces there are a 1.6 litre diesel four-pot** and a 10kW, 48-volt electric motor powered by a 500Wh lithium-ion battery. In some versions it can seat six. You can see this car and its very richly detailed interior at stand 4131 but the people in the photos won’t be there. I like the use of ordinary business men as well as attractive models to capture our attention.
The Quant-e limousine is another in an intermittent series of concept cars with unusual battery-powered propulsion systems. The system proposed here promises faster charging – a real sticking point in conventional battery technology – and improved packaging. My view is that while the exterior design is actually not bad for a car from a very small firm, the interior is precisely as excessive as anything offered from the luxury majors, perhaps worse. I feel that something much simpler and more elegant would be a better visual receipt than this design which would not look out of place in a mid 00s Buick or Cadillac. Go to stand 4342 to see this one.
Mila at stand 6261 is a small “lifestyle vehicle” (it says in the press release) which is powered by CNG. Its graphics and colours are more interesting and shows how concept cars by suppliers have come a long way in the last ten years. Sadly, the interior was not available for inspection. Automotive services provider EDAG did this one. Having worked at one of these, I know how many frustrated car designers are employed by such companies. But the chances are that EDAG contracted the styling out to a freelancer.
The Link & Go 2.0 is a showcase for the talents of Akka Technologies which is a rather vast French consultancy with expertise in automotive, rail, aerospace, defence, pharmaceuticals, energy and telecommunications. The rear view shows a vehicle inspired by high-quality digital consumer goods, but in a very positive way. Note the treatment of the c-pillar which, along with a few other cars recently, shows the influence of BMW´s electric vehicle.
The interior is a more convincingly pleasant yet modern design than the Quant-e but the bench seat seems hurried. I quite like the idea of a car as mobile pod as much as a device for driving pleasure. You could easily imagine driving this car to some quiet, unspoiled location and then spending your time checking your e-mails and Facebook pages. Actually, I think a gas stove and tiny steel sink would have been a more sensible idea for this car’s interior. Stand 6339 is where this one is found.
Israeli-Chinese firm Qoros chose to enter the car market not with an electric vehicle or some novel packaging and styling concept but a VW Golf competitor, a 4-cylinder front wheel drive mid-size family car. It will be at the epicentre of the most hotly contested sector of the car market. No other class of car is so intensely fought-over. These vehicles must do all that a car is expected to do for the median price people will pay. One can only wonder why they attempted to outsmart the combined intelligence and financial power of GM, Ford and VAG but presumably this car has a USP which, for now, remains undisclosed.
Stand 2157 is where you find Giugiaro struggling for relevance. Their rather poorly conceived Audi sports-offroader has been followed up by this “research prototype for a 6-seater, ecological and sporty people mover for modern families”. The question with Giugiaro is who will be fobbed off with this design called the Clipper, modified with a suitable badge. I think it might be Seat or it might be Audi but the car has a few derivative details such as the fading side crease seen on the Alfa 156.
There is also a slight coke bottle effect on the waistline under the C-pillar which is just generic, used in car design since about the time of the Vauxhall Viva. So, you just can’t tell. The vehicle is built around the MQB platform which means nobody outside VAG is going to take it and everyone inside VAG can find better designs for themselves. I’d be interested to hear if anyone can guess what this car is attempting to do better or do differently. The claimed performance figures for the car are pure vapourware.
If it had been unveiled in 2002 the styling would not have caused much surprise. If you take a look at the work done at either Coventry University or the RCA you’ll find the average students are producing more interesting and useful explorations than this. Do firms get tired? Does anyone inside VAG regret buying Giugiaro now that they have no automotive customers outside VAG and perhaps even VAG have no use for them.
**or four-banger. I thought about 4-cylinder but I decided to deploy a bit of hard-boiled automotive journalese.
Post-script: I may have had some trouble spelling Giugiaro. It’s one of those words with a Teflon finish that makes my eyes slide off it before taking it in.
6 thoughts on “Also Starring : Sideshows at the 2014 Geneva Salon”
I suppose you could say that the Giugiaro thing is ‘inoffensively good looking’ in the same way that you would describe an anodyne daytime TV presenter. In design, the concept of ‘brand value’ is reasonably worthless if there is no guiding hand. I realise that the Giugiaros are still involved under VAG’s ownership but I don’t really view long-term ownership by a large concern as being conducive to creativity. Not that Italdesign’s output has ever been consistently exciting. In all those historical lists of ‘one, not both’ we have “Blur/Oasis” “Mets/Dodgers” “Snails/Oysters” and “Giugiaro/Gandini”. My own loyalties in the last category have wavered, though are now in the Gandini camp. And the reason for that is precisely because there really is no Gandini camp. He remained a pure designer whereas GG became a corporation willing to produce this sort of thing.
The really interesting thing in this, for me, was realising fully what a poor situation Italdesign is in. It used to earn a living as an independent supplier of ideas and services to the entire car industry. Now that it is a pawn of VAG I don´t imagine any other automotive group would trust their valued data and IP with them. This means VAG can´t lease them out to, say, Ford or BMW. Italdesign´s staff aren´t even that valuable, not the creatives.They can be bought for €40,000 a pop from any design school. Add one really good manager at, say, €100,000 p.a, and you could have your own pool of talent for €300,000 per annum. I can see Italdesign being sold off or shuttered in the next decade. They do nothing that VAG can´t do in-house. And who was this car advertising to anyway? Is it a way for Italdesign to notify other VAG dominions that they exist? Surely an internal e-mail would have been cheaper. The official explanation from Italdesign was that the Clipper was not supposed to be modern, that the technology was the star. This sounds to me like post-justification.
VAG bought Italdesign for its engineering resources, as VAG’s were/are exhausted. I therefore doubt the company will be sold on in the future, but rather believe its name will be consigned to the history books once Giorgetto joins the Big Design Studio In The Sky.
As for the concept: I too wonder what its intended purpose is. Is it to keep Italdesign’s staff happy (‘they said we’d remain independent, and that G on the grill is the proof!’) or does its nondescript shape hide some truly original packaging that might be employed for future models, like the lesser cousin of a Megagamma’s?
What do you mean by exhausted? Couldn´t they hire new people or let the existing ones have a few extra weeks of holiday?
Exhausted in terms of staff and equipment. Apparently the Winterkorn product offensive meant all the global VAG R&D centres were/are working at their maximum, and buying Italdesign meant adding not just skilled designers and engineers, but also loads of up-to-date soft- and hardware to the fold, at a stroke.
I was shocked when I first saw pictures of Ital’s concept at this year’s Geneva show, as my reaction without reading the caption was “that’s a concept VW”. I can only see this going one way, that is, in a Ghia-like direction. A good article, thanks Richard, boldly going where other magazine related sites have not ventured. Qoros is interesting, isn’t it? Very conservative, deliberate design, that actual gives off a quality feel. I’ll watch it with a curious eye.