That Was the Future: GeoMechanical Style

Around the year 2000 there was a wave of concept cars that had geometrical themes. These stood out among a sea of concept cars that today, 15 years later, merely look concepty.

2000 Mitsubishi SSS concept car:
2000 Mitsubishi SSS concept car:

The geomechanical look cropped up on Japanese and American cars more than European ones. Only the Renault Modus van fits the theme and even then that might be because it’s a van.

What characterises the geo-mechanical look is that the main elements are not blended together; there are flat or flattish surfaces and quite small radii. The graphic elements of the windows and lights tend to be treated in such a way as to be sharp.

It’s safe to say the Mitsubishi SSS is not among the most talked-about concept cars. At this distance the reason it ended up going nowhere are also the reasons it looks intriguing today. Notice the way the lamps are submerged into dominant horizontal lines. The stated aim to combine the feel of a saloon with packaging of an SUV fails to convince me. It’s a hatchback family car and not an ‘enhanced utility sedan’ as they styled it at the time.

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Out of a similar box (a year later) came the Isuzu Zen, designed by Geoffrey Gardiner. We’ve discussed this car before but it’s still worth another look. Again, notice the flat surfaces and the dominance of the graphic elements rather than the sculptural ones.  The design work was done in Britain, by the way. Does that make it a European design?

Ford and GM had their own take on the geometrical themes. At the same time Ford was also dabbling in retro, note. Just a year after the 24.7 car, they showed the 2001 Ford Forty-Nine. The 2000 Ford Prodigy and GM Precept share a lot of the same basic elements. When I look at these cars, along with the Cadillac Imaj I really feel that there is something expedient about the shapes.

That is to say that the reduced number of main surfaces looks like something you could run up quite quickly on AutoDesk and finish with the automatic fillet function. I have chosen to show the version of the Prodigy with the third quarter light. The other version has a large blacked out panel at the C-pillar.

I have cherry-picked this crop of cars. The bulk of the concept cars for that year, like all years, have no immediately obvious unifying themes but they and represent the slow, broad current of car styling trends.

2000 Renault Modus: renaultarethebest.co.uk
2000 Renault Modus: renaultarethebest.co.uk

The geomechanical look didn’t get very far. Ford moved away from its related New Edge style. Only Cadillac stayed quite consistently in the framework set out by Simon Cox’s Imaj concept of 2000 so that even today, Cadillacs look clearly related to that car of 2000. Mitsubishi had the most original take on the geomechanical theme which was not only applied to surfaces but also had a distinct approach to the way the main volumes were divided (retro, in a way). Mitsubishi lacked and still lack the consistency of vision to make any headway in design so never capitalised on the idea.

2000 Toyota WillVi: www.carsensor.net
2000 Toyota WillVi: http://www.carsensor.net

To close this, in the same years Toyota offered the WillVi which is one you could buy in a real showroom.  While the other design centres were toying with a geomechanical theme, Toyota used it on a real car, or anti-car.  Designers like it but customers didn’t.

Author: richard herriott

I like anchovies. I dislike post-war town planning.

9 thoughts on “That Was the Future: GeoMechanical Style”

  1. That makes me a designer then. And it’s also true that I’m not a customer, buying only used cars.

    1. That made me think who they design for. Obviously the car has to appeal to the first customer. The level of interest expressed by the second owner affects the price of the first sale, that being affected by future residual value. So, future residual value has an impact on the new price. I expect at the back of their minds, the car designers try to guess what will be acceptable future owners too.
      Betting the farm on the first customer’s taste is a risky business. Play it too safe and some people will never look at the car.

  2. Am I right in thinking that Landrover’s Discovery 3 sports the geomechanical look? The timing would seem to be right, as would the adherence to geometric forms. The mark 1 Focus appears to my eyes to be very much of this period, albeit with some expressive flourishes.

  3. Now you mention it, the LR3 is quote GeoMechanical. That´s from 2004 so I supposed they shaped in 2001/2002. The argument rests with me as to why it isn´t GeoMechanical. I can´t think of any.
    Kajetan: yes, a bit of structure is important. There are a few nice organic shapes from the early 90s that still look good. There´s a fine line between blob and enough structure to give a design definition. Blobs tend to look all the same while structure allows easier differentiation, doesn´t it?

  4. It seems like quite a few of the Nissans that came out of the early 2000’s San Diego Studio were of this GeoMechanical style. The Maxima A34 and Quest V42 are prime examples of the same Nissan family of design that seems highly influenced by these geometric shapes and features:


    The Maxima is the more adherent of the two, using such pure geometric features as to house the foglamps in perfectly circular radii that simply cap the ends of a narrow intake strip. The Quest nearly goes beyond the style with the giant ‘groove’ in the DLO along the side being almost organic, but the harsh triangles-and-trapezoids facia and rear end remind of the GeoMechanical style once again. In particular their peculiar moonroof arrangements were what reminded me when reading this article; the Maxima having the “CD slot” mohawk-style strip running down the center and higher-spec Quests having quintuple-view roofs with individual glass above each passenger.

    1. Good morning Alexander. The Quest looks a bit flaccid to my eyes, especially with that wavy waistline. It looks to be sitting rather heavily on its wheels. The Maxima is rather nice, however. It looks like a better executed Saturn. It’s not quite so well resolved from the rear:

      It looks as though it was meant to have a clamshell boot lid, but perhaps the adverse reaction to the ‘Bangle Butt’ on the BMW E65-generation 7 Series caused Nissan to think again?

    2. Yeah, the wavy waistline does ruin the effect of the Quest. Weird that they’d go so far to make it so angular then stick that ‘joggle’ onto the side of it. I always preferred the previous Maxima since my grandmother owned one and it just felt more Japanese in the same vein of the Lexus ES or Acura TL (the great Japanese idiom of large FWD transverse-engined saloons). This new California-designed one was always too angular for my tastes and only now do I realize how odd and unique it was in the market, even if that uniqueness doesn’t necessarily mean beauty! I see what you mean about the suggested clamshell but it strikes me as a costly design to implement on a ‘family saloon’ so perhaps it was just cut due to budgetary constraints. That longitudinal sunroof was always a curiosity, though!

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