We have a bit of crystal ball gazing from the chief designer of Toyota, reported in Automotive News. The mainstream car will go extinct. Not that surprising, really. But why do we have a Ford Taunus as the main image?
Starting with the idea that a large proportion of the cars made in the future will be externally controlled (“self-driving”), people’s relationship to cars will change. Simon Humphries’ vision is that most cars will be anonymous containers on wheels and a small remainder will be highly specialised luxury or performance items. He imagines “pure race cars” can be created.
That class already exists, they are racing cars and useless for very much if you aren’t a driver of the highest calibre. Even if Mr Humphries means something like what we call track day cars, that still leaves a market of about ten thousand cars in Europe, I would guess. They aren’t in high demand.
We’ve talked about this before. Here the interesting bit is that the guesswork is coming from the industry and not me. There’ll be some design work to be done on the new transport pods and then not much design work to be done thereafter, it would seem. (Read on to find out why the Taunus is the main picture for this article.)
Meanwhile, regarding the time in between now and the time when most vehicles are pods, VW are imaging drawing inspiration from Apple. “Apple has brought about a design aesthetic with its iPhone and iPad that set it apart from rivals such as Samsung Electronics and Sony and helped make it the most valuable company in the world,” says the report.
What’s the clonking, crashing sound like a plate dropping on a floor? That’s the sound of a point being missed. Apple’s hegemony rests on their remarkable interface not merely the looks. People wouldn’t pay for these gadgets if they didn’t work as they do. The reason the competitors don’t command higher prices is not just because they look less attractive but because the interfaces are quite poor.
VW is very good at styling cars and are also quite good at their interfaces. Turning to Apple for guidance is like Eric Clapton turning to Mark Knopfler for guidance. Sure, Knopfler can play but Clapton can too. All Knopfler can do is tell Clapton how to play like Knopfler.
In a way some of VW’s range are already the automotive equivalent of an iPhone. Let’s try to imagine what Apple’s Jonny Ives would say to VW’s designers: “do it like Dieters Rams would do it”. Well, they are half way there without utterly freezing their design in plastic aspic.
What Braun discovered with Rams was that good and all as timeless product design is, the public gets bored. It’s not unlikely that any Apple-inspired design language will also be thrown away at the next model cycle (if there is another model cycle).
VW have very interestingly entirely misunderstood that good UX is about how things work much more than how they look and looks support functionality. And in a way, the fact VWs really haven’t ever been much about lovely controls and more about style (of some type) means naturally they’d imagine people buy iPhones for their four rounded corners.
Turning back to Toyota again. One of our readers, Markus, pointed out the horrific rear accommodation in the Toyota C-HR. I have been dwelling on this ever since. We do listen to our readers.
Regarding that back seat, rather slowly a thought crossed or re-crossed my mind. What if these vehicles are taking the place of that fad of yesteryear, the “personal coupe” or two-door saloon? Yes, the C-HR has four doors – and by the same token many coupes have four nominal seats and were as unlikely to have rear passengers as this car.
One key difference is that when you bought a coupe you really knew the rear passengers were not a high priority. There must be, in contrast, customers of this car who imagine rear passengers will be expected to sit in the back on a regular and extended basis because of the fact there are doors for them.
Can we think then about dividing this burgeoning class of cars into a) those which are not intended to carry rear passengers much and b) those which are intended to carry rear passengers? Now I get this distinction, I have reassessed the C-HR and I still like it – it isn’t a family car though. It’s the modern equivalent of a Ford Taunus coupe or Oldsmobile Cutlass Ciera.