Recently we posted an article about a concept car from GFG Design and we didn’t much like it. So, asked reader Adrian Tebby, what do we like? And why?
Even if this article might end up being a bit of a restatement, we might get to extract some general attributes of a worthwhile design. I have taken a little while to think about recent cars so if they are here again they can be judged in a broader context and over a longer time. In a sense this article is a “best of” the concept designs we’ve been writing about for the last few years.
The Alfa Romeo by Touring Superleggera of 2012 is the first example that we swivel around to and face head on. That 2012 is now a bit of a while back is not that important so much as it was the first car to
spring to my mind without having to rummage about too much. That must mean something.
Although the Disco Volante must be understood as shamelessly retro, in a way it isn’t. The two-seater front mid-engined car strikes me as more like an expression of a money-no-object car more than something wreathed in old-school styling. It is the means of production (seven made) that set it apart from either an fudged and muddled concept or a compromised mass-produced car. It is something of an anomaly among my sampling.
For those who want to have some more realistic, and indeed recent, examples, the rest of the list will hopefully compensate. Let’s run to it.
Second: the 2016 Opel Speedster managed to both draw on past work from Ruesselsheim while also adding interesting formal innovations such as the side glass and surfacing. The totality of the result blends the familiar with the new and manages to hang together as a believable whole. It’s been two years since I looked at this one – and it gave my eyes another buzz.
The formal innovation and the inherited elements are demarcated by a red line that is also the division between the body and the aperture. Semantically, functionally and symbolically, that line is working hard. That’s a pretty intelligent bit of styling. Further – even toned down and stripped of the newer parts, the car still screamed “build me”. We know why they didn’t – making this particular concept car one that is tinged with poignancy.
Third, we turn to Daihatsu who are a reliable producer of concept cars and from their recent crop I can offer the 2016 DN Compagno. Really I could have chosen ten others with minimal effort. Picking a cute and intriguing concept car from Daihatsu is as easy as sitting on a comfy sofa with a cup of Arvid Norquist coffee.
While hunting around, I also caught sight of this (below), a near-production car intended for the Asian market. Though the back-end has rather too many horizontal lines the rest of the car is more than adequate – there are at least five European manufacturers who can’t field a similarly sized car of equal or better design quality.
There is something of the small hand-grenade about this. It’s not huge yet has a palpable sense of purpose. Motor1.com had some details: “Some technical specifications have been disclosed and we know the DN F-Sedan stretches at 4.2 meters and comes with a 2.51-meter wheelbase. It is 1.69 meters wide and stands 1.43 meters tall, while getting in and out of the car is a breeze thanks to the absence of B-pillars. Power is provided by a small 1.2-liter gasoline engine hooked up to a continuously variable transmission.”
Back to GM for Vier, there is the 2016 Buick Avista which had enormous potential to serve both as a Buick and as an Opel but didn’t:
It must be added to the long list of satisfying concept cars from GM that are eminently suitable for manufacture but which have their slot in the product line-up taken by much less interesting mediocrities. Two years on, the Avista looks less like a concept car and more like a proposal from 2013 for what they’d be selling round about now. It’s so devoid of wild details that it’s hard to believe it wasn’t really a design with some production intention pushing it forward.
Fifth and last, Toyota produce so many concept cars that some are inevitably little more than hopeful monsters. But the 2017 Smooth Comfy Drive concept car showed an imaginative re-working of the volumes of a car that evoke luxury while avoiding the familiar tropes of length and width and a massive engine. We discussed this very recently so I will only point your mouse at this word and you can find more intelligence on the car.
Kia’s Novo rounds out the list of cars. This is one which also deserved further development and could quite easily have fitted into their existing range.
What these cars have in common is that they consist of elements that relate to one another in a believable way and which achieve the goal of being sufficiently novel to be appealing but which don’t lose sight of certain realities of production necessity. They usually have one or two formal innovations which integrate well with the other more familiar elements present.
In so doing they look fresh rather than familiar overall which is where GFG’s car disappointed. All the elements of the car had been seen before in one form or another – what was not a standard solution was an expressive element already seen elsewhere.
If I stop to think about the two carrozerria mentioned in this article, Touring and GFG Style, I notice that Touring’s formula seems more like one that might have a convincing chance than GFG’s so-far lacklustre presentations. Touring will design and produce very limited-run cars but will also make prototypes and one-offs along with restorations.
GFG offers the car design process from sketching through to digital renderings to milling and hand-made models. It’s essentially the functions of a car styling studio and lacks the workshop facility of making a running car. I imagine Touring are selling their limited-series cars for around a million euros each. If they sell five or six a year they can keep the other parts of the enterprise funded without recourse to sponsored showcars.
Now, it’s the turn of the loyal readers of DTW to propose some recent concept cars that merit a second look…. What cars would you suggest should be granted a little more space in the mind of the design-literate or which deserve some room at the car dealers of the near future?
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Richard, while I agree on most of your points (the Novo has become the Stinger since, hasn’t it?), instead of praising GM twice, I’d include Honda’s Urban EV Concept, which, according to the neighbours at TTAC, is even meant for production.
Well I feel duty bound to post something, as it was me who prompted you to put this article together.
Thank you; it is very interesting. I’m a relative newcomer and have only been trawling through DTW for a few months but I did feel that I knew more about what you didn’t like in concept cars than what you did like.
So although you say this is a bit of a restatement it is mainly new to me and I’m grateful for you putting it together. Like Daniel above, I have the Honda Urban EV in mind as being memorable and have just been back to look again at it. I would buy one. It reminds me somewhat of an Autobianchi A112, which I always admired.
I shall go off looking at Daihatsu concepts some more now. I do have a bit of a weakness over the years for small-ish utilitarian-ish cars, much to the bemusement of my family.
When I was putting this together I opened a load of windows, one for each concept car, and the Honda occupied one of them. It didn´t make the cut because I simply forgot. Might I suggest the sister car, the Sports EV is a rather better candidate? However, without wanting to be inconsistent, it is a design that re-uses tropes we are already familiar with.
So, the Buick, you might ask – it´s nothing but familiar tropes, so familiar it could be on sale today. That´s why I liked it – it presented a production-ready theme.
I have put an image of the Urban EV into the article – look at that bench seat and also note the cloth upholstery. That is a very, very fine interior. It´s much more interesting than the ID-style exterior.
I’ll suggest the Suzuki Regina (2011) https://goo.gl/images/k1fiFG . It’s gotten some love here: https://driventowrite.com/2015/11/03/suzukis-2015-mighty-deck-concept/ . Perhaps it deserves more, like something titled along the lines of “Weird Fishes” ? (other potential members of this genus: Ghia Focus and Maggiore Scia have already been well covered). Suzuki took the trouble to finish this concept as though it could have been produced, so what was the matter? Regina does not seem weirder (nor cuter) than successes like ur Ka, Twingo, Aygo, Pluriel, Visa, 2cv, Ami 6! (hrm… it took me 30 years to start to understand Ami 6) Perhaps a slot in “Cars that could have been Citroens” then?
The Regina crossed my mind and avoided inclusion because I felt it was over-exposed (in a DTW kind of way). I can only agree that the Regina deserved a chance in the showroom. It may be the top of my “should have been made” list along with the Lancia Fulvia re-working from a decade ago.
My thirteen year old daughter was having a look over my shoulder at the Regina and others yesterday. She wants me to contact Suzuki and have one made for her, though she will let me drive her around in it for the time being.
She was particularly enthusiastic about the interior and also observed that all of these concepts had far more interesting interiors than the ‘boring black stuff’ that ‘real’ cars have!
Perceptive child. I had another look at the Regina and it retains a lot of freshness. The interior suggests Citroen and manga. Had it been made it’d have sold well enough and also would have been hard to replace. Car companies need to use the
“sandwich of the month” concept and have a place for one-cycle products. The Regina was likely one of those cars – and no bad thing. Designing a model as if it will updatable is sometimes limiting. There are cars like the Golf and Camry that sell every decade but the market also has spaces for opportunistic models too. The New Beetle was one and didn’t need replacing. Maybe it didn’t need to be replaced but modified a bit. The Regina is a car that could have sold staadily for a decade to its own fan base. It wasn’t an archetypal car.