The year is 1993. At the Geneva show Pininfarina presented the Ethos2 concept car, Aston Martin showed the Lagonda and BMW the supermini Z13.
Fiat offered the Downtown, a three-seater with two motors driving the rear wheels. It had sodium sulphur batteries and a 118-mile range. When driven at 30 mph, the range increased to 186 miles. This one came from a time when car manufacturers were more willing to consider different engineering approaches than they seem to be today.
I presume that this in part has to do with there being a lot less to do to optimise the private car. The other day I saw a Panamera parked next to a Duster and they were equally well-finished in terms of panel gaps and flushness. There was just a lot more Porsche than Dacia on the pavement.
In 1993 electric vehicles were still very much in the realm of blue-skies thinking. The Downtown also has an unusual seat-layout: driver forward and central with the rear passengers sitting behind, facing out and at an angle so as to allow the seats to be more central. The Downtown had a plastic body and an aluminium sub-structure making it a reasonably light car for its size, though it would have been quite expensive too.
The Coupé Fiat came out in the same year, introduced at the Brussels motor show which is not that interesting. But what is is that Chris Bangle is credited for both vehicles. If this is the case, it shows a fascinating variety in his approach to shaping cars. Most designers tend to hover around the same kinds of tropes and even if they are good ones they can get stale.
You can’t call the Downtown conventionally attractive or even attractive in any way. It does however have some neat touches. I notice the way the C-pillar is interrupted by a dark strip is a touch that foreshadows the Opel Adam:
The car also has sliding doors, not a unique idea but one seldom deployed on small cars and which went on to appear on the 2005 Peugeot 1007.
Bangle went on to some rather more conventional cars in the interim (comparatively speaking) but he returned to the electric city car with this 2017 proposal, below. You have to admire its daring, with almost every rule of car design upended.
One doesn’t quite know where to begin with this one. About the only places where it conforms to the expected is the flow of the front wing into the base of the A-pillar. After that it’s all sharp corners and straight lines. If Frank Gehry has been complimentary about Bangle, this car would appear to the be compliment repaid. This is a Post-Modern car by dint of its inversions and witty re-arrangements of elements.