Peculiar and of dubious aesthetic merit though its products are, DS Automobiles’ output at least possesses one commendable trait.
It’s rather easy to ridicule DS Automobiles. After all, it’s yet another car brand created in vitro, whose main claim to fame is a name that references one of the greatest creations in automotive history, without paying any respects to it whatsoever.
Casting aside this truly overbearing issue though, paying some attention to the brand’s design proves to be rather more worthwhile than a first glance would suggest. Of course, DS’ range of cars has so far mostly set itself apart through a sheer overabundance of stylistic tropes, many of which are rather less than inspiring (shark fin b-pillars, double badges). However, amid all the cacophonous excess, there are some interesting details to be found.
Take the DS X E-tense concept car. As its name would suggest, it’s a very convoluted piece of design overall. Not content with just being an inherently exotic barchetta, it also has to boast an open and an enclosed cabin compartment, side-by-side. It’s also asymmetrical, which should ensure appreciation from Chris Bangle’s side at least.
Again, casting aside some of the overbearing silliness, there are some truly intriguing elements included in its design – most of all the light grids, but also one of the more comely takes on the all-conquering ‘matrix’ grille graphic. It’s just a shame that combining all these elements – and a great many more – results in something resembling far less than the sum of its parts.
On the production car side, the DS 7’s rear lights and the DS 3 Crossback’s interior both feature the lozenge pattern found on X E-Tense, lending either car some details that are far more distinctive than the overall stylistic overkill that puts DS closer to American tailfin era excess than la Déèsse.
With a bit more finessing, and a stronger focus on just a few strong themes, rather than the current scattershot approach, these details could be developed into something appealingly different from the teutonic ‘premium’ norm. Something rather more elegant and playful.
All that being said, DS can, no matter how reluctantly, be thanked for creating cars that exhibit a certain Frenchness – more Jean Paul Gaultier during a particularly wild episode than Christian Dior for certain, but even so, far more French than anything else available in new car dealerships right now.
The name of the automotive Jean Paul Gautier is Thierry Métroz, incidentally.
A veteran of French car design, Métroz spent most of his professional career at Renault, where he was responsible for the exterior designs of cars like the Avantime and Espace IV, among others. For many years, he worked alongside and in competition with Jean-Pierre Ploué there, who, most famously, designed the original Twingo, as well as the Laguna and Argos concept cars. Ploué eventually left Renault for Citroën, before eventually becoming PSA chief designer, where he now acts as Métroz’ boss – the world of car design is small, after all.
Ploué would’ve been the most logical successor to then-Renault chief designer, Patrick le Quément, when the latter retired a decade ago – had Ploué not left for the domestic competitor by that point. Against that backdrop, it’s rather intriguing to imagine Métroz following in the footsteps of le Quément’s, rather than Laurens van den Acker, who came from Mazda and, of course, did get the appointment.
Métroz wasn’t and isn’t a designer associated with restraint, even though his body of work at Renault bore little resemblance to DS’ output – a consequence of car design being a team effort, one can suppose. So would he have employed the ‘more is more’ mantra in charge of Renault design too? Or would the different brief result in a different approach? One can only guess.
At the same time, it can be assumed that Renault design would include some more je ne sais quoi than it does right now. For competently though van den Acker steers this ship, the French flag isn’t flapping that proudly on its mast.
Returning from this alternate universe, it’ll be interesting to see what happens with DS Automobiles’ design over the coming years. It’ll certainly and thankfully remain French – as that’s its only raison d’être – but maybe a bit more Dior and less Gaultier, or a closer look at the aesthetics of Andrée Putman, rather than Louis XIV, might result in a little going a long way.
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