A highly selective, subjective (and lengthy) IAA-themed grab for the week ending 12/09/2021.
The first indoor European motorshow since the onset of SARS CoV-2 is not something to be taken lightly, but neither is it of direct consequence to those of us who routinely fail to attend them. It’s not that I was ever particularly averse – in fact I rather enjoy perusing the putative, spectating over the speculative and free-associating over the fantastical, but the events themselves always seemed to have fallen at an inconvenient time. For the past 18 months or so this has been largely academic, but once again my coverage of a major motor event must by necessity be of a remote nature.
Impartial, in-person coverage is of course what anyone with a modicum of discernment would ideally wish for, but only here will you find the kind of poorly-researched, reactive, discriminatory and unashamedly uninfluential coverage that regular Driven to Write readers have come to depend upon. Munich – billed as IAA Mobility (not just cars anymore, you understand) – might pay lip service to other forms of personal transportation, but motorcars remain very much the primary concern. So, what of them?
You may have been aware of Audi’s recent (and frankly rather silly) concertina Skysphere concept (revealed in August), the first of a trio of level 4 autonomous concepts the four ring brand are debuting over coming months. Audi’s more recent (and immeasurably more appealing) Grandsphere saloon made a quiet debut in the run up to IAA, the timing of which didn’t reflect particularly well upon Audi’s marketers.
It sounds a little like damning with faint praise to say that by current Audi standards, Grandsphere is something of a return to form, but it is (and I’ve seen better photos than those currently on the web) rather well executed. Yes, it does retain a still overstated faux-grille, which according to Ingolstadt sources remains set to defy the shift to volts and ohms, but indulge me a moment to acknowledge the first Audi design in a very long time that it’s possible to regard with something more than derision.
Grandsphere we are told will form the basis for the next generation Audi flagship – which unfortunately sounds rather unlikely. But if it does look even remotely like this I will literally fall at Marc Licht’s feet and howl a recantation.
BMW too it seems are looking ahead – to 2040 to be precise, displaying the i Vision Circular, an angular monospace which, the Vierzylinder asserts, represents future sustainable mobility. Consistent with current BMW stylistic values – Hofmeister kink aside – the concept contains little or no recognisable design cues. Not that BMW’s stylistic leadership see it that way, stating, “The kidney surfaces extend across the entire width of the front end, merging the headlights and grille into an unmistakable double-icon that will continue to be a clear BMW identifier.”
Just to clarify, they actually did say “clear BMW identifier” for those not paying attention. Repeat after me: Clear. BMW. Identifier. It’s no use, is it? However, in its favour, the i Vision Circular is said to be wholly recyclable – in itself highly laudable, but I do hope that also includes the styling theme.
From the realm of unlikely futures to the mundane here and now, Renault’s Romanian own-brand outpost recognises that while electrification and driver assistance is on the coming agenda, for a large swathe of motorists, it remains a still distant one. Dacia’s new for 2022 Jogger recognises this, offering a low-frills extended version of the recently announced Sandero – largely identical from the B-pillar forward – offering a taller roofline, extended wheelbase (and rear), and seven seat capability.
Unlike its more demure predecessor (it also replaces the Logan MCV and Lodgy models), the Jogger carries a good deal of rufty-tufty crossover addenda (a reflection of customer tastes one assumes) although drive remains resolutely at the front. About as unselfconscious an offering as one might encounter in the current era, could the Jogger be a less pretentious Matra Rancho for the modern age? Expect strong sales.
Also within the realm of the attainable, KIA, having already shown a larger bodied variant of the new era Sportage for home and US markets, are debuting the more compact, if broadly similar European version at Munich. Said to have been optimised both in size and in road behaviour terms, the question of its frontal styling remains rather more troubling. Frankly, it’s a fright, although in its favour, it certainly is original. But given the level of success its equally fiendish-looking Hyundai Tucson equivalent enjoys, it’s clear that polarising styling is no impediment to sales success – especially if your product comes with a seven year warranty and an enviable reputation. Expect strong sales.
You can always rely upon the three pointed star to come up with the goods, especially at showtime. Sindelfingen hasn’t disappointed, Munich hosting the fully electrified EQB, EQE, EQG, the AMG-ified EQS saloon and in concept form, the “tradition-steeped” Mercedes-Maybach EQS SUV – which I think we can all agree is a whole lot of EQ goodness for one mobility event. What can be said about these wonders?
All more or less cleave to the current electric Mercedes template – either somewhat chintzier-looking versions of pre-existing combustion engined models, or in the case of EQS and the debutant EQE, (its new for Munich mid-sized saloon sibling) a challenging and for Untertürkheim, highly unusual set of proportions, not to mention a whole new set of upended expectations.
What does seem apparent is that while Mercedes’ mainstream combustion range of cars are from a purely visual standpoint, at least (how shall I put this?), broadly competent, they do seem to be struggling to establish a coherent (or wholly attractive) creative identity for their new-era electric cars. But given that Mercedes, and brand-Maybach are said to have amongst the youngest customer base of its sector, the joke’s probably on us. Expect strong sales.
Given how much the monospace format has fallen out of favour amidst the buying public of late, it does seem curious that the BMW group appear so fixated upon the concept. Not content with their own i Vision concept, Milbertshoven’s Union Jack offshoot is displaying its MINI Urbanaut concept, first seen last year. A soft-formed pod-shaped monobox, it resembles something which could conceivably wear the VW roundel upon its smooth nose without a raised eyebrow in sight.
Majoring on cabin ambience, and the provision of maximal interior space for a minimal footprint, Urbanaut, according to its creators is a recognition of the principles espoused by the Mini’s spiritual creator. Reports suggest that future MINIs will further Urbanaut’s rejection of the unnecessary; the next generation heartland MINI going fully EV, with all the benefits to proportion, overhangs and cabin space that ought to entail.
Urbanaut designer, Olivier Heilmer told Autocar this week that discussions are ongoing at the Vierzylinder over a production version, but if it happens, it will be at least five years off.
With the recent transformation of Groupe PSA within the Stellantis constellation, domestic rival, Renault has been somewhat overlooked. Now under new management, Renault are fighting back in the only fashion that matters. Dynamic new CEO, Luca de Meo has sanctioned a bold swathe of product, some of which are of a contemporary mien, while others hark back to past Boulogne-Billancourt masters.
Renault had been somewhat tardy in joining the C-sector crossover brigade, all the more surprising considering the success commercial and technical partner Nissan had enjoyed with the Qashqai model. Similarly, Nissan have been fielding a C-segment EV for over a decade now with the strong-selling Leaf. Not that Renault have not enjoyed sales success with electric vehicles, its long-running Zoe proving one of Europe’s best selling for some years now – although profitability has been another matter.
Now debuting the 2022 fully-electric Mégane E-Tech crossover, this VW ID3 rival looks poised to steal a march on both its domestic rivals and the rest of the C-segment electric laggards. The E-tech shares a group EV platform with the Nissan Ariya with its styling based on an earlier, more arresting Morphoz concept. In visual terms, one of the more convincing of its still thin on the ground breed, the Renault has considerably more showroom appeal than VW’s somewhat po-faced ID3 – especially within. Hopes are high in Paris.
On the other side of the Renaulution coin, Munich also witnesses the physical debut of the R5 concept, believed to preview a production version to replace the long-running Zoe in 2023. While it’s somewhat staggering that it has taken this long for Renault to formally acknowledge Michel Boué’s 1972 masterpiece, it does seem a slightly retrograde step for a carmaker who have not really looked backwards before now.
Now partially decoupled from the Mercedes Deathstar, Smart are also looking to an electrified future under joint-owners, Geeley. Making a first appearance at Munich is the Concept #1, a total departure, not simply in format, but in form as well. Smart has hit a metaphorical wall of late, with its take on the compact city car and subsequent attempts at brand extension never quite stacking up, either creatively or commercially.
Concept #1 is an attempt to etch-a-sketch all that unpleasantness away, previewing a production car which will be roughly the size of Mercedes’ EQA but on a Geeley-designed and built platform, with styling overseen by its Sindelfingen stakeholder – described as “cool” and “grownup” by the three pointed star’s esteemed Chief Creative Officer. “The pure and futuristic design erases where car starts and art ends“, say Smart. Classic Gorden.
I don’t wish to sound snide, especially since the Concept #1 is a fairly inoffensive looking thing, but must be some seriously miffed MINI designers wandering about Munich this week. Rüsselsheim too really ought to be asking for their floating roof back, while I’m busy casting aspersions. So anything but original, this Smart concept, but you can’t argue that it isn’t tidily executed.
Volkswagen are doing a neat line in sterility nowadays, doggedly working their way through the product range, excising every last screed of sentience, charm or stylistic merit. Munich’s ID Life concept is simply the latest – a preview of a putative ID 2 model to be built using a modified version of VW’s MEB electric-specific platform in a couple of years time. Set to be one of the more affordable of their new generation of EVs, Volkswagen are claiming they will price the production car at €20,000, placing it into newly electrified R5 territory.
Styling is both faithful, yet at a remove from prior ID practice, the ID Life embodying a more upright rectilinear silhouette, one evoking a more retrospective feeling to that of its larger siblings. However, as presented it comes across as neither one nor the other, the faintly 1980s styling cues suggesting other makes rather than anything from VW’s own back catalogue. It’s difficult to pinpoint, but I’m finding VW’s ID product-design ethos somewhat forced.
Nobody deserves to be pigeon-holed – that goes for carmakers as much as for individuals. So when carmakers take a quantum leap, they ought to be applauded, for it is often an act of bravery. However there is something afoot here which I find vaguely disquieting. A nagging sense of design teams lacking either ideas or guidance and in its absence heading instead for the Karaoke booth. Mini covers Microbus, Smart does MINI. I’m not certain I can articulate what VW are trying to achieve (I doubt they can either) perhaps a tonally deficient rendition of Fiat’s 2019 Centoventi concept? It’s difficult to avoid the conclusion that the Italians simply do this kind of thing with more conviction – and a lot more charm.
A word that Smart’s staggering lack of originality could at least be said to contain. One could even argue it represents a more convincing MINI than MINI themselves have served up for a good twenty years. Is this enough – or even vaguely acceptable? Maybe I’m just too much at a remove for it all to cast judgement.
Maybe. Clearer eyes than mine can better adjudicate upon these matters. And speaking of which, for a deeper, more varied, in-person and more clear-eyed take on the city of Munich and IAA Mobility itself, Design Field Trip, who will be offering nuanced and insightful Munich show analysis over the coming week is our recommended port of call. They at least made it out of the house.