“Mesdames, messieurs…” welcome to the 82nd Geneva motor show, the circus has come to town. Conran Studio were there too to view the spectacle.
Enormous show halls are filled with automotive beasts corralled into brand paddocks, each of these stands are themselves magnificent pavilions of grand architecture. The lights, noise and static crackle and we dehydrate to a crisp on entry.
Serious men with pink feather dusters tickle the final specks of dust from their show pieces. Hired women with skinny curves stroke their tamed metal brutes.
Despite the elephant in the room, a herd of them in fact – the finite oil supply, planning of car-less mega cities, markets emerging in unpredictable ways and a general global skint-ness – the first impression was of business as usual. All the biggies – Audi, Toyota, Peugeot, BMW, Mercedes, Ford, Volvo – have voluptuous spaces for photogenic concept launches. There are plenty of both cars, ideas and determination to delight.
Colour is everything this year. The recent, subversive resurgence of matt charcoal blacks for exterior finishes have become Prada-fied, via the sweet shop: silky caramels, powdery, matt hint of strawberry, fresh pale, pearly mints. Sophisticated, modern and with a (stroppy) edge. Graphic flicks and accents are bold and executed with flair, look at the red-eye of the Audi A1.
Form. The tribal nature of car brands cause a powerful kinship for consumers, the silhouettes of these cars are a masterclass in creating emotional connection through design. The sinews, scoops and flex of these muscled creatures look particularly good when you lie on the floor; so look up next time you’re being run over. The language is still diluted for the newer brands such as India based Tata, but they’re gaining momentum and confidence and an evolved language is sure to follow.
Lighting. Developments in technology and manufacturing techniques have allowed for softer and more controllable lighting in interiors. (Remember when it was a slide plastic thing that rarely worked and god-forbid if you turned it on whist Dad was driving?). On the outside, lights are swept back, arched, looming, scowling… every brand has a different twinkle to its eye, the eyes being the door to this soul.
Interiors. The knobs and dials are interactive jewels, causing an intimate dialogue between the drivers’ eyes and hands. The new Peugeot 208 exemplifies this more direct experience, for example the teeny steering wheel and a clever composition means you see the instruments above the wheel rather than peering through. The references to a broader design world are clear to see: bespoke tailoring and expert pattern cutting, combinations of textures and fabrics and stitched seam details, precision craft of cabinetry and the intersection of materials. A crossover with other trades for design and materials is nothing new (the partnership Ferrari, Poltrona Frau and balsamic vinegar, anyone?) but making these designer cues blatant to the consumer eye is evident for many manufacturers.
One extraordinary sight was of the new Bentley EXP 9F. With wheels the height of thighs, a bullion of rock star alchemy, pleated leather tail gate and Lalique picnic set, surely this is the mark that the SUV set has finally turned the curve and will hopefully meet with steady demise?
Yet futurism is here. Subtle, transcending and important shifts start to show the way ahead. Starting with the back seat; the influence, particularly from China, is that the important people sit here. It could be that the head of the house is driven by their son or chauffeur or simply the car as a symbol of status where there’s no detail to compromise. For many generations it was a mostly wipe-clean area then came the nodding dogs and head rests. Now the focus is to be more comfortable and more interactive, brought to bear through lighting, ergonomics, layout and combinations of materials, your space personalised as you sit in the global traffic jam.
Epiphany for me? Electric cars look – for the first time – both attractive and relevant.