Frankfurt Motor Show – the future looks a bit like the past - Monocolumn | Monocle


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16 September 2011

There is hardly a whiff of diesel or rumble of engine at the 64th version of Frankfurt’s IAA Motor show, which opened yesterday. Shifting towards cars that maximize fuel efficiency and minimise CO2 emissions, manufacturers have set themselves the task of reducing the size and weight of their models and further developing green energy technology.

A clear example of the trend was seen at BMW’s stand with the i3; a light carbon-fibre electric concept car made from recycled polymers. It weighs approximately 300kg less than the average electric vehicle.

Different views regarding the type of batteries needed to power these cars – whether rechargeable or interchangeable – and where these should be placed (Audi’s A2 urban concept vehicle, for example, has the battery under the floor, allowing for extra space in the interior) sparked debates about the green technology’s future. Although this push for electric cars will probably lead manufacturers to keep finding ways of shrinking and slimming their cars to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, they’re not sacrificing speed or lavishness in their designs.

“We’re aiming for ‘eco-fun’ cars”, says Thomas Buerkle, chief designer at Hyundai. “A vehicle like the newly launched i30 is a fast and ecological car. Speed is something essential for us and a slick design is attractive to everybody.”

Even if the two-seater, urban pollution-free vehicles are capturing lots of attention in Frankfurt, there is also space for bold aerodynamic multi-wheeled trucks and SUVs, such as Infiniti’s V8 FX50S Premium, an example of unrestricted design. Created under the guidance of racing-driver Sebastian Vettel, the V8 FX50S is Infiniti’s fastest car yet. “Companies are going back to their heritage – it’s rooted in the cultural background. Infiniti has less history than European brands, therefore we are allowed more freedom to explore and we can be more aggressively challenging with our designs”, says Shiro Nakamura, chief designer for Infiniti, Nissan’s luxury branch.

And Nakamura is right. The automotive business is one of the most creative and futuristic industries, but there’s much evidence at Frankfurt that, from a design perspective at least, it is a little afraid to let go of the past. Brands such as Land Rover and MINI – despite displaying new models with up-to-date green technology – are not willing to leave traditions aside completely, taking comfort in product design that keeps a foot firmly in the past.

“From a design perspective the real successes come from the companies that reflect the culture of where they come from,” says Volvo’s chief designer, Peter Horbury. “That creates a difference between brands. Citroën is designing purely French cars; they’re full of the joie de vivre, the Parisian chic. Audi represents the Germanic look; it’s simple, solid, dependable. And Alfa Romeo can only come from Italy. When people see Volvo they see the Scandinavian coming out of our brand.”


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