German OEMs Designing the Future
At this year’s 67th International Motor Show in Frankfurt, a number of OEMs showed off their current, new and conceptual cars and trucks, putting them on the world’s stage at the point that is arguably the official start of the auto show season. (Although it is worth noting that Frankfurt is biennial, so there’s the issue of when the season starts in even-numbered years.)
Anyway, it goes without saying that Germany’s Big Three—Mercedes, BMW and Audi (yes, a subset of the VW Group, but more in keeping prestige-wise with the other two than the VW brand)—go all out, putting their designers to work, crafting future statements for their companies in an unmistakable way.
Here’s a look at three concepts that were revealed in Frankfurt.
This is a four-door 2+2 electric autonomous vehicle. On the inside, there is no steering wheel. No pedals. But there is an innovating seating setup for the front passengers, as the seats are mounted on a heavily carpeted platform that allows longitudinal movement of up to 19.7 inches fore and aft. There is also an array of screens, interfaces and “PIA,” which (who?) is described as an “empathetic electronic vehicle assistant.” Presumably, this is Siri’s granddaughter.
Aicon is a D-segment sedan that is 214 inches long, 82.6 inches wide, 59 inches high, and has a 136.6-inch wheelbase (which is 9.4 inches greater than the new A8).
The exterior design emphasizes the glass that’s used in the cabin. Fender flares emphasize Audi’s quattro. (Yes, as this is a concept car, those are 26-inch wheels, and each of the wheels is driven by electric motors.) There is no B-pillar; the back doors are rear hinged.
Notably, the front is absent any conventional headlights. Rather, there is a light field on either side of the grille (a.k.a., “Singleframe,” the inverted hexagon shape that is going to be signature for Audi electric vehicles) an array of more than 600 3D pixels that allow lighting to be precisely programmed for conditions. There is a similar setup on the rear of the vehicle.
BMW i Vision Dynamics
Adrian van Hooydonk, Senior Vice President BMW Group Design: “With the i3 and i8 we have designed a revolutionary city car and a revolutionary sports car. And now the BMW i Vision Dynamics is combing electric mobility with the core values of BMW: dynamism and elegance.”
This is a four-door gran coupe that seemingly shares little with the two other vehicles, although the treatment of the side window graphic is said to be a new “iconic” styling cue for BMW’s i models. Glass is becoming increasingly important in the design of vehicles that are at some level of autonomy because, simply, people might want to spend more time simply looking out the window; in the case of the i Vision Dynamics, note that the glass wraps around the car from the windshield to the backlight.
As this is a BMW, it does have a variant of the kidney shape that has long been a feature of the front end. In this case, the kidneys aren’t there to provide air for the engine, as this is an electric vehicle, but are a surface that contains a series of sensors. And rather than a conventional four-headlamp setup, there are two sets of twin LED lamps.
Around the back the tail lamps are razor-thin L-shapes that serve to accentuate the stance of the vehicle.
Mercedes-AMG Project ONE
Head designers—given the right products—tend to be effusive in their praise for vehicles, but rarely do they go to the extreme that Gorden Wagener, chief design officer, Daimler AG, goes for this car:
“The Mercedes-AMG Project ONE is the hottest and coolest car we have ever designed. It combines our design philosophy of Sensual Purity with the performance of our Formula 1 racing cars and is the perfect embodiment of Performance Luxury. This hypercar's extreme design marks a milestone in design—there are no lines, and the interior is stripped down to the essentials.”
It should be noted that one of the purposes of this vehicle is to take Formula One powertrain technology and put it in a two-place vehicle. So it is worth knowing that there is a 1.6-liter turbocharged V6 that is supplemented by electric motors so that the total system output is in excess of 1,000 hp. And the design goes from there.
This is a carbon-fiber monocoque mid-engine car, so the cabin is forward. Across the front there is an array of air inlets, including two large ones on either side of the grille. There is a series of outlets on top of the hood that helps channel air around the cabin. The front splitter automatically extends at speed. On the roof there is a large air intake that provides air for the engine. This transitions to a large vertical fin that provides lateral stability when cornering.
Around back there is a two-section diffuser and a two-stage extendible airfoil. The doors open forward and upward. Inside, there is a rounded rectangular steering wheel that appears to be something Lewis Hamilton would be comfortable with. There are massive carbon fiber surfaces that are accented by aluminum components. It is an all-business approach: assuming that business is driving at high speed.
Although the RAV4 has plenty of heritage in the small crossover segment, competition has gotten a whole lot tougher, so Toyota has made significant changes to the fourth-generation model.
A young(ish) guy that I’ve known for a number of years, a man who spent the better part of his career writing for auto buff books and who is a car racer on the side, mentioned to me that his wife has a used Lexus ES Hybrid.
Although the term “continuous improvement” is generally associated with another company, Honda is certainly pursuing that approach, as is evidenced by the Accord, which is now in its ninth generation.