Designs on cars

I was at last week’s media day at the Sydney International Motor Show, where my favoured subject of car design, strutted its stuff.

As well as the ‘looks’ of a car, there are of course issues such as sustainable fuel systems, running costs, vehicle safety and affordability.

All these matters relate ultimately to the success of a particular design.

The recent rise of electric propulsion has been somewhat derailed by geologists, who keep finding more and more fossil fuel.

Given that the energy embedded in a cup of petrol is equivalent to that to be found in a small dam, this is not a bad thing, but the rising cost of its extraction means frugal engines, light vehicle weight and stop-start systems are mandatory.

The show was brimming with clever technical tricks, but these were all overshadowed by some brilliant car designing.

The evolution of the ubiquitous car (there are now over 500,000,000 of them on our planet) follows Darwinian principles of evolution.

Imaginative variations of personal transport occupy almost every marketable niche.  The term ‘crossover’ is so accepted nowadays, it’s not even used.

In terms of car design, unfortunately most Japanese, Chinese and Malaysian  manufacturers don’t understand that a camel is a horse designed by a committee and they consistently underrate the importance of how a cars ‘looks’ can advance the goal of integrating emotion and technicality.

Apart from an allergy to emotion some manufacturers use ‘customer clinics’ to get the purchasers to help with the design. Both these approaches  undervalue imagination and negate forward thinking.

Did the Taj Mahal arise as a result of a survey of suggestions from the locals?

The ‘well tailored’ design philosophy of Porsche, Volkswagen and Mercedes is much less offensive, and of course, safe, but my interest lies mainly in leaps of imagination rather than tiny footsteps.

Happily, some enlightened manufacturers (mainly those unburdened by ‘tradition’ ) have recently realised that if excellent, well executed, and yes emotional ,design can be added to the pillars of reliability, performance and functionality, and at no extra cost, this could be the ‘point of difference’ marketing edge.

This. I’m sure, is true.

Look, for example, at the meteoric rise of the Koreans, who recently have hired and promoted a high profile German designer.

He, Peter Schreyer, is now so busy penning new Kia’s, that he didn’t even have time to come to the show.

Fortunately two talented Scots did turn up.

Ian Callum at Jaguar to proudly presented ‘the car that I have been waiting 17 years to design’, the stunning new F type.

Gerry McGovern to unveil his new Range Rover. He took pleasure in telling the press that no, Posh Spice did not design the new Evoque.

Lamborghini dazzled with the completely unrestrained, mad as a poked bull, limited edition ‘Sesto Elemento’

It almost seems that car designers have ultimately more control over their product, than architects have over the design of buildings.

The ‘why’ of this  is something we should all ponder deeply.

Beauty, although highly subjective, and difficult to define, is nonetheless a universally truth. Whilst ugliness is vexatious to the human spirit, beauty somehow lifts it.

Art survives economic depressions, generally and inexplicably defining the positive aspects of the society from which it sprang.

Peripheral to this subject, I noted that the usual female decoration present at the show.

Their purpose being in some sort of aesthetic association with the metal models about which they disport.

Proton, a newly launched Malaysian brand, even had Miss Australia posing next to its new ‘Excrable’ (or some such name) in the hope that some of her attributes might transfer to the car.

Ironic, isn’t it that Ian Callum is balding and Gerry McGovern is short.

Lexus beefed up their presentation with an act by Cirque du Soleil, who were in town for their show.

Interesting, because that brand seems to be distancing itself from its derivative proto-german beginnings, by introducing agility, contortion and colour to their brand. Hooray for them.

All in all, a very stimulating car show. To me its importance was to demonstrate that the future of personal mobility is assured, as long as the successful marriage of emotion and purpose prevails.

The trick, as the great car designers show us, is that beauty need not be sacrificed for functionality.

In my mind it is clear that beauty needs to be part of that functionality, if only to give us mortals trapped on this green and brown planet the pleasure of car-watching.

Seeing all the iterations of these wheeled objects, which fill so much of our present day urban environment and upon which we so depend.