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Drew Smith: ethnographer, strategist and host of Rising Minds

First Impressions: Lexus gets it’s guppy on

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In what seems to be a growing down-road-graphic trend (you’ve seen the Nissan Leaf, right?), the new £325, 000 Lexus LFA has splashed onto the intertubes wearing a face that would be right at home on the Great Barrier Reef.

First previewed as a concept a scarcely believable 4 years ago (that’s a long time from concept to production these days), the LFA represents the first foray into the supercar market for Toyota’s luxury brand. And to say that the collective reaction has been lukewarm would be an understatement of oceanic proportions.

From the ever-humourous @BreakingAuto‘s tweet that “CEO Akio Toyoda confirmed that the Lexus LFA’s ’45”-high-shoulder-line, 4″-tall-side-windows’ design theme won’t expand to other Toyotas.” to old aunty CAR coming right out and saying

“…this is not a £325k car. It doesn’t look like one, doesn’t accelerate like one and, whether Lexus likes it or not, it doesn’t have the badge or motorsport/supercar pedigree that many image-conscious supercar buyers demand.”

I’m fairly certain that it wasn’t the reception Toyota bosses were looking for. Read the rest of this entry »

Quick musings: BMW’s Open and Shutlines

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Volkswagen-Golf_2004_1600x1200_wallpaper_17As any automotive designer will tell you, drawing shutlines on a car is black art unto itself. Get them right and you can hinge an marketing campaign on them or, indeed, an entire iconic design, like the VW Golf and it’s C Pillar. Get them wrong and you’ll have pedants like me gibbering like a junky as we try to right the wrongs in our head (I almost had an accident the other day while pondering a VZ Holden Commodore’s rear door…).

Graphic composition of panel gaps aside, it’s been generally accepted that the tighter the gap, the higher quality the vehicle (thus Lexus’ famed Ball Bearing campaign) and the better the aerodynamic performance (Series 1 Range Rovers, which have gaps so voluminous as to be able to accommodate whole fingers, have always provided an amusing counterpoint to this fact…)

BMW’s new concept, the Vision Efficient Dynamics, therefore, has me in a bit of a quandary. Read the rest of this entry »

Do I detect a movement? Car design gets more social by the week.

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I’ve just spent two fantastic days volunteering, presenting and learning at the sensational UXAustralia user experience conference in Canberra, Australia.

It seems appropriate, therefore, that this morning I learnt of another socially-led automotive design project.

Following in the vein of GM’s The Lab, Local Motors and Peugeot, Fiat Brasil has now launched the Mio project. Read the rest of this entry »

Awesome(ly) Small Target Market Alert: Japanese Rockers

Take a look at this film clip and tell me that a design project based around these guys wouldn’t be absurd fun.

They’re a little bit macho, a little bit fem, a little bit psycho and yet oddly controlled. Overlay this on Japanese car culture and I have a feeling that there’s creative space for some suitably bonkers vehicles.

Coupe + SUV still = Fail

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Did nobody tell Acura of the collective slack-jaw expression that met the BMW 5 GT in Geneva? Or of the decidedly muted market reception to the proportionally challenged, stupendously impractical X6?

I guess not: Acura wants to have this monstrosity in dealers before the year is out.

Somehow one of the automotive design sites managed to find something to recommend in the ZDX’s lazy BMW pastiche but I’m not buying it.

From mind-blowingly awful “power plenum” grille (plenums this ugly should stay put under the hood) to the hideous confluence of surfaces at the rear via the comically small rear door (look at the opening in the interior shot below), this car makes the vulgar X6 look like the stylistic patron saint of pointless cross-overs.

As one designer friend put it, this car confirms Acura as the world’s premier publisher of 1st-year design student projects.

The lack of subtlety and detailing in the age of the new Volkswagen Polo, with it’s delightfully co-ordinated grille mesh and headlamp bulb caps, speaks volumes about how seriously Acura takes producing a premium product.

Citroen launches DS Inside… inside.

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The image you see above is the most revealing that I, a fully accredited member of the press, could manage to take of the CItroen DS Inside concept.

Is Citroen ashamed of the DS Inside? Or more specifically, are they ashamed of using the DS name on such an underwhelming product?

As I traipsed the show floor on Monday searching for inspiration, I kept passing the Citroen stand. I was keeping my eye out for the the inheritor of one of motoring history’s great names. After about the 5th fly-by, I realised that something was up.

I noticed an opening at the back of the stand, guarded by a velvet rope and a heavy-set Frenchman. There was a small gathering of people and the bloke was letting them in one by one.

I strutted over, flashed my pass and was admitted to the tiniest night club I’ve ever experienced. Electronica, mirrors and strobe lights saw me immediately dazed and confused. Then, for a split second, a single source of illumination hit the hitherto dark object in the centre of the room: It was the DS Inside.

Camera at the ready, I started snapping away, only for the lights to go spasmodic again, rendering any meaningful observation impossible. I skulked out, feeling somewhat queasy and totally cheated.

I’ve recently questioned whether it’s wise for Citroen to use such an evocative, powerful piece of their history as the namesake for their new mainpremium products. I lived in hope that their marketing chutzpah and the initial product, the DS Inside, would be ballsy enough to give some hope for the future of the DS brand.

That the car, from what I could see, is cute but totally average was a forgone conclusion. The press images released two weeks ago showed that and it gains and loses nothing in the flesh.

What was really mortifying was just how ashamed Citroen seemed to be in showing the car. It did not come across as cool, hip or nonchalant to show the DS Inside in a black box. It came across as weak, as if they regretted bringing the car here at all, much less slapping a DS badge on the nose.

I realise that I’ve been going on about this DS thing for a while now, and this will probably be the last post on the topic until the next travesty is launched (if I can summon up the passion at that time). Sadly, the damage has now been done and I’ll be surprised if Citroen can turn the DS brand around from its anti-launch without a complete re-think of their product.

A word of advice to Citroen and any other brand considering a challenging product concept launch (Lagonda, I’m looking at you), give a design strategist a call. We live and breath your brands, marketing and design. We’ll be more than happy set you right.

Degree Show Review: Pforzheim Winter 09

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A couple of weeks ago I visited Pforzheim for the first time to see the transportation design school’s winter show. It’s always a fascinating experience visiting other design schools and seeing the different approaches schools take in preparing students for the professional world. This show had a particular poignancy knowing how many of the younger professionals are being laid off at the moment. Automotive design, at the best of times, is a difficult career to break in to and it’s not getting any easier for some time to come. Read the rest of this entry »

Mazda Kiyora: The start of something big.

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There was a time when Mazda, like Honda, Nissan and Toyota, was a premium manufacturer. Their Eunos, Xedos and stillborn Amati brands were an attempt to crack the burgeoning premium market in the early 90’s. Sadly, unlike their Japanese counterparts (who have gone on to achieve moderate-to-stellar success with Acura, Infiniti and Lexus respectively), Mazda never quite made it work. Read the rest of this entry »

Someone has been drinking the Opelaid.

Is it me or do the front clips of these two cars look decidedly similar?  The prominent, 5 sided grille on a central plinth? The trapezoidal lamps that break over the top surface of the wing? The three element lower intake? Even the little surface underlining the base of the headlamps is remarkably similar.

On the left we have the Chrysler 200C EV Concept from the Detroit show and on the right we have the new (as in now in production) Opel Insignia.

One is a vision of where a brand wants to be. The other is a testament to where a brand is now, based on a vision that’s maybe 5 years old now.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think the Chrysler is a bad looking car (in fact, elements of it are downright sexy, the lovely interior in particular). It’s just that I would have liked to see a much stronger, forward looking statement about the future of Chrysler, especially give their current financial situation.

 I breathed an epic sigh of relief when I saw that they had finally ditched the baroque/kitsch theme that has done them such a disservice over the last few years but such an homage (intentional or not) to just another average, mid-sized car (that is already on the market) seems like an opportunity missed for the team in Aubern Hills.

Designers: we’re looking for signs of energy, confidence and an eye fixed firmly on the future, not competent me-too-ism!

Lincoln comes through with the goods…kinda.

Today seems as good a day as any to start the little experiment that is DownsideUp. I can’t promise you much but here goes…

It seems only yesterday that the bosses of the Big Three made their separate ways to Washington to plead for more cash in that most inappropriate of vehicles, the company private jet. It seemed impossible that companies headed by these insensitive oafs could actually produce anything remotely relevant for the Detroit show.

Well, I’ve been proved wrong!

Today Lincoln launched the Concept C, a vaguely C-Segment-ish hatch with a Fiat Multipla-aping 3-abreast seating layout. Of course the technical details are nothing but pie-in-the-sky stuff as far as any potential production version is concerned but it’s the package that really excited me.

Here is an American manufacturer seemingly realising that part of the future lies in downsizing. People who would have traditionally purchased D or even E Segment cars will be looking to get into something more manageable and economically/environmentally responsible but they aren’t going to want to give up on the luxuries, or indeed the sense of space, they have come to enjoy. The Concept C delivers on this idea by having a wonderful sense of spaciousness within its compact dimensions and an interior style and elegance appropriate to a small premium player.

For me the exterior design theme is a take-it-or-leave-it affair that plays on well established Lincoln themes somewhat awkwardly adapted to a radically smaller proportion. As I’ve said, the treat for me here was not so much the detailed execution and more Lincoln’s relisation that it can do small and still retain its values. Now let’s just hope FoMoCo has the bollocks to produce it and the American buying public can see it as a viable alternative.

More info at: Autoblog

About DownSideUp Design

I'm Drew Smith and I'm an ethnographer and strategist. By day I shape culture and strategy at Seren. By night I sleep (mostly). And once a month, I host an event called Rising Minds, at Shoreditch House.

DownsideUpDesign is a place for me to collect stuff that I like, often love and sometimes hate for safe keeping. All views represented here are mine and mine alone and do not represent those of anyone else.

Get in touch at drewpasmith (at) gmail (dot) com or tweet me (@drewpasmith) to rant, contribute or collaborate!

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© Andrew Philip Artois Smith and DownsideUpDesign, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Andrew/Drew Smith and DownsideUpDesign with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.