It’s been a few weeks since the 2017 Geneva motor show closed its doors. The consensus is that essentially it was more of the same: yet more SUVs, some hyper-expensive hypercars, but little to shift things much further along the road to a future mobility landscape. That the Range Rover Velar and Volvo XC60 premium SUVs were probably the most talked-about cars at the show says much about the industry right now. SUVs and premium-ization are where the volumes and money are.
But that misses the point: cars aren’t necessarily the stars at motor shows — even at Geneva, which uniquely among the major shows celebrates the car as fantastic beast rather than mere corporate cash cow or monthly registration fodder. The real story is what’s behind the cars on show, and even what’s not there.
Designers Take Center Stage in Geneva
Car designers are the new focal points for the automotive brands. Ever since Peter Schreyer, originator of the original Audi TT, was poached from the German company by Hyundai-Kia and effected a transformation of the Koreans’ products, the stock of design bosses has risen sharply. The best designers are now part brand alchemist, part corporate talisman; they double as marketing tools, and are the ones who articulate the product philosophy.
Nowhere is this clearer than at JLR and Volvo, whose stands always sit side-by-side in the Geneva halls. Jaguar and Land Rover have their own internal design-chief arm wrestling match, Jaguar’s Ian Callum locking hands with Land Rover’s Gerry McGovern. Each led their respective brand’s press conference, Callum in a Brit-slick film showing him at the wheel of an F-Type on an ice circuit before driving onto the stand to finish the piece in person; JLR CEO Ralf Speth was merely a support act.
If Callum’s piece was a little over-produced it was to compensate for the fact that he had less to say than his Land Rover counterpart, Jaguar’s big news being that its previously-seen I-Pace EV concept has been painted a different color.
Land Rover design director Gerry McGovern on the Range Rover Velar
McGovern, by contrast, had the Range Rover Velar to launch. It’s curiously named after the very first 1960s Range Rover prototypes, which were go-anywhere, hose-down workhorses. The new car stretches the Range Rover ethos to the opposite extreme — it’s the sleekest, most dynamic, driver-focused car the brand has yet produced. It fills a hole between the Evoque and Sport — whose name it surely should have had — but when that car was named there wasn’t a Porsche Macan to take on. And that, fundamentally, is the Velar’s job.
The latest Jaguar and Land Rover/Range Rover models have excellent, progressive design that successfully transports heritage brand values into 21st-century packages, but if anything they’re engineering marvels, not design triumphs. Making a two-ton, high-riding lump of SUV like the Velar go around corners on rails and emit as little as 142g/km of CO2 is a major achievement.
Yet the engineering bosses were confined to the shadows at Geneva. But at least Range Rover wasn’t giving Victoria Beckham a design credit.