The 2018 Paris Motor Show will not be remembered for copious new reveals. Contrary to previous years, there were a very small number of new production and concept car debuts in the French capital, and even the domestic brands were short on new product and fairly conservative in their stand designs. But while both foreign and domestic manufacturers failed to show really revolutionary new designs, there were some interesting car design trends to spot. Here are a few of the highlights.
Displays, Displays, Displays
Since Audi introduced the Virtual Cockpit, and Tesla Model S launched with the huge vertical touchscreen display instead of conventional buttons, it has become common sense to replace the traditional handles and switches with two or three in-car displays. This trend has trickled down into mainstream models such as the new Mercedes A-Class, but is also evident in vehicles created by manufacturers that were once considered ‘budget’ brands, such as the new Skoda models. Technology — and therefore screens — are all important.
LED Light Bars
LED light bars spanning the width of the rear appeared a long time ago. Cars such as the wonderful but sadly now-defunct Saab brand’s 95, for example, had a light strip along the rear. Now almost every important big brand uses this trick: Porsche, Mercedes EQC and even SEAT. This treatment not only emphasizes the width of a vehicle but also serves to decrease visual height, which is certainly an issue for the increasing numbers of SUVs making their debuts. As with the in-car screens above, the full-width lamps also emphasize a vehicle’s technological attributes.
Grilles on electric vehicles have been the subject of debate recently. While grilles on ICE vehicles serve an inherent need (engine cooling), batteries and electric motors can source air from other parts of the car. Because of this, and the fact that grilles often act as an identifier for brands, designers are experimenting with different applications. Light elements were prevalent on grilles on many of the cars in Paris, which gives vehicles a more distinctive identity. Unfortunately, this form of experimentation isn’t legal in all markets.
If they are to be successful, many vehicles must be sold in global markets. This makes sense from a financial perspective — profitability comes with volume, and adapting cars to different markets is a costly endeavor. But most brands originated from a certain country, and that’s where this latest trend comes in: patriotism. The trend of applying country flags/colors to vehicles can see its roots traced back to the Italian brands, but this has trickled down to other countries too. Volvo was first to revive this application with a small flag sown into the seat of the XC90. It later appeared on the launch edition of the XC40. Now Skoda and Bugatti are getting in on the action, creating an own identity in a global world.
Affordable Electric Cars
Electric cars are no longer a novelty. Spurred by strict rules requiring car manufacturers to emit an average of 95g of CO2 for the entire production fleet, almost every European brand needs electric or hybrid cars. Luckily battery technologies are not standing still and electric cars with ranges of 180-300+ miles are almost reality. As usual, the innovations started in the luxury segment before tricking down to cheaper segments. In Paris, the DS3 Crossback and Kia E-Niro were just two examples of affordable electric cars with great range.
Heritage and Citation
Developing a new bestselling car — let alone an important historical model for the range — is a huge responsibility. That is why manufacturers tread carefully and design their cars using features that have been proven to sell well. But chasing new markets and demographics sometimes dilutes the product and the brand.
Such is the case with the new BMW 3 Series, which was derided by nearly everyone we spoke to at the show. The 3 Series is such a canonical German car, yet there are similarities to Peugeot and Lexus in the new design, particularly at the front and the rear. Adrian van Hooydonk, design director of the BMW Group, was overheard defending the change to the characteristic Hofmeister kink, saying it improved ingress and egress to the rear seat. Be that as it may, it’s a mainstay of the brand and a defining element. It’s sacrilege to change it. The only saving grace is the characteristic front-engine rear-drive proportions of the ‘Dreier’, but will it stand its own against the C-Class and Alfa Romeo Giulia?
Another example is the new Toyota RAV4. While the previous generation RAV4 was a really nice looking car, the new one is an amalgamation of elements presumably cut and pasted from other brands. There’s some bits of Jeep and Lexus and complete madness at the front; something probably more suitable for the American market.
Retro is always in! Paris proved this by unveiling four amazing retro revivals: the Peugeot E-Legend, inspired by Peugeot 504; the Ferrari Monza SP1 and SP2; the Porsche Speedster and the Suzuki Jimny. that’s a lot of retro-inspired product for a show that was relatively short on new product reveals. Nevertheless, it’s always nice to see such automotive icons being reinvented. And while some people are really against retro design, car design, in many respects, is like fashion. The same images, styles and shapes keep coming back after skipping a few seasons (or years). If people recognize the cars and love them then it’s a tug at the emotional heartstrings that will have buyers flocking to the showrooms. and we all know how important emotion is in the car industry.
Subbrands and Submodels
This trend is already a couple of years old, but now almost every manufacturer offers a normal car, an SUV version, a sporty-looking version and true sports version of the same model. Some manufacturers go even deeper, spitting subbrands into luxury and sporty variants of existing models. This is evidenced in the SEAT brand’s spinoff of Cupra; PSA’s creation of the DS luxury brand to complement Citroen; and Mercedes-Benz sports-oriented Mercedes-AMG brand and line-up.
The power of social media and the never-ending news feeds of Facebook, Instagram and the like have created an enormous flow of information that makes viewers and consumers thirsty for new shapes and pictures. This leads to more impatience and fleeting opinions. In the automotive industry, where a car’s lifecycle ranges between three and seven years, it’s hard to keep up. The incessant need for cars to be laden with the latest technological gadgetry has seen some companies eschew design longevity and timelessness. Cars have increasingly become more like Smartphones — lots of displays inside, and vast similarities outside. Conforming to the zeitgeist is a dangerous trend.
Written by Stanislav Malyshev. Additional reporting and editing by Eric Gallina.