Rev up the spirit of the past

Car companies are displaying their latest designs at the Geneva Motor Show. Dale Harrow takes a look

The Geneva Motor Show has become an annual design fest – it is the major event in Europe for car companies to show off their design talent and aspirations. This week, the latest concept cars, which have been feverishly worked on over the cold winter nights, finally emerge from hibernation and into the flashing lights of the press. It’s certainly a place where the phrase ‘all cars look the same’ doesn’t apply.

This year there is a distinctly retro feel to some of the products on show. It is slightly ironic that the retro design bandwagon, begun with the VW Beetle and Mini, has moved on from the 1960s to the 1970s with the redesign of cars such as the Fiat X1/9 by Turin-based design college Instituto Europe di Design and the Lancia Stratos by Fenomenon, a company formed by one of the Royal College of Arts’ current MA students.

Small cars are very much de rigueur this season. Renault, led by British designer Patrick Le Quément, is showing its Z17 concept car, which seats three passengers. This is in response to the fact that most cars have only one or two occupants at a time, but two-seaters are seen as unpractical. Then there is the Hyundai HED-1 concept, a mini multi-purpose vehicle designed to offer increased flexibility in a small car package.

Citroën is presenting the new C1 city car and its new C6 flagship, a lounge on wheels designed to compete directly with BMW’s 5 series. These cars are good news for Citroën fans, and the C6 in particular is a return to the company’s design heritage, with innovations such as head-up displays, directional headlamps and a clean style that is evocative of the idiosyncratic look of the classic DS series.

Italy is also well represented at the show. One of the most significant designers of his generation, Giorgetto Giugiaro of Italdesign, who created the original VW Golf among others, shows the Mitsubishi Nessie ‘responsible’ off-roader. Giugaro is also behind the Alfa Romeo Brera, a striking coupe developed from a concept car from 2002, which has its world premiere at the Geneva show.

Geneva will also be the launch pad for the redesign of a car that has become an icon for the Japanese motor industry. The Mazda MX5, which proved that Japan could produce exciting and desirable cars, has a new skin courtesy of another British designer, Moray Callum – place your orders now!

Dale Harrow is director of vehicle design at the Royal College of Art

The Geneva Motor Show runs until 13 March

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