Welcome back, Alfa

As a car nut, the arrival of any new Alfa-Romeo is cause for a minor celebration. A celebration tinged with concerned expectation…for Alfa have been treading a fine line between making characterful cars that make no money, and incredibly crappy cars that no-one wants to buy (I’m looking at you, Mito), for seemingly 20 years now.

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This new car, the Giulia, ticks some of the right boxes. It’s rear-wheel-drive. And it’s got a bespoke Ferrari breathed-on engine (at least in the top-spec Quadrofoglio version released yesterday). There is a hint of 3-series about the DLO though, and from the rear I see some Lexus genes. Probably those strange stacked exhausts, that look a little to Lexus F to me. Yet there are thankfully also some references to the 156, Alfa’s last decent car in my opinion.

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Things have moved on since the 164 Cloverleaf, the grand-daddy of the big powerful Alfa sedan. Most apparent, is the impact that lighting technology improvements have made on the design opportunities for the cars front-face. What was once a relatively simple feature, blended into the bonnet surfacing, has now become a focal point, sweeping from the upper grille through to the front wheel, and in many cases, beyond.

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The big gamble with the Giulia is the market positioning. Are people prepared to pay £50K for a new Alfa? Closest in spirit to Jaguar’s new XE, the Giulia has to succeed. If it doesn’t sell in volume Alfa may be another footnote in the history books of great cars that once were.

 

Coventry Degree Show 2015 – Part 1

Having been to many degree shows over the years, it’s been fascinating to see the process of preparing for the show from the other side. The last week before the opening Industry night saw the students putting in hard-core hours; painting, rendering, tweaking and refining. All good prep for a life in the industry!

Here are some of the highlights;


Audi 2+1

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Range-Rover Hunter

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Abarth Spyder

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Jaguar XL-O

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Perception

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Audi Autonomous

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Smart fortrack

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Opel – reverse the damage
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New Jaguar XE

Jaguar launched their new XE earlier this week, with a stunt that I accidentally witnessed from the breakfast bar of a hotel I was staying in. I almost choked on my eggs..a series of cables stretched across the Thames with the car slowly being pulled from one side to the other. Really slowly, as in 10 minutes. IMG_5280

I’m assuming, as there weren’t any obvious crowds, that this wasn’t a launch event, but will form part of a TV campaign.

IMG_5277Here’s what’s being suspended 30ft above the Thames;

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Link to video

Aston-Martin Lagonda redux

As a kid growing up in the 80’s the Aston-Martin Lagonda was an exotic curiosity. Outrageous edges, disjointed proportions, and a space-age interior..it was like a strange vision of the future, a future that involved digital instruments.

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Which seemed perfectly reasonable in an age of Austin Maestros with speech synthesisers.

Fast forward to now and Aston-Martin have launched the new Lagonda, called Taraff strangely enough. An interesting approach; they’ve decided to pay homage to the original cars’ silhouette, but with a far more refined, developed design language.

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And there are some stunning and imposing views.

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The grille blending into the headlights is incredibly well-resolved. The car hides its length well, as this is a 5.3m long car, with some neat touches. The front and rear fascia panels are slim, as on the original car.

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The front wheel arch is pulled tight over the wheel, skimming lbs off the visual weight…

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And there’s a trick C-pillar crease that is really showing-off the fact that the panels are carbon-fibre – something almost impossible to do using conventional steel and stamping techniques.

So although it’s a car that clearly tips its hat to it’s ancestor it looks perfectly contemporary. Where it’s perhaps let down is inside. It’s a shame that Aston played it safe in here, bearing in mind the original Lagonda’s madness, but then perhaps they learned a lesson from the older car. The real missed opportunity though is that AM didn’t create a new minimal architecture for the interior. It’s essentially the same IP and console that’s in every other Aston-Martin of the last 5 years…

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…a slim Instrument panel, minimal analog interface, perhaps a beautiful steering wheel and gearshift could have really made the Lagonda the ultimate bespoke sporting limo. It’s clear that even with an incredibly high-end product like this there are cost-constraints, shared components. But I just wish Aston Martin had at least tried to reference the crazy innovation of the original interior.

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Tech for tech’s sake?

JLR recently showed off their 360 Virtual Urban Windscreen pillar-projection system; a high-tech solution to the age-old problem of not being able to see through the A and B pillars. jlr-urbanwindscreen-followmeghostcar-and-transparent-pillars-1 It uses cameras mounted on the pillars to feed images through 2 projectors located around the rear-view mirror, which are projected on to each pillar surface. I’ll probably get some flack for this, but…from a design perspective this is a classic case of using technology to plaster over the real issue. It’s a sticking plaster over the existing architecture of a car. The real innovation is to use advanced materials and clever design and engineering to build an A-pillar that the driver and passenger can see through. Like Kia’s Stinger concept.. kia-gt4-stinger-concept-interior-photo-572963-s-1280x782 Or Volvo’s SCC concept.. scc06 These weren’t simple solutions; each would require costly safety development and homologation, and perhaps there’s a user perception that being able to see through a pillar makes it somehow weaker than a ‘real’ metal pillar. But they were innovative; they moved the game on, they offered new design implications. It’s indicative of a trend that sees relatively low-cost technology over-riding real design solutions. Case in point; Tesla’s tablet-like interface on the Model S. 2012-tesla-model-s-interior-photo-462046-s-1280x782 Interior design has been nudged aside by the ‘innovation’ of having a large flat touch-screen. The thinking seems to be that the functions of the screen are so important that it should take priority over a well thought-out and intuitive interior HMI. I don’t belive that this will be how car interiors will develop; Design strategy will ensure that unique solutions will be required to keep each brands DNA intact. It’s the digital vs analogue argument; the digital solutions will be offered to us with huge advantages of personalisation, and cost-effectiveness. But maybe we need to pause and remember that physical, analogue design is tangible..and permanent.