Mercedes Concept Digital Transformer: double-take

One of the stars of Frankfurt this year was the Mercedes Concept IAA (Intelligent Aerodynamic Automobile). Its trick is to elongate body-sections around the tail at speeds above 80km/h to improve aerodynamics. Other technology is deployed around the vehicle when this happens, but the visual drama is all at the rear-end, where the car appears to elongate. The aero behind this is that the longer (and smaller in section) you can make the tail of a car (where the airflow detaches from the body) the less resultant turbulent drag the shape creates…


So back in 2006 I designed a car that would do exactly the same trick. It was for my final MA project, based around a dissertation ‘the perception of aerodynamics’, and I’ll say right now, Mercedes did a better job!..but it was essentially the same idea. I say that not by way of claiming any ownership, as nothing is ever really ‘new’, more that these ideas have been around for a while…and it’s good to share ideas that have been realised in one form or another:


Initially I started with this idea to just have side panels that cleaned the airflow around the tail of the shape. But projects evolve (not always for the good!) and ended up with the dual-mode tail – short for urban, long for aero:


short package

How to make the elongated tail work elegantly was beyond my project timeline / skillset at the time so I ended up making the 1/4-scale model in its ‘long’ mode..and orange.


Mercedes have created a effective solution to an aerodynamic conundrum… and I’m glad to have worked out the same design solution as they did!


Frankfurt – Stars in your eyes

Mazda Koeru. I can’t pronounce it, but Mazda’s Kodo design language keeps getting better and better. It’s now several years since the Kodo (Soul of Motion) mantra was introduced and each iteration of concept, and production car too, is a more refined and elegant interpretation.

The Koeru is almost simple in it’s form and proportion, but it’s a delicate trick achieving this level of economy of line. The DLO in particular is beatifully fluid with an organic flick at the C-pillar. Mazda probably don’t have the customer base to launch this in a crowded Sports-SUV segment, but it would be the best-looking of the lot if they managed it..


Mazda KOERU_15

Porsche e-mission

As mentioned previously, the OEMs have sat and watched Tesla’s success like a hawk. Porsche described the mission-e as what the future “might look like”..and the theoretical specs make this concept a direct hit on Tesla’s model S. Whether you like the gentle evolutionary approach of Porsche’s design language, or find it a little constricted – the e-mission is undeniably a beautiful form. Like the Mazda there’s a simplicity about the surfaces that is stunning. Nothing superfluous – each intake is purely functional, but blended effortlessly into the seamless and instantly-recognisable form. Particularly impressive is the framing of the headlamps into the hood; the line that blends down through the vertical aero-slots and tucks back towards the centreline of the car.






Infiniti Q30

Infiniti’s push to a volume-seller in the premium C-segment makes them take aim at the Golf, Focus, 308 etc. There’s evidence of certain packaging constraints, particularly in the interior where a high windsheild base and fairly tight door-closures mean the interior space feels ‘cosy’ rather than spacious. But the exterior brings real sophistication to this segment. The bold twisting beltline is unique amongst the Euro competitors, who tend to define their individuality with lighting and grille elements. The Q30 really makes a statement: some might find it too characterful, but in gunmetal grey and 20″ wheels, it looks like something from the class above.



Honourable mention: Alfa-Romeo Giulia

Should have been the star for me – I love a big beefy Alfa…but, the design detailing let it down. The nose appears flatter in plan view than it did in the press-pics. The grille is clumsy with blanked panels (presumably to hide sensors / pipe-work etc) while the proportions feel a little heavy around the rear 3/4.



The interior, on the other hand, is great. High centre-console, so it feels like a Jaguar in this respect, with Hallelujah – a manual gearbox! Nicely integrated media screen (not the usual rectangular unit) and simple but tactile HVAC controls. No distraction from the main event..510HP.


Frankfurt part 1- Das Beste Oder Nichts

The best..or nothing (i think..). The phrase greets you as you head into the Mercedes-Benz building at the Frankfurt Motor Show. You could be forgiven for thinking that the German auto-makers run this show, such is the prominence given to the host nation’s big three; Audi get their own pavillion, Mercedes-Benz their own entire hall, while the rest make do with more modest surroundings. Fittingly though, it was Mercedes and Porsche who had the most intiguing concepts of the show, at least from the German OEMs.

Porsche’s Mission e concept showed a true electric performance sedan; testament to Tesla’s success being a motivating factor within the industry. A revolution in terms of Porsche’s usual evolutionary design language, the Mission e is a bold new direction. Lean, almost minimal, yet softly-formed, it makes the vast Panamera look a decade older..




White is a difficult colour to pull off – it can flatten surfaces and hide highlights, yet the Mission e looked impressively monolithic. Like it was hewn from a solid billet of porcelain.

Mercedes vision of future efficiency is an advanced active-aerodynamic concept, Advanced IAA (Intelligent Aerodynamic Automobile).





With an extending rear-end to improve air-flow the Mercedes is, like the Porsche, a far softer form than you might expect. Interestingly, perhaps stung by comments about the fully opaque windows of their previous autonomous concept,  Mercedes have used a semi-opaque film on the IAA, which crucially breaks up the side profile volume.

More to come..


Rolls-Royce Dawn – Design Images

“Dawn is a Rolls-Royce that feels completely at home on the Route Napoleon. It is a contemporary homage to a life on the Côte d’Azur. The car is a contemporary take on the ‘Casino’ lifestyle. Perhaps seen as cavalier in character it is intended to attract people who relish both freedom and sophistication,” comments Giles Taylor, Director of Design.

1068092_RR06 pencil or light PS2 1068098_RR06_02_1 1068107_RR06_04_2 1068110_RR06_02_2 1068119_RR06_06_1 1068121_RR06_05_1a 1068124_RR06_07 1068030_054_F34_Roof_Up_Chrome_Wheels 1068036_Dash34_007

“At Rolls-Royce Motor Cars we design without compromise, and this uncompromising approach brings new challenges with each new motor car,” continues Taylor. “In the case of the new Rolls-Royce Dawn, we have designed it from the road up to deliver a striking, seductive encounter.”

Peugeot Fractal

Ahead of Frankfurt, PSA have released details of their Fractal concept – an urban 2-seater that explores sensory elements through design form, in particular acoustics. I’ll leave the description of this concept to the designers themselves;

“PEUGEOT FRACTAL is an electric urban coupé revealing a prospective design of the PEUGEOT i Cockpit® that explores another of the senses: following on from visual; sight, embodied by the head-up display, and touch; with the compact steering wheel and touchscreen, PEUGEOT FRACTAL showcases unprecedented attention to acoustics in automotive design. The result is a level of auditory perception that further enriches the driving experience.”

PEUGEOT FRACTAL also features a sound signature created by sound designer Amon Tobin, which plays when the driver opens the doors using the smartwatch remote system. What follows is a unique electric coupé driving experience offering a wealth of sensory exploration.

RCA revisited

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  • The possibilities of Autonomous driving
  • New manufacturing processes driving functional aesthetic
  • New expressions of personality
  • A desire to change the existing ownership proposition and the industry status-quo – the agile industry]

True to form, the RCA’s 2015 MA Automotive Design show featured some challenging abstract concepts that shun outright technical feasibility for provocation of thought. As usual the standard of work was high, with a diverse cultural perspective.

From a Stradivarius-inspired sportscar to an autonomous crop-munching tractor, here are some of the highlights.

VDA design 4

Armed with the data to prove that only 94% of farmers are over the age of 25, Gareth Rees’s proposal for an autonomous tractor, Element, is a vision of a benign creature tirelessly toiling away in the fields, with a minimal carbon footprint. It addresses a real socio-economic need – how to entice bright young things into the world of farming. It’s an interesting interpretation, one that imagines a remote-farming style, perhaps appealing more to a new professional-farmer than the salt-of-the-earth of old.



New, responsible luxury was the theme with Cal Craven’s 68m super-yacht, Orion’s Belt. Aimed at the hyper-rich (read Elon Musk) who desire to show off their wealth but in an ecologically aware way. Gone are the glitzy metallic surfaces, heliports and launches, instead is a craft that attracts plastic particles floating around in the ocean, and harvests them for use, either by the crew to 3D print spare-parts for the craft itself, or perhaps to create furniture pieces for use on board. The three-tiered architecture reflects the owner’s aspiration towards adventure and expedition.

7VDA design 3

MIT’s 4D-printing process was put to use in No Infrastructure Needed by Simon Haynes. Inspired by the Lunar Rover and aimed at inaccessible non-urban environments, the car is self-building. Structural elements blend from the interior to the exterior frame that both supports the body and protects the occupants. A single central hoop acts as a safety frame for the occupants, yet crucially enables the vehicle to be packed compactly for economic crate transportation to remote areas. A refreshingly lightweight and minimal concept; that no infrastructure is needed hints towards a lighter car-footprint than we currently experience.

8VDA design 1

Limbo-final journey, by Florian Kainz, explores the ultimate application of customisation: the interior of a hearse. Linking with the traditions of many of our cultural ancestors of personalising burials by including mementos, Kainz imagines death as an interconnected social-media event – with the response of family and friends generating an algorithm that 3D prints the hearse interior in bio-plastics.

Funeral-goers can add their own messages and items to the interior creation, making the last drive a memorable and inclusive event.

Pilkington Tianqin Bao 2

Winner of the Pilkington-sponsored award ‘Best use of Glazing’ was Tainquin Bao, an ex-Coventry graduate, with Scar. Challenging our obsession with replacing cars every few years, Scar explores a method of 3D-printing new panel elements to replace damage over the lifetime of the vehicle. Bao believes the relationship between man and car can be more meaningful when the car evolves and ages too. Inspired by architectural materials, Scar intersperses the body with copper surface elements that grow an ever-changing patina for an always-unique look. A modular and updateable powertrain system could allow the car to live as long as its owner.

Happie by Yibo Wu takes the Google autonomous car through a refresh to a version 2.0, with a far more open interior architecture. Electro-magnetic ‘cushions’ that have multiple uses such as lighting and storage, can be snapped into the interior allowing a more personalised take on a shared car-ownership model. Wu retains the Google cars’ friendly, approachable aesthetic but adds charm and personality.





Pilkington Sepehr Amirseyedi 1

VDA design 2

Mark Hinton’s Infiniti Autonomous future imagines a new aesthetic for the Japanese company and a move away from mono-volume autonomous cars. Without crash-test requirements why does the car need a conventional windshield, for example. Taking Infiniti’s dynamic sculptural form language to a more extreme solution the result is a an unusual and challenging aesthetic.


Farhana Safa re-imagines the Automotive design process with Kinesis. Previously a neurosurgeon, Farhana looks at the implication of using the tools of a craft as an intuitive creative device. In this case the starting point was a sphere in a CAD package, which was sculpted into the final form influenced by the organic fluidity of liquid-metal alloy, a material that shape-shifts through the application of an electric current. Combined with the re-positioning of packaged components – as an example, an advanced aluminium battery sandwiched within the car’s surfacing – the result is a remarkably fluidic rolling sculpture.

Overall, an inspiring optimism about the future of self-driving transport, alongside some fresh takes on personalisation, innovative use of materials, and design solutions that actively improve our environment.

Lexus Hoverboard – it flies!

A few weeks back there was some speculation about whether the teaser for this film would result in the real Marty McFly board experience, after all these years.

It’s the closest we’ve got so far..Lexus, we salute you.


The official reveal of the Lexus Hoverboard in action marks the culmination of 18 months of design and technology planning and weeks of testing at a specially constructed “hoverpark” near Barcelona.

PR Image 1_Hero

The task of putting the machine through its paces fell to international pro-skateboard star Ross McGouran, who said: “I’ve spent 20 years skateboarding, but without friction it feels like I’ve had to learn a whole new skill, particularly in the stance and balance you need to ride the hoverboard.”

Lexus worked with a team of scientists from IFW Dresden and evico GmbH who specialise in magnetic levitation technology. Following extensive testing with McGouran in Germany, the team were determined to push the hoverboard to its limits, conducting further tests in a dynamic environment.

The hoverpark was constructed using around 200 metres of magnetic track set beneath the surface of an area similar to a conventional skate park. This gave Lexus and McGouran the opportunity to demonstrate tricks that no skateboard could ever perform, including travelling across water. The results are captured in Slide, a film helmed by award-winning director Henry-Alex Rubin.

PR Image 6_Water

The Lexus Hoverboard features two cryostats, reservoirs which contain superconducting material, kept at -197°C through immersion in liquid nitrogen. The board is placed above a track fitted with permanent magnets to achieve magnetic levitation.

Dr Oliver de Hass, CEO of evico, said: “The magnetic field from the track is effectively ‘frozen’ into the superconductors in the board, maintaining the distance between the board and track – essentially keeping the board in a hover. The force is strong enough that the rider can stand and even jump on the board.”

Mark Templin, Executive Vice President Lexus International, said: “We set out to push the boundaries of technology, design and innovation to make the impossible possible, collaborating with partners who share our passion for creating enjoyment out of motion.

“As we combined our technology and expertise, we discovered that making a hoverboard isn’t an easy process. We’ve experienced highs and lows and have overcome a few challenges, but through mutual determination we have created a demonstration of our philosophy in design and technology to create Amazing in Motion.”

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