Geneva 2010 marked a return to simple lines, elegant forms and fresh optimism. There appeared to be an almost unified attempt to address and shape emerging new themes in the motor industry, as companies stepped up with myriad solutions for a design language that engaged with sustainable mobility.
Mike Robinson, Design Director of Stile Bertone told us: 'We have come to the end of an era and need a new language. We must take advantage of the changing times and not cry about it,' he said admitting: 'It is a fantastic moment for car designers.'
The auto world has taken its time to truly embrace green design. Until the Frankfurt show last September, it almost felt as if some were going through the motions, rather than approaching ecological design with the pulse of excitement necessary to create interesting products.
There have been, off course, exceptions - Audi's e-tron, BMW's Vision Efficient Dynamic, and Renault and Nissan's family of adventurous electric cars, for example. At Geneva, however, almost all marques, including performance-focused Porsche and Ferrari, demonstrated a thoroughly thoughtful approach to housing the modern powertrain. It was, for example, Ferrari's first stab at electrification (however mild). Porsche's designers, on the other hand, formulated a green design language with a high degree of intelligent restraint.
The beautifully sculpted 918 Spyder is a part electric-hybrid supercar. Although still at the conceptual stage, Porsche rarely invests in show cars that do not morph into reality, meaning that the 918 is likely to become the street car sibling of the Le Mans series RS Spyder race car. 'We wanted to show that there is a future with sports cars,' said the company's Design Director Michael Mauer. 'That if you do it in an intelligent way, you can keep the emotional part and still be eco friendly.'
Mercedes-Benz unveiled the F800, built to house either the latest hydrogen fuel tech cell or a plug-in hybrid system. 'It has been developed to be a car for the modern powertrain, and the design should reflect this,' agreed Steffen Köhl, Head of Advanced Design. The F800 is also a teaser for the marque's upcoming design language. With its simple yet precise lines, sophisticated surfacing and light interior inspired by Art Deco, the F800 pays discreet homage to the classic Mercedes of the 1930s without resorting to all-out retro design.
SEAT showcased its IBE concept car, an electric city run around for those on a more modest budget. Its author Luc Donckerwolke set out to expresses the car's modern powertrain. 'We are saying you can have fun driving, be responsible and not feel guilty,' he said.
Not all companies, however, focused on an eco-friendly message. Arguably one of the most elegant cars of the show sat on Italian design house Pininfarina's stand. The Alfa Romeo 2uettottanta concept is a vision for a future open top Spider that also celebrates the firm's 80th anniversary and Alfa's centenary.
Design Director Lowie Vermeersch explained: 'The Alfa Spider was one of the cars that started the story of Pininfarina and so we thought the best way to celebrate this was to show a future vision for this car.' His main goal was to work with sleek and classic proportions to give the car what he referred to as 'a touch of class'.
In complete contrast, competing Italian consultancy Bertone unveiled the Pandion, its future vision for the Alfa Spider. This loud and futuristic concept car features vast scissor doors that run the length of the car and stand over 3.6m high when open.
French firms Peugeot and Citroën made a timely return to the design scene with the elegant SR1, which previews Peugeot's upcoming design language, while Citroen added two newcomers to its high-end DS line – the DS3 High Rider and DS Racing. The former previews the upcoming DS4, a rival to the Nissan Juke and MINI Countryman, also unveiled at Geneva. These cars fall into a new trend in smaller 4x4s that strive to offer some of the comfort of larger sports utility vehicles without entirely alienating the green brigade.
One noteworthy unveil was the pint-sized Nissan Micra. In its fourth generation, the car will be built at the all-new Nissan-Renault factory in Chennai in India and is designed for a world market that includes the all-important emerging markets so crucial to the survival of all car manufacturers. This makes the Micra a truly populist car in every sense, one that has to have extremely broad appeal.
Finally, it was left to Aston Martin to ruffle a few feathers through its partnership with the slightly less glamorous Toyota. The result is the ultimate accessory, a premium commuter car. Design Director Marek Reichman described the Cygnet as being akin to a piece of clothing, something more appropriate to slip on when popping in and out of urban areas.
'As our world changes there is a shift in the consciousness of how we drive and get to places,' he told W*. 'It becomes the intellectual choice to have a sports car for the open road, but then in the city have something more appropriate - something that you can manoeuvre, doesn't cost you the earth and takes up less road space.'