CIVICS LE SSON

Automobile - - Design Of The Year -

I liked the Ja­panese As­park Owl elec­tric su­per­car at Frankfurt, too. It was a lit­tle messy in de­tails but in­trigu­ing. Do I think we’ll ever see it again? Not re­ally.

The Nis­san IMX elec­tric con­cept in Tokyo was quite nice and is in­tended for pro­duc­tion three years from now (at least its me­chan­i­cal-elec­tri­cal plat­form is), with ver­sions planned for Re­nault and In­finiti, as well. But does it show us any­thing new or im­por­tant in style? Not re­ally.

Toy­ota’s blunt, bru­tal box-shaped TJ Cruiser, an­other Tokyo un­veil­ing, is al­most cer­tain to go into pro­duc­tion with­out much vari­a­tion from the show con­cept. But it’s very much in the line of pre­vi­ous Toy­ota “tough” trucks and civ­i­lized util­ity ve­hi­cles. Is it an im­por­tant look at the in­dus­try’s fu­ture? Not re­ally.

It’s im­pos­si­ble not to be im­pressed by the Mazda Vi­sion Coupe’s flu­id­ity of both sur­face and line, but do we think there will be a pro­duc­tion ver­sion with smaller wheels and more rea­son­able cabin space—a ra­tio­nally pro­ducible vari­a­tion of the con­cept that re­tains the con­cept’s at­trac­tive­ness? Not re­ally.

There are end­less ver­sions of ul­tra-fab­u­lous su­perduper 80-to-240-mph sports cars that only some of the 1 per­cent can buy and only a hun­dredth of a per­cent of able buy­ers would be ca­pa­ble of driv­ing at any­where close to their per­for­mance po­ten­tial. But do they mean any­thing to the fu­ture of the au­to­mo­bile, whether that be au­ton­o­mous or com­pletely driver con­trolled? Not re­ally. And so it goes.

So what does mat­ter? The Honda duo cited above, con­cepts re­leased in Frankfurt in city-car form (evok­ing thoughts of the early VW Golf) and in sports-car form in Tokyo, rep­re­sent a num­ber of pos­i­tive lines of de­vel­op­ment. They’re small, which we think is go­ing to be vi­tal in the next four or five years when pe­tro­leum prices rise as the U.S. dol­lar ceases to be the key cur­rency in the oil busi­ness. They’re more func­tion­ally de­sign-ori­ented than they are re­lated to cur­rent over­wrought styling trends, and they are con­ceived as elec­tric cars from the start. That’s im­por­tant.

When­ever there is a ma­jor change in ap­proach to the way things are done, there is a ten­dency to ape the out­go­ing tech­nol­ogy’s ap­pear­ance in or­der to soften pub­lic re­ac­tion to the change. The last air-cooled Franklin cars in the ’30s had ex­ceed­ingly hand­some ra­di­a­tor grilles, but

WHEN­EVER THERE IS A MA­JOR CHANGE IN AP­PROACH TO THE WAY THINGS ARE DONE, THERE IS A TEN­DENCY TO APE THE OUT­GO­ING TECH­NOL­OGY’S AP­PEAR­ANCE IN OR­DER

TO SOFTEN PUB­LIC RE­AC­TION TO THE CHANGE.

they didn’t have radiators. The first Tesla Model S sedans had painted sim­u­lacrum of ra­di­a­tor grilles (hap­pily gone now). The Chrysler Air­flow and Lin­coln Ze­phyr cars con­ceived as droop-snoot aero­dy­namic shapes had tall hoods and ar­ti­fi­cial pointed grilles: the Chrysler af­ter a year of pro­duc­tion, the Lin­coln be­fore pro­duc­tion be­gan. Many elec­tri­fied cars (VW Golf, Ford Fo­cus, for ex­am­ple) com­pletely con­ceal their mode of propul­sion, and both the Re­nault Zoe and Nis­san Leaf try fairly hard to look “nor­mal.” The Hon­das do not, and we see that as a very good thing. Honda de­signer Makoto Harada ad­mits that the long hood of the sports model “is not ra­tio­nal, but it un­der­lines the emo­tion, the driv­ing plea­sure one ex­pects of such a car.” We say he’s def­i­nitely on the right track.

Back in late 1983 Honda sur­prised the world with a com­pletely new third-gen­er­a­tion Civic line, in­clud­ing the near-sports-car CRX, a for­mal four-door sedan, and the proto-CUV Shut­tle wagon. It was a ter­rific move, and we an­tic­i­pate other mod­els in this EV se­ries by the time pro­duc­tion be­gins.

The aes­thet­ics are a bit un­usual, with a very flat roof on both mod­els with very lit­tle arc front to rear, ex­tremely sim­ple sur­faces, and a black panel that, yes, sim­u­lates a grille to some ex­tent, with the prom­i­nent round head­lamps in­cor­po­rated within its perime­ter. Al­though I was not com­pletely on board with the sim­ple de­sign at the Frankfurt show, I was amazed to see a few months later that of the 44 pho­tos I took at the show, more than a quar­ter were of the Ur­ban EV—telling me af­ter the fact that I was more im­pressed than I’d thought. Many de­sign col­leagues said it was their fa­vorite con­cept in Ger­many, a po­si­tion shared by other Au­to­mo­bile staffers present.

And the Sports EV at Tokyo sealed the deal. This ten­ta­tive new model range from Honda is the Con­cept of the Year. Re­ally. AM

MANY ELEC­TRI­FIED CARS COM­PLETELY CON­CEAL THEIR MODE OF PROPUL­SION. BOTH THE RE­NAULT ZOE AND NIS­SAN LEAF TRY FAIRLY HARD TO LOOK “NOR­MAL.”

BY ROBERT CUM­BER­FORD

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