DownsideUpDesign

Musings of an Aussie design strategist gone North

Citroen launches DS Inside… inside.

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The image you see above is the most revealing that I, a fully accredited member of the press, could manage to take of the CItroen DS Inside concept.

Is Citroen ashamed of the DS Inside? Or more specifically, are they ashamed of using the DS name on such an underwhelming product?

As I traipsed the show floor on Monday searching for inspiration, I kept passing the Citroen stand. I was keeping my eye out for the the inheritor of one of motoring history’s great names. After about the 5th fly-by, I realised that something was up.

I noticed an opening at the back of the stand, guarded by a velvet rope and a heavy-set Frenchman. There was a small gathering of people and the bloke was letting them in one by one.

I strutted over, flashed my pass and was admitted to the tiniest night club I’ve ever experienced. Electronica, mirrors and strobe lights saw me immediately dazed and confused. Then, for a split second, a single source of illumination hit the hitherto dark object in the centre of the room: It was the DS Inside.

Camera at the ready, I started snapping away, only for the lights to go spasmodic again, rendering any meaningful observation impossible. I skulked out, feeling somewhat queasy and totally cheated.

I’ve recently questioned whether it’s wise for Citroen to use such an evocative, powerful piece of their history as the namesake for their new mainpremium products. I lived in hope that their marketing chutzpah and the initial product, the DS Inside, would be ballsy enough to give some hope for the future of the DS brand.

That the car, from what I could see, is cute but totally average was a forgone conclusion. The press images released two weeks ago showed that and it gains and loses nothing in the flesh.

What was really mortifying was just how ashamed Citroen seemed to be in showing the car. It did not come across as cool, hip or nonchalant to show the DS Inside in a black box. It came across as weak, as if they regretted bringing the car here at all, much less slapping a DS badge on the nose.

I realise that I’ve been going on about this DS thing for a while now, and this will probably be the last post on the topic until the next travesty is launched (if I can summon up the passion at that time). Sadly, the damage has now been done and I’ll be surprised if Citroen can turn the DS brand around from its anti-launch without a complete re-think of their product.

A word of advice to Citroen and any other brand considering a challenging product concept launch (Lagonda, I’m looking at you), give a design strategist a call. We live and breath your brands, marketing and design. We’ll be more than happy set you right.

Filed under: Branding, Car, Concept, Design, Design Strategy, Geneva, Motor Shows, Premium, , , ,

Citroen resurrects DS…as a premium brand

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At next month’s Geneva show, Citroen will revive a name that was laid to rest on the high alter of motoring passion in 1976. The DS3 will be a small premium car with a market launch date some time in 2011. It will later be joined by the DS4 and DS5. I’m thinking these will be Audi A3, A4 and A6-sized respectively.

Although I’m a die-hard Citroen fan, the re-use of the DS moniker sends chills up my spine for all the wrong reasons.

Firstly, DS as a name has so many rich historical connotations surrounding space age design combined with convention-defying engineering. Citroen’s designers are going to have to pull three Technicolor rabbits out of the hat to impress anyone. The comparisons with the original DS will be inevitable and if the new trio aren’t as earth-shattering as the original, you can expect a lot of disappointed journos and Citroen fans. Hardly the reception you want at the re-launch of an icon.

Secondly, no matter how you look at it, Citroen has never been a manufacturer of “premium” cars. Extravagantly engineered (DS/CX/SM/XM) and sometimes eye-wateringly expensive (SM mainly) but not built to sufficiently high standards, big Cits have always been of marginal interest to the average premium buyer. You only need to look at the lovely C6 which costs £35,000 new but can now be had, 3 years old and with 30,000 miles for just over £10k to see why a private buyer would keep the hell away. Your heart might look longingly at a big Cit but your head will always tell you to stop being so idiotic and you go off and buy a BMW, Audi or Merc instead.

I could well be proved wrong, and I hope I am. Geneva will reveal just how creative Citroen’s designers are and how insane (-ly good) their marketing department is.

Filed under: Branding, Car, Design, Design Strategy, Things I like, , ,

Yes, yes, YES! This is a DS!

This also happens to have just been named as the “Most Beautiful Car of All Time” by Classic & Sportscar.

The result wasn’t gleaned from any old survey of C&S readers, either. The panel of 20 included Ian Callum (Jaguar XK), Marcello Gandini (Lamborghini Cuntach, Lanica Stratos), Leonardo Fioravanti (Ferraris Datona, Dino and 308GTB) and the legendary Giorgetto Giugiaro (Fiat Panda, VW Golf Mk 1, Lotus Esprit).

Amongst them, these boys have designed some of the most beautiful and iconic vehicles of the 20th and 21st century (other than the DS) so for all to agree that the DS is tops is a recommendation that comes with megaton weight behind it.

Sadly, the story has a downside:

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Look at this modern “DS” and tell me with a straight face that it in any way lives up to the beauty and mystique of the original. I dare you… No, I didn’t think so.

Let us raise our glasses to post-humously congratulate the Citroen of 1955, Flaminio Bertoni and his beautiful Déesse  and wish the Citroen of 2009 the best as they learn to play with branding fire.

Classic & Sportscar via Car Body Design.

Filed under: Branding, Car, Design, Things I like, Uncategorized, , , , , , , , , ,

No, no, NO! This is not a DS!

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A couple of days ago I wrote about Citroen’s decision to revive the DS moniker as a premium brand.

This is the underwhelming result. The “DS Inside” concept looks like Citroen’s take on a Mini, mashed up with a bit of SUV and MPV for good measure. I don’t actually mind it’s bull-dog stance, bi-color paint and funky B-Pillar/glazing treatment but what kind of a name is “DS Inside”? If there is a Déesse inside, she’d be screaming to be let out of her dowdy purgatory so she can resume her rightful place in automotive heaven.

I don’t have a problem with Citroen trying to shift up market (hey, all the mid market manufacturers are trying it) but I think it’s an epic mistake to sully the DS name with a car that doesn’t come anywhere near the sheer fabulousness of the original. Although images of the interior have not yet been leaked, I’m pretty certain that it won’t turn this particular personal nightmare into a dream come true.

Filed under: Branding, Car, Design, Design Strategy, Premium, Things I Hate, Uncategorized, , , ,

Quick Thoughts: Does my D-Pillar look big in this?

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The embargo has finally lifted on the new Jaguar XJ and although I’ve just woken up and am still a little bleary eyed, the big Coventry cat has already made quite an impression.

Times are tough for luxury car makers and few have had it tougher for longer than Jaguar. As sales of traditional large saloons free-fall and the cost of running them continue to rise, any new entrant to the segment needs to offer distinction and at least a convincing veneer of making good financial and environmental sense. On the face of it, the new XJ seems to achieve all of this.

Jaguar-XJ_2010_1600x1200_w copyWhile the family resemblance to the XF is clear, the design team’s approach to proportion and surface resolution has imbued a more relaxed feel to the XJ, swapping the XF’s bright-eyed and bushy-tailed exuberance for the preening satisfaction of a large, not corpulent, cat enjoying a luxuriant stretch. From the front and side, there is an elongated, fluid elegance to the form that’s really quite beguiling.

2010jaguarxj_abh000The cavernous upright grille in concert with the shoulder line that plunges down to form a more sharply defined corner than on the XF  further bolster the transition of Jaguar from a brand that majored in horizontal down-road graphics (forgettable S-Type notwithstanding) to a new sort of butch, low-set verticality that’s quite distinct from the XF. In a market segment that’s dominated by kidneys, cheese-graters and  gaping maws, Jaguar has clearly been working hard to establish a new and distinctive facial identity. The satisfying head-lamp graphic, first seen on the C-XF concept and sadly missed on the XF, finally sees the light of day here although is seems that the detail resolution of the lamp-cans and LED integration may leave a little bit to be desired.

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Seen in profile, there’s a pleasingly discreet muscularity to the surfaces that, once again, differentiate the car from the XF by way of having a touch more fluidity about them. The overly balanced nature of the fade of the shoulder line does give me some cause for concern however. In profile it’s not so noticeable but in any of the three-quarter views I’ve ssen (and remember, I’m only going off the press shots) the decision to break the shoulder so emphatically and equally on either side of the B-Pillar leaves the car looking a bit too static and heavy set. It would have been nice to see the break occurring a little further rearward with a touch more flounce through the rear haunch. To my mind, doing so would lighten things up a bit and reference both the XK a little more strongly and acknowledge the marque’s past XJ glories.

2010jaguarxj_abh007-1It’s also in profile that the most controversial element of the design comes in to play. To black-out the D-Pillar is an astoundingly bold move and, to be frank, one I’m struggling to see the stylistic benefit of. Lacking any visual relationship to other features seen in profile and butting up against the chromed DLO (therefore denying it the chance to appear as a continuation of the glasshouse from front to rear), it seems controversial for the sake of being so and a little bit cheap as a consequence. Every so often I see Range Rovers of various vintages with body coloured D-Pillars (and indeed pre-production Series 1 cars were so afflicted. In the Range Rover’s case the functional and stylistic benefits of the black-out were clear) and I’m now wondering how many XJ owners will go down the same path of having the pillar painted to match. It’s also interesting to note that in some of the rear 3/4 press shots, the blacked-out section is obfuscated by some none-too-artfully applied lens flare… second thoughts on behalf of the press department?

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Having been a one-time owner of a Citroen CX, I never thought I’d see the day when another manufacturer would so whole-heatedly embrace the large fast-back saloon. Yet the XJ sees Jaguar strengthening it’s affinity for the body-style, having shocked me senseless with the similarly fast-backed XF. Playing up to the current vogue for coupe-esque 4-doors, there’s an elegance to the fall of the XJ’s roof line over the rear-seats into a bone-line that runs through the trunk lid. If only my eye didn’t have to do a double take every time it hit that damned D-Pillar!

Jaguar-XJ_2010_1600x1200_wallpaper_13The rear of the car, like the front, trades the horizontal, Aston-esque feel of the XF for a more formal vertical arrangement and, to be frank, none of the press shots seem to capture a particularly flattering view of it. The shallow, high-set appearance of the glass leads to a very deep trunk-lid and a deep, pouty bumper that all conspire to make the rear 3/4 heavy and  block-like. It’s an effect not dissimilar to the similarly heavy-handed treatment that blighted the otherwise lovely XK8.

I can’t help thinking that the rear screen shouldn’t have been pulled further down, either through a larger aperture or by masking, as Citroen did with the CX and, more recently, Volkswagen with the Passat CC, to reduce the height of the body section. Indeed, pulling the base of the rear screen lower would also allow it to key with the waist line and enable a somewhat more satisfying resolution of the D-Pillar to boot. The inward flow of the tall rear lamps also make the whole composition feel a little bit narrow from some angles.

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Jaguar-XJ_2010_1600x1200_wint copyThe interior is yet another handsome departure from Jaguars past and there are some truly lovely details to be found. Favourite of these would have to be the wood or carbon fibre waist rail that encircles the cockpit, a conscious nod to sports cruiser boats like the Riva says chief designer Ian Callum. Indeed the whole leather-trimmed IP structure is a refreshing repost to the dull, high-hooded monoliths we’ve seen in recent years from BMW and Mercedes with the cowled centre vents and jewel-like clock looking particularly rakish.

Jaguar-XJ_2010_1600x1200_wdial copyOn the technology front it’s noteworthy that Jaguar has joined with Land Rover in being the first to market with a completely TFT-based instrument display allowing for customisation and on-the-fly re-configurability. Given the inherent flexibility of the system, it would be nice to see Jaguar offering customers a choice of dial face as the one depicted in the press shots seems just a little heavy-handed and overly analogue in style for the underlying technology.

Jaguar-XJ_2010_1600x1200_w copybleurghGiven that so much of the story of a car’s interior is told through the details, I’m reluctant to go further until I actually sit in the car and can have a good feel, but I will say this: i thought the neon blue ambient lighting in the XF was a little below a Jaguar’s station in life. Here it seems inappropriately cheap and overly cold, especially against the warmer trim choices available. Neon blue against tobacco tan? No thanks.

On an environmental note, I was astonished to learn that the aluminium (50% of which is post-recycled) XJ weighs slightly less than the XF and anywhere up to an amazing 220 Kg less that the German competition. Combined with Jag’s phenomenal diesels, never mind the green-washing hybrid, we should expect a combination of performance and parsimoniousness never before seen in this segment of the market. The green argument is also helped by the car being 85% recyclable come the end of it’s (hopefully) long life.

The proof of a new car is always in the metal and it may be some time before I can get my hands -and eyes- on the real thing, but on the whole my first impression is a positive one. The XJ can’t fail to cut a distinctive swathe through the throngs of 3-box luxury saloons -more awkward design elements aside- and the interior marks a refreshing change both from the cloyingly retro feel of the previous car and the considered averageness of it’s competitors. As with Jags past, it may well be the detailing that lets it down but on first impressions the new XJ is well placed to steal the thunder of the luxury saloon market as the first green shoots of financial recovery begin to appear.

Filed under: Car, Design, Design Strategy, Eco, Premium, Sustainability, Things I like, , , ,

Cars, culture and how the General lost touch

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My deep, abiding passion sits at the confluence of cars and culture.

For a while I thought I wanted to be the guy drawing cars but I soon came to realise I was more interested in the effect that cars have on people. The same goes for the flip-side: as the needs and wants of a culture change, people effect change on cars. It’s an engrossing cycle of cultural cause and effect.

So it was that I started my working life as a design strategist for the car industry. Like a pig in muck, I delight in observing the whys and hows of the choices people make when they buy a car. Connecting the emotional dots between the prospective customer’s personal needs, surface composition or the “face” of a brand and the eventual purchasing decision is a fascinating experience.

The most important lesson I’ve learnt, however, is that in my work my personal view counts for naught.

I’ve driven 400 Bhp bahnstormers that have left me stone cold and angry with the world (BMW 750i, Mercedes CL), been totally enchanted by an oddball French coupe that left others infuriated with it’s dynamic mediocrity (Renault Laguna) and I adore Volvo 200s and Citroen CXs. Clearly my automotive passions fall outside the mainstream.

Personally, I am but one consumer among millions (and one that’s unlikely to ever spend money on a new car). Professionally, however, it’s my job to elicit the passions, desires and fears both from individual customers and the cultural world they inhabit. I then filter this cocktail into a form that helps designer and eventual owner find a happy medium, that elusive product that sets synapses (and wallets) alight.

Grant McCracken has published a fascinating piece examining Bob Lutz’s role in GMs downfall. He argues that it was the former Car Czar’s imposition of his personal views on what a car should be, rather than understanding American culture, that lead to a yawning disconnect between American consumers and GM.

Of Lutz’s single-mindedness, McCraken has this to say:

“In point of fact, he knew relatively little about our culture. What Lutz knew was cars, and what he liked about cars, by all accounts, was speed….He loved muscles cars because they went fast. Lutz was worse than average as a river captain. I think it’s fairly safe to say that Lutz did not ever grasp the muscle car revival (the one portrayed by Hollywood in XXX, The Fast and the Furious, and now Fast and Furious). He must have gloried in the power and the glory and all that sound. Just as surely, he must have been mystified by fact that it was being produced in some case [sic] by tiny, winged Hondas.”

McCracken suggests that Lutz, to disastrous effect, let his personal emotions and story get in the way of understanding those of of GM customers. Lest we forget, this is the man that in the midst of the post-Inconvenient Truth environmental zeitgeist, declared global warming “…a total crock of shit.”.

Head over to McCracken’s blog to read the full piece, including an idea (one that I heartily support) about how the disconnect could have been avoided and why GM’s future, no matter what the courts have in store, looks bleak even after Maximum Bob’s departure.

Post script: My choice for Detroit Chief Cultural Officer? Freeman Thomas.

[Source: Grant McCracken, Chief Culture Officer: fixing Detroit now, 2009. Glenn Hunter, GM’s Lutz On Hybrids, Global Warming And Cars As Art, 2008] [Image: Andrew Philip Artois Smith]

Filed under: Branding, Car, Car Culture, Design, Design Strategy, , , , , , , , , ,

About DownsideUpDesign

I'm Drew Smith and I'm a freelance design strategist and journalist for the automotive industry. DownsideUpDesign is a place for me to collect stuff that I like, often love and sometimes hate for safe keeping. Get in touch at downsideupdesigner (at) me (dot) com or tweet me (@drewpasmith) to rant, contribute or collaborate!

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© Andrew Philip Artois Smith and DownsideUpDesign, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Andrew/Drew Smith and DownsideUpDesign with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.