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Designed under the guidance of Tom Kearns at Kia's US West Coast studio, the KV7 is a seven-seat minivan concept that fits the mold of VW's Microbus and Ford's Fairlane concept. "We wanted to do a 'van that was honest," Peter Schreyer told us, lamenting that "everyone is doing sporty, aggressive vans with rising waistlines and small glass areas and we wanted to rethink what the 'van was about and look at what its true appeal is". Clearly, interior is the real focus here and the over-riding impression is of a color and trim scheme that's exquisitely judged. The space includes a reclaimed teak floor, chaise-longue and shell seats (which swivel within their units) faced in lime-yellow upholstery. These combine with the large glazed area and digital interfaces to create an environment which hits a beautiful sweet spot of design: resolutely un-automotive, modern, yet evoking the VW camper-van age, when people adventured with groups of friends, visiting new places. This space is wrapped in a simple, elegantly-surfaced exterior that has just the requisite visual entertainment to avoid feeling austere. There's a horizontal theme which begins in the DRG graphic – Kia's tiger nose grille successfully evolving once again – wrap-around lamps and upper grille rendered behind a transparent upper-mask. This shape is echoed by the new trademark windscreen top (we hope Kia won't mind if we term it ‘widow's peak'), which the designers then employ as a theme. We see it reflected for the rear screen, in the wrap-around DLO whose third light steps up to create a thicker shoulder, and down for an anchored roofline. Inside, it's used for the IP shape, and finally, the rear view mirror case. Simple, elegant and yet never overplayed, Kia has found its contemporary design motif. Elsewhere, the strobing light units are an amusingly retro touch and as we've now come to expect from this company, the proportions and stance are impeccable. While far from original, this is yet another show star from Kia. It's a fine example of the design team driving forward the brand's image and conveying a perception of quality, putting the efforts of some premium brands to shame.
Mercedes continued its highly original conceptual device of showing sculpture at motor shows to convey new design messages with the unveil of a piece, 'Aesthetics No.2', at the 2011 Detroit show. Unlike last year's exterior-focused Detroit show sculpture (in that case hinting at the shape of the next CLS with a drape over it), this year's artwork was more interior-inspired and hints at the direction the brand is taking for its forthcoming quartet of A- and B-Class platform vehicles, known internally as the MFA architecture. All the new A- and B-Class cars will feature jet turbine style vents, shown on the sculpture with a triple set centrally mounted and one more at each end of the IP's flowing 'wings'. The dramatic swooping and high central transmission that runs between the oversized seats also reflects how some of the new range will look. The team was led by interior design director Hans-Peter Wunderlich and included designer Miroslav Jasko – behind the initial sketches – and creative manager Jan Kaul. Wunderlich says aviation, art, architecture and nature were key influences for the project which was designed and built in-house and made from foam covered in a super thin vacuum-formed fiberglass and then topped off with an Alubeam liquid metal paint finish. Although similar in length to a long limousine at 5600mm, the sculpture's other dimensions are exaggerated, especially its width (2600 mm), to give viewers a greater sense of the interior forms. But ultimately, says Wunderlich, the sculpture's significance lies in its overall feeling of where Mercedes wants to be in terms of both interior and exterior design, as he concluded: "We show simple surfacing – but not boring – done in a very sculptural way, so that you think, ‘I must have this car'". Either way, it's a great way to make a concept stand out among a motorshow full of more conventional offerings, while adding an air of arty sophistication to the Mercedes brand.
The Honda Civic Si concept unveiled at the 2011 NAIAS previews the ninth generation of the model, which is set to go on sale in the US this spring. Shown in coupe and sedan form, the vehicles showcase a new interpretation of Honda's 'one motion, one form' design language, which is meant to ‘convey a more substantial high-energy appearance', the company says.
Those hoping for the new Audi A6 to usher in a design revolution for the brand – a role the model has been tasked with since the badge on its trunklid read '100' – will be disappointed. However, those who are beguiled by exquisite design resolution will find solace in this E-segment sedan.
Volkswagen today revealed an all-new Passat, specifically designed for the US market. Effectively occupying a space between its European namesake and the larger Phaeton, the 'American Passat' measures 4868mm in length and 1833mm in width, making the new car 99mm and 13mm larger than its European counterpart, respectively. Unlike the European Passat – which was unveiled with a new front face and rear end design in Paris last year – the new car features all-new body panels and a new, larger interior. Though initially destined for sale in the North American market, the Passat's design and engineering execution took place at Volkswagen's Wolfsburg studio, with color and trim and detail aspects undertaken at the German automaker's California design center (DCC). The result is a conservative design that follows on from VW's current design language, leaving some of the designers we spoke to skeptical as to whether this would be successful in the American market. Though while some used the words 'predictable', 'dull' and 'boring' to describe its exterior design, others thought it was 'simple', 'classic' and 'elegant'. Inside, the interior follows the same horizontal design theme of its European sibling, with a layered IP and color break, but the tactile quality of the plastics are below par, the center-mounted clock looks cheap and the lack of attention to detail lets it down. It would have been nice to see the same level of material quality and execution found in the automaker's European products. The Passat's main competitors in the mid-size segment are the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry; perennial bestsellers because of their infallible reliability. But Volkswagen's new mid-size offering will also go up against the Hyundai Sonata, a more flamboyant design with a high quotient of perceived quality and value. That's tough competition for the Passat. Volkswagen's classical design theme and necessary compromises to attain a lower, more competitive price point may have a negative impact on sales in the world's most competitive marketplace.
While news of the latest Mini variant – a cross-coupe based on the Countryman – may have been met with skepticism, viewing the Paceman Concept first hand proves it to be one of the more impressive cars unveiled in Detroit.
The production-ready BMW 6-Series makes its world debut in convertible form, following on from the 6-Series Coupe Concept displayed last year in Paris.
Arguably the biggest surprise of the first NAIAS press day was GMC's Granite concept - a design that expands (or rather contracts) the truck/crossover brand's ‘professional grade' philosophy to a compact hatchback aimed at urban hipsters and early adopters.
Toyota chose the Detroit auto show to unveil the FT-CH concept, a compact four-passenger vehicle that was created in response to customer and dealer demand for a greater variety of hybrid choices.