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Tasting the future
by Adeline Seidel | 4/28/2015

Der Salone gewährte auch diesmal Einblicke in ein automobiles Wunderland. Es gab Straßen aus feinem Marmor, sinnliche Erlebnisse und Fahrzeugträume mit Unwahrscheinlichkeitsantrieb.

Buzz in future from A to B with the infinite improbability drive as in “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”? Don’t panic, it whisks you through space across immense distances without you losing any time at all. Making even improbable things suddenly probable. Image © Stylepark

Automotive designers have always nurtured a noble wish to coax emotions from their clientele – “for the sheer pleasure of driving” and “with a technology that inspires”. Perfectly aware that those moments of endorphin-induced screams of joy as we whoosh past beautifully breathtaking scenery, hair blowing in the wind and doing 120 miles an hour, are actually few and far between. Ordinary automobile life is decidedly different – and definitely less enjoyable: Crawling through the streets at snail’s pace, circling around and around to get a parking spot, with people cutting in, blocking, pushing and shoving their way through the traffic until we succumb to that infamous frustrated driver syndrome, saying words we promised would never again pass our lips.

In an effort to make us sear all of that from memory and convince our brains that driving, automotive brands and the auto itself really are something wonderful, the manufacturers at the Milan Salone dish up some truly extraordinary fare. It’s called brand staging and each year involves the one or other famous artist and designer. The incentive? Those installations will help our possibly one-track attitude towards autos ease up and inject “new drive into the company”. There are great differences between the individual shows, but they all evoke one and the same mantra: the future of mobility.

  • High-end Pop and strange: Jaime Hayon’s Wonderland for Mini.
    Photo © BMW Mini

Die Carrara-Carrera-Bahn

Up first is Jaime Hayón’s Wonderland for Mini. Aesthetically, it is somewhere between comic chic and the music videos by the band Zoot Woman. A track made of white marble divided by a golden central strip winds its way through the space, propped up on a china blue pedestal. A high street, if you like, that subtly emulates the shape of an M. Instead of an auto we find two scooters – so-called Citysurfers – lining either end of the Carrara track. Visitors are not permitted to ride them in situ; after all we are talking about “Urban Perspectives” here. And in order to capture our attention Jaime Hayón has dreamed up an entire universe: There are jackets – the urban version of a fisherman’s jacket with plenty of room for gadgets – and helmets that could be mistaken for the masks of super heroes, ensuring we are perfectly equipped to tackle the happy world that is the urban jungle. Not in a Mini, mind you, as it would only get stuck in traffic, but on one of those e-scooters that allow you to simply whizz wherever you want. Meaning that Mini has managed to re-inject the fun factor into the driving experience.

  • At Peugeot, LED blades of grass moved without much emotion to the sounds of a piano. Photo © Robert Volhard, Stylepark
  • Hayon has developed any number of accessories for his “Citysurfer” e-scooter. A jacket with lots of pockets...
  • ... and helmets reminiscent of super-heroes. Photos © BMW

Stehts bemüht

We all know that our emotions have on the sly already sealed the deal long before we have consciously opted for the one car rather than the other. And it is these subconscious decision-making processes that the manufacturers seek to influence in Milan, too, albeit some more subtly than others.
Peugeot has opted for the front-on approach: “Motion & Emotion” their slogan says. Visitors were welcomed to the booth with a feel-good hipster coffee bar that had been cut into car doors. A short spin through the corporate history (from the cleaver via the peppermill to the auto) culminated in a meadow made of LED blades of grass that swayed to the sounds of live piano music. The most subtle thing about this brand presentation? The swaying of the blades.
Hyundai, on the other hand, championed a kind of Steampunk aesthetic: Reuben Margolin’s kinetic installation filled an entire hall with its abundance of wheels and strings. The undulating movement of the so-called “Helio Curve” came across like a filmic animation, and the beauty and detail of what is indeed a very complex mechanics were no doubt fascinating – but those familiar with Margolin’s work will only know too well that, hey, this is simply what he does.

  • Hyundai hired artist Reuben Margolin to create the kinetic installation it presented in Milan as “Helio Curve”.
    Photo © Robert Volhard, Stylepark
  • Lexus wooed us with a “trip for all the senses”, conjured up by designer Philippe Nigro. Photo © Robert Volhard, Stylepark

Im gustatorischen Kabinett

At Lexus designer Philippe Nigro and chef Hajime Yoneda whisked visitors away on a “journey of the senses”. For, as we learn from a press release, for Lexus the “senses” are a topic of absolute relevance, as driving too is a purely sensual experience. It starts by hearing the sound of the engine, inspecting the car’s interior, and so on and so forth. To sharpen visitors’ senses in Milan Nigro and Yoneda first sent them into a hall of mirrors that had a ghostlike auto positioned at its center. Three more rooms followed, in which food and sensory experiences were destined to challenge people’s perceptive faculties: In one of them you were given a small flask of crystals which, when positioned on the tongue, glittered in the mouth, giving the impression that it was raining around you. Mind you, another three of those tasty tricks and things started to become a little tedious.

  • While Nigro provided a visual travel experience, chef Hajime Yoneda promised something for the taste buds: crystals that pop in your mouth gave you the feeling that it was raining in the installation.
    Photo © Lexus
  • At BMW Alfredo Häberli presented his dream-mobile as a perfectly realized wooden skeleton. Word has it, Häberli is possibly a die-hard Star Wars fan, as the model’s shadow is uncannily similar to the “Millennium Falcon”.
    Photo © Adeline Seidel, Stylepark

Häberlis Traum

Following such sensory over-penetration the solo show by Alfredo Häberli for BMW almost had a relaxing touch about it, even if the title of the show – “Spheres” – invariably conjured up expectations of a different kind. What we got to see, however, was a classical exhibition: illustrations, model studies, two large objects. At the heart of the show: Häberli’s dream mobile – a vehicle that wants to be neither a car, nor a ship, nor an airplane. Though the shape of the object is just wonderful for sparking the imagination, as, for one, it is a futuristic yacht, for another a spacecraft, yet others again think of leaf blowers or a high-rise structure. And because no one knows if the thing can drive (it only has a single wheel), sail (the wide dorsal fin looks like it’s able to withstand some serious crosswinds) or is even powered by an Infinite Improbability Drive, as famously launched by Douglas Adams in the “A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”, it simply remains a fine fetish, a boy’s dream of designing a car finally come true – or something like it. And could you blame them?

  • A high-rise? A raised index finger? Häberli has created a shape that triggers any number of associations.
    Photo © Adeline Seidel, Stylepark
  • The BMW set was a classic exhibition, with drawings, studies for models, and sculptures. Photo © BMW
  • Häberli’s mobile is neither an airplane, a ship or a car.
    Photo © Adeline Seidel, Stylepark

Wo bitte geht’s in die Zukunft?

For all this, there’s one thing we really must not forget: the future. In the beautifully designed catalogue of “Spheres” we read: “The installation visualizes the many layers that bear considering when viewing the future of mobility.” While Mini claims: “Urban Perspectives is an installation that conjures up visions of tomorrow’s urban mobility in the form of an imaginary world.” Statements that cause an irritating plop sound in your head that is similarly to that of Yoneda’s crystals. For sadly the shows on offer do not really help the debate about automotive design or about those trends, scenarios and ideas on the subject of mobility that are genuinely necessary.

Weniger Fun-Faktor, mehr Inhalt

Ever so slightly worried we therefore ask ourselves: Away from their day-to-day business, what do the automotive manufacturers spend their time and effort doing in those think tanks? Well, Milan doesn’t really give much away in this regard. Could it be that those prettily staged shows are intended as a substitute for their contribution to a design debate so desperately missing? Or is it that in today’s tough competition none of this must possibly be made public? As it is, we enjoy some very fond memories of “Gina”, BMW’s fabric-skinned concept car by Chris Bangle (see News&Stories of June 23, 2008). To this day Gina has shaped the debates on good car design and new materials, along with that on the emotional properties attached to the product. Not limiting the presentation of such concepts to automotive trade fairs would no doubt be one of those rare “ideas that inspire”.

  • Where future mobility is heading is still in the stars. Photo © BMW