Not that standing out should be confused with courting controversy: you only have to look at BMW for proof of where that gets you. Frank Stephenson, creator of the modern Mini and Ferrari F430, told Autocar that he hopes the ideas around radical and polarising design will subside and said it’s being driven by marketing departments.
“It’s almost like they [car makers] are in a state of panic a little bit,” he said. “Most of them are trying to really justify their presence in the market through design. If they sell the car and it looks the way it is and it sells well, they will continue with it. They won’t rein it back in. [They’re hoping] we will, as a general public, eventually get used to it, accept it and see it as the modern way to treat design.”
Stephenson admits there have been design trends that have broken with tradition but said the conservative styling Tesla implements shows that car makers don’t need to take a radical approach, especially with EVs.
However, the hottest design trends, said Stephenson, will be inside the cars. Personalisation used to be about seat covers and stereos, but now technology allows owners to create their own interior ambience, including specific lighting, sounds and heating settings.
Some fear that car interiors could become too complex, but Uday Senapati, executive director of corporate and product strategy at Lotus, believes the key is to include all the technology without losing the design simplicity, pointing to the firm’s new Evija electric hypercar as an example.
“You’ve got to have voice control, gesture control, eye tracking – all of which are trends that are coming out in technology,” he said. “The packaging will bring some compromises, but we would still like to focus on simplicity.”
Corporate social responsibility
Senapati said that Lotus and others have started taking corporate social responsibility more seriously since they saw customers buying into brands such as Tesla for what he calls “more conscious reasons”.
That view is shared by Bentley CEO Adrian Hallmark. “Across the world, our customers are telling us that they want sustainability at the core of our business and we are committed to lead in the luxury sector,” he said. “We’re reinventing every aspect of our operations towards a carbon-neutral future, with only battery-electric vehicles by 2030. They [customers] are also looking for deep and meaningful relationships with socially acceptable brands, sometimes prioritising experiences over goods and more purchasing online.”