Green Concept Cars – Where's the Fun in That?

Alex Kambas
by Alex Kambas
green concept cars where s the fun in that

Do you remember when you couldn’t leave the table– or have desert– without finishing your vegetables? Personally speaking, the parental requirement didn’t make me any more likely to eat or enjoy vegetables. The same holds true when it comes to green cars. I’m as sensitive about saving the planet as the next guy, if not more. But ever since “planet friendly” jumped to the top of the list of PR-friendly attributes– above performance and styling– I’ve been turning back into a child that hates his greens.

Take this year’s Geneva show. Please. Yes, there were some stunning cars. But apart from the flacks, hacks and enthusiasts who visited the Swiss city on the lake, the rest of us will never see these machines in flesh. O.K., maybe you live in a neighborhood where the guy next door rocks-up in a Maserati Granturismo S looking for some Grey Poupon. And Maser man may wave at a passing a Rolls Royce Phantom Coupe driver as he exits your mile-long drive.

Me? I’m left hoping for an early sighting of the new VW Scirocco. Unless my spam blocker was secretly set for new metal, the new Portuguese VeeDub was the biggest launch from a mainstream manufacturer at Geneva this year.

And there I was, all excited with VW’s press release days before the show. Wolfsburg promised to “take [Geneva] by storm with four new models.” And then I found out that, Scirocco aside, the psychological tempest in question involved a TDI hybrid Golf, a natural gas version of a TSI Passat estate and a diesel Sharan with longer gear ratios.

Again, I can appreciate new technology. Despite my pistonhead passion for lateral and horizontal G-forces, there’s still an engineer inside me that loves to pop the hood and see what’s what. And again, I’m all for saving polar bears by driving cleaner cars. But no matter how green it may be, I just can’t get excited by a new kind of oil burning VW Golf. Not with ten million units already out the factory door.

As for the Passat wagon, that model wasn’t exactly what I’d call thrilling on the day it was launched in Geneva. Time has not added to its emotional appeal. And don’t even try to get me down memory lane to remember when the Volkswagen Sharan minivan went on sale for the first time. Or the last time I saw one.

Of course, VW’s sister-under-the-skin was also on board for the “green is beautiful” shtick. Audi actually tried to convince people the TDI ΤΤ is a new car. Even someone as starved for diesels as I am (oil burners are not allowed in Athens) can’t see any more beauty in the new old Bauhaus design– even it has tree-pulling torque and a 50mpg sticker.

At least Audi had a new model launch, although the new A4 Avant looks exactly the same as the old one which you couldn’t tell from the one before that or the very first one (for that matter).

BMW fans were also starved of new car love. The Bavarian automaker’s Geneva stand offered no new Bangle shapes to offend the faithful. In fact, that dreamy look in their eyes was probably down to the effects of reading the support materials for Bimmer’s EfficientDynamics powertrain; a tome filled with so many technical details you get college credit just for cracking the binding.

And hello, Mr Fioravanti (call me Pininfarina). No matter how sleek and futuristic you make it, a faceless hatchback with nanotechnology windscreen (and no wipers!) is about as interesting as three black beach balls taped together trying to pass themselves off as Mickey Mouse.

Where did all the drop-dead gorgeous concept cars go? I remember when designers debuted show cars made of exquisitely shaped foam, with no more mechanicals than four wheels. Aside from Cadillac’s engineless Provoq concept, it’s now the other way around. Automakers “debut” cars they’ve been making for years with an exotic engine.

I understand car manufacturers have to satisfy new, highly stringent CO2 regulations or, more likely, pay the fines and whack-up prices. I understand that we’re [supposedly] in a time of transition, when various [over-complicated] powerplants are vying for future domination. I know that the press is infatuated with the pursuit, as it beats beating-up the people who pay the advertising that pays their salaries. But c’mon. Cars are about emotion, not reason.

Why can’t carmakers pay R&D and styling studios? Let’s face it: if a car manufacturer wants consumers to “eat” green cars, they have to be beautiful. Would the Chevy Volt get as much attention if it looked like a Malibu? (Will it?) Like the vegetables of my childhood era, shoving green cars down my throat just because they’re good for me won’t make me want to buy them.

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  • Jthorner Jthorner on Mar 16, 2008

    "That’s an interesting point of view. You really think there’s a finite amount of inspiration and at some point people just ran out? Be it music or autocars?" I do think that there is a certain amount of possibility space created by new technologies which creates a big blank canvas for inspired people to create with and upon, but the space itself has some limits. The canvas never gets completely full, but the opportunities created by new wide-open vistas eventually fade. The fusion of blues, gospel, jazz, etc. along with the arrival of electronic instruments of all kinds provided the great new playground upon which the great rock & rollers of the 1960s-1970s created some amazing new stuff. Now that field of endeveour has been largely consumed and a young person today with the same drive and talent as a 20 year old Roger Waters had in his day is faced with a much less interesting playing field upon which to do his thing. It is the times, not just the person, which feed the possibility of genius.

  • Cosmodome Cosmodome on Mar 21, 2008

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  • Inside Looking Out "And safety was enhanced generally via new reversing lamps and turn signals fitted as standard equipment."Did not get it, turn signals were optional in 1954?
  • Lorenzo As long as Grenadier is just a name, and it doesn't actually grenade like Chrysler UltraDrive transmissions. Still, how big is the market for grossly overpriced vehicles? A name like INEOS doesn't have the snobbobile cachet yet. The bulk of the auto market is people who need a reliable, economical car to get to work, and they're not going to pay these prices.
  • Lorenzo They may as well put a conventional key ignition in a steel box with a padlock. Anything electronic is more likely to lock out the owner than someone trying to steal the car.
  • Lorenzo Another misleading article. If they're giving away Chargers, people can drive that when they need longer range, and leave the EV for grocery runs and zipping around town. But they're not giving away Chargers, thy're giving away chargers. What a letdown. What good are chargers in California or Nashville when the power goes out?
  • Luke42 I'm only buying EVs from here on out (when I have the option), so whoever backs off on their EV plans loses a shot at my business.