SMMT - Designs on the Future

The organisers of this year's British International Motor Show, the Society of Motor Manufacturers (SMMT) believe the show is a showcase for innovation and design, particularly of British origin. Here's what they say..
Concept cars range from the futuristic to the retro, the wild and whacky to the just plain silly. Innovative design is now a major driving force in the automotive industry and many of the mock-up models on show at the NEC will find their way into full-scale production. And Britain is leading the way. Al Clarke, head of communications for the Society for Motoring Manufacturers and traders, said British designers were among the best around the world.

"The unique thing about the British International Motor Show is that virtually every car on display has been designed with input from a British trained designer, from the new MINI to the Mondeo, Jaguar, Rolls-Royce, Renault and Cadillac," he said. "You can see world leading experts in every car," he added

Peugeot unveiled a Coupe Cabriolet concept car version of its 206 in 1998. It was not envisaged that car would become a production model but public reaction was so enthusiastic that Peugeot took the plunge. The result? The 206 Coupe Cabriolet was named Car of the Show last week. Perhaps it is not surprising then that Peugeot has no less than six concept cars this time around as part of its commitment to "the cutting edge of contemporary automotive design." British-born Keith Ryder, who designed the Promethee concept vehicle, believes these popular exhibits are crucial to marketing any car company. The Promethee, a working prototype, will provide many indications for the next revisions of the 306.

Two years ago Audi presented its TT concept car at the show. The car is now in full production and has stayed almost exactly the same as the original concept model. Calum McKechnie, product manager at Audi UK, said: "If you put the production TT next to the original concept, people wouldn't be able to tell the difference. We aim to challenge our designers to make an innovative concept car that's also viable as a production model."
The retro-look is one of the design themes that can be seen throughout the show. The new Mini is bigger than its predecessor but retains strong style links with the old. In direct comparison with the Mini the latest concept cars - a chance for manufacturers' to break with the norm - seem more likely to pop up in a Star Trek episode than the M25 motorway such is the influence of the unknown on current designers.

A DVD player, quartz crystal headlights, xenon indicators and touch sensitive door handles are among the latest developments made by Nissan with its concept car, the Fusion. Wing mirrors have been replaced with monitors on either side of the dashboard. In between both screens is a Global Positioning System. Computer technology is a sign of the times and designers cannot get enough of it.

Jeep claims it has no plans to develop its concept car for production, despite an "overwhelming response" from visitors to the company's stand. The sleek and powerful 4.7 litre V8-engined Jeepster combines a sports car performance with the off-road capabilities of a Jeep and has been attracting thousands of admirers since it made its UK debut on the Chrysler and Jeep stand at the Show last week. Events co-ordinator for Chrysler and Jeep, Jon Champs, said: "The response has been overwhelming and I don't not how many people have asked us if we're building this. "We have no plans to do so but people will be seeing many of the design features on next year's Cherokee and the new Wrangler coming out in a few years' time."
A BMW concept car built to display an advanced dashboard driving and control unit has been attracting chequebook offers. Regional sales manager Terence Barry said hundreds have been inquiring about the Z9's price and availability for Sale in the future. He said: "The Z9 concept is principally here to display the new I-drive system inside the car which has been developed to re-focus on the driving experience. And this will be featuring in a production BMW within the next 12 to 18 months. "The actual body has not been designed for production but it does showcase general developments to the exterior such as simpler design lines flowing from the front to the rear. The 20 and 21-inch hand-cut wheels and the car's sexy rear in particular have been attracting comments

The Show is also about those who will be in front of the drawing boards to create the star cars of the future.

Rakesh Chavda, a graduate from Coventry School of Art & Design, was one of four young designer's wowing the crowds with his sketches of people's 'dream cars' at the Virgin-sponsored Star Studio stand. Other projects include Formula Student, based on a similar scheme running in America, which has doubled in size each year since it was established in 1997 with students leaving the course with "a head start over their contemporaries". Students on the course evaluate, build and test their designs, which cost upwards of GBP5,000, collaborating with designers each year before gaining funding from the industry to produce a final product..