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The Big Picture: Affordable, premium looks

Every carmaker wants a slice of the premium pie. And they are using design to get there. Two years ago, AM claimed design was entering a ‘golden age’ – we even called it, slightly whimsically, “the new rock ‘n’ roll”.

Well, designers’ stock has risen even further if recent comments by manufacturers are anything to go by. At the Paris motor show the emphasis was visibly on design.

Ford admitted it had become too conservative and unveiled the Iosis X concept (a forthcoming SUV), Toyota turned the dull Corolla into the thrilling Auris, Saab continued to hawk its Aero X design concept (for which read next generation 9-5), VW put the Iroc (new Scirocco) on display and Kia revealed the C’eed three-door.

They are just the latest. Honda has already left its traditional mould behind in bringing the Civic to market while Fiat’s cute 500 is being tested ready for launch in a year’s time.

Kia’s new design boss Peter Schreyer, architect of the Audi TT and VW Beetle, sums up the views of many when he says the carmaker will be placing more emphasis on design to make products more desirable.

“I design cars in the way that I want to drive them,” he told AM.

Carmakers want their products to step out of the crowd for several reasons. First, to differentiate them (of growing importance as carmakers’ brand portfolios result in greater crossover in parts use), second to move perceptions upmarket and, third, to be able to justify lifting the price point without incurring consumers’ wrath.

Mass market middle-grounders want to be closer to premium, while value brands are also looking to move up a notch. All of which creates a gap at the lower end for forthcoming entrants like the Chinese and Indian carmakers to attack.

Some European carmakers have spotted this and moved to fill the void themselves – Renault with the Logan, for instance.

Buyers want choice and, for some, choice means cheap prices. ‘No frills’ operators will have an opportunity to make their mark.

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