The Citroen Lacoste was born following the principles of less is more and form follows function.

The Citroen Lacoste concept car was born following some of the principles that have guided design and architecture over many years: truth to materials; less is more; form follows function.

They are sayings that have found most favour in architecture. French architect Le Corbusier believed that a house was “a machine for living in”. And while he might have been happy with his tiny plywood ‘cabonon’ holiday cabin, the rest of us could have done without the giant tower blocks and soulless concrete estates his disciples built.

An architect only has one customer, and needs only to convince his client once and the design gets built. A car maker has to convince thousands of customers every month to make the second biggest investment of their lives.

The upshot is that the car industry was never invaded by pure modernist thinking, because it has to reproduce its expensive designs hundreds of thousands of times. The look of a car remains one of the most important reasons for purchase: its form doesn’t follow function, its interior doesn’t practice truth to materials and less is certainly not more.

Celine Venet is a 34 year-old stylist with PSA, who designed the Citroën Lacoste concept in 2010. She describes the philosophy that as a car, the Lacoste “doesn’t take itself too seriously; it is not something it isn’t.”

Citroen 2CV and Land Rover

In that respect Venet is invoking a previously travelled path for car design. There have been a few attempts to build a modernist car and many designers would like to realise a car whose form really does follow function. The cars that come closest are the ones which had a serious function, such as the Citroën 2CV and original Land Rover.

More recently, only the original Fiat Panda – with its flat glass, hammock rear seat, single wiper and pressed steel grille – got near to a true modernist car.

The Lacoste might well point the way towards a new kind niche of car, designed by a younger generation of stylists for a new generation of car buyers for whom the car is a means to an experience. The Post-Modern car may be around the corner, but not in the way we might have expected.

Work started with the Lacoste design team – which is located in central Paris – at the end of 2009 and the Lacoste was ready nine months later. “At Citroen we were not looking at retro,” says Venet. “We have a philosophy of laidback spirit – something that is easy to drive and easy to care for, easy transportation which delivers nice memories.”

Aside from the styling flourishes Venet reveals the deeper thinking behind the Citroen C1 sized concept. “The inspiration is that it is like a sneaker, with the wrap-under and over bumpers, the contrast between pure bodyside and wheel arch. The body is a small but powerful volume, always ready for adventure. The open sides deliver a sense of speed, removing the driver from the bubble he is normally in.”

Questioning established design

The Lacoste concept is full of design flourishes that completely question how a utility car should, or could, be. The instrumentation has been reduced to a minimum. There are no heating controls, the dashboard is a huge LCD strip made up of giant pixels. The pedals are two small pads, the transmission selector has been moved to the roof lining. The boot works like a giant drawer and the rear seat slids away into the boot. ”It is reduced to simplicity. I believe in that philosophy. We don’t want to become too annoyed with too much information. I am not being naive, but optimistic and laid back. I want to focus on the people around you and not be so driver centric. Rather than creating a bubble, this is an open car, so you can feel the elements and the rain and wind. It is for fellowship.”

I ask Venet whether she thinks this approach, to minimise the technicality of a car, is something of a female mindset. “Maybe not female, but it may be a generational thing,” she says. “It is expressing friendship and simplicity. The car is innovative and has new technology, but it is hidden. We are suffering an information overload, which is pushing out friends and family.”

Indeed, this enthusiasm for what Venet calls “pushing the car out of the way” extends to a windscreen that slides forward onto the top of the stubby bonnet and a steering wheel that can be folded onto the dash top at journey’s end.

The question remains: can a mass maker ever manage to sell an anti-car, something to upend the received wisdom of decades. Affluence killed the pure modernist cars from the post-war austerity years and attempts to replace them have not got beyond the experimental stage.

Perhaps Venet’s proposal that a vehicle’s ‘carness’ should be pushed into the background will be tested this year by the launch of the Renault Twizy. This electric runabout builds on the idea of a minimum car, open-sided and fitted with the very basics needed. If the Twizy takes off, concepts like the Lacoste will look a lot less like a flight of fancy.

Hilton Holloway

Join the debate

Comments
51

19 February 2012

Seems like there's a future for any car nowadays, judging by what gets pt on the roads today, this will make it in some shape or form.

Peter Cavellini.

19 February 2012

Yes, the less complicated the better. In its day the BMC Mini was considered minimalist. Murray's iStream is minimalism.

Today we have more sophisticated ways of forming car structures than in the past and, together with recycled materials forming car parts, creating sustainable minimalism is easier to attain. But for some countries a roof is the most desirable part of any minimalism!

19 February 2012

[quote Los Angeles]But for some countries a roof is the most desirable part of any minimalism[/quote]

I agree. As a concept, this is interesting. But no maker would ever generate enough worldwide sales of a roofless minimalist car to make it worthwhile.

However, if somebody like Citroen did come up with a production-ready minimalist new model, I could see myself buying one. I love minimalist motoring - as long as it's got a roof, proper doors and reasonable comfort. I don't need/want/crave electric windows, central locking, expensive sound systems or any of the other gadgets that makers seem to assume we're all after. I'd rather have a car that's genuinely affordable and likely to be cheap and easy to maintain/repair over a ten-year period.

A modern-day 2CV or R4 would be great - but not done in a retro way. They need to be looking forward, not back.

I can't be the only one who'd buy a minimalist new motor ... or am I?

19 February 2012

the Lacoste “doesn’t take itself too seriously; it is not something it isn’t.”"

”It is reduced to simplicity. I believe in that philosophy. We don’t want to become too annoyed with too much information. I am not being naive, but optimistic and laid back. I want to focus on the people around you and not be so driver centric. Rather than creating a bubble, this is an open car, so you can feel the elements and the rain and wind. It is for fellowship.”

I ask Venet whether she thinks this approach, to minimise the technicality of a car, is something of a female mindset. “Maybe not female, but it may be a generational thing,” she says. “It is expressing friendship and simplicity. The car is innovative and has new technology, but it is hidden. We are suffering an information overload, which is pushing out friends and family.”

That's the sort of drivel I have to listen to in meetings on a daily basis.

And sure, they'll sell a few to those with money to burn and all of us here will shout yes please, but most people out there want all the bells and whistles.

19 February 2012

[quote Lesia44]That's the sort of drivel I have to listen to in meetings on a daily basis.[/quote]Have you considered changing careers?[quote Venet]It is for fellowship.” [/quote]

Interestingly, almost all research I've read on open-topped cars show that the driver is less stressed and less prone to traffic tantrums and aggression. That in great part is because he or she is forced to make eye contact with other drivers. The writer has a point, even if he writes from a cafe table in the sun al fresco.[quote Venet]We are suffering an information overload, which is pushing out friends and family.” [/quote]Couldn't agree more. In political indoctrination and advertising we are bombarded daily. We think we develop an immunity but it still seeps into our brains. And in car paraphernalia it's all computer screens and glitz. Give me minimalism any day.

19 February 2012

[quote Los Angeles]Have you considered changing careers?[/quote] :-) Not even for one second. I have the best job in the world.

19 February 2012

Actually, the more I study the vehicle the more impressed I am.

It has to be the most radical vehicle Citroen has created in a long time, beating a lot of Japanese innovation. It needs only a twin fabric roof, targa or Perspex dome to make climatic sense, increasing buyer attraction. And if inexpensive to produce ...

19 February 2012

Glad you mentioned Citroen in the first breath because I thought this was yet another daft take on the Mini range !!!! perhaps a modern day Moke! Oh God - I hope no one from Mini freads this - God forbid I will be held responsible!

19 February 2012

There is a lot I like about this design but I feel sometimes that designers are too quick to make things easy for themselves by conveniently eliminating certain types of functionality so that they can indulge more in flights of fantasy. Eg roofs and heating controls are left out and a large blind spot created by a central rear pillar and the whole is justified by a design direction or ethos that is "open" or "adventurous". A better word would be "impractical".

So I would say to Celine that this is a good beginning, now go away and make it able to carry 2 large and 2 small adults in all weathers. Otherwise it's like clothes worn on the catwalk by supermodels but unwearable in just about all other situations by just about all other women.

19 February 2012

[quote 275not599] Otherwise it's like clothes worn on the catwalk by supermodels but unwearable in just about all other situations by just about all other women.[/quote]

Yes there is similarity, but haute couture has its value in setting trends, expressing designers imagination and directions for the future. Something like Lady Gaga's shoes, interesting in stile, but impossible to walk in them.

I see this concept in this light, although I don't like it. It is minimalistic in stile witch I adore, but I don't like it even as a concept car. It looks like a car for golfing.

Closest car of today, in my opinion, in approaching paradigm "less is more "s VW UP!, although it seems to me they were afraid that they would be too avant-garde and didn't went tothe limit they could, and should!

Pages

Add your comment

Log in or register to post comments

Find an Autocar car review

Driven this week

  • Car review
    23 September 2016
    Aston kicks off its ‘second century plan’ with an all-new turbo V12 grand tourer
  • Ford Ka+ 1.2 Ti-VCT 85
    First Drive
    22 September 2016
    A rounded, refined and well-sorted bargain supermini – once you’re used to the confusing role redefinition imposed on the once-cheeky Ka
  •  Maserati Ghibli Diesel
    First Drive
    22 September 2016
    Maserati releases another range of updates for its range best seller, the Ghibli. We've driven the diesel version, but there's little improvement on before
  • Tipo Front
    First Drive
    21 September 2016
    New Fiat Tipo offers impressive space and practicality for a reasonable price. We try the 1.6 diesel on the demanding roads of North Wales
  • Seat Ateca 1.4 TSI 150
    First Drive
    20 September 2016
    The Seat Ateca 1.4 TSI 150 makes perfect sense: it's spacious, tidy to drive for an SUV and cheap to run