What is retro design, how has it been used and what will its future be both conceptually and contextually? I asked Roberto Giolito, Head of Design for all brands of the Fiat Group.
The 2003 FIAT Trepiùno, the 3+1 concept car presented in the 2004 Geneva Motor Show, shaped the road to the production 500. According to Giolito the development of the Trepiùno did not come from upper management but was one of many proposed skins designed over a newly developed, super compact architecture. Although Giolito stresses FIAT Design has always has been looking ahead and that retro design does not suit that strategy, the 500 is regarded by many as retro design extraordinaire. The radical 1998 Multipla, with its unique 3+3 seating configuration dictating a novel exterior shape, would be a better example of forward thinking within the FIAT studios.
The idea for the Trepiùno was to present a design removed of redundancy, a future super small vehicle with a graphical, mono-volume interpretation of the tiny original. The design philosophy one of deleting, not adding. Giolito: “The Trepiùno has a very clean front. There is nothing there except for the mustage, the car has no need for a grille. Currently there is a saturation of integration, needles add-ons.”
The goal was to create an unmistakeable new identity with the characteristics of the 500, not a copy. Despite the designers never used a retro atmosphere whilst designing (the Trepiùno was inspired by new products at the time like the iPod, hence it being presented in harsh white and featured very smooth and sensitive surfacing with strong graphics and simple volumes) the final product changed in favour of a more retro oriented approach and lost the clean, product-like interpretation of the Trepiùno. The connection with the Fiat heritage could have been more conceptually, it is hard to deny the 500 looks like it is purely stylistically. Although the design is well executed over the Panda platform, the 500 could have pushed the boundaries way more.
Giolito says the interior design of the 500 is a more general representation of the 50’s 500. Since a metal dashboard in body colour was not possible for production a body colour plastic dashboard facia was chosen, a style close to original 500 especially when fitted with the ivory steering wheel that refers to the Bakelite original.
Was the 500 a wise choice? A radical Multipla-ish interior or exterior would have most likely axed much needed revenue for FIAT. The 500 still sells well, especially considering the car has been being in production since 2007, receiving its first facelift in the 2016 model year. But an intelligent implementation of the heritage, a minimalistic, lightweight, affordable, smart design with clever features could have made the project even more relevant and successful on many other levels. Especially taking into account the next generations: as now the big question is what to do next after this well-executed retro design interpretation?
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