SPIEGEL: Mr. Fügener, the first Golf was still 3.70 meters long, the Golf 7 had already grown to 4.25 meters in length. Why are cars getting bigger?
Fügener: Prosperity has been growing in Western countries for decades. Add to that the successor-predecessor logic: the new must be more powerful, have more equipment, grow in size. As a result, a car in its class grows up and a class is pushed behind it. That happened at VW, too. Today, the Polo ranks where the Golf used to be, and under the Polo there are smaller vehicles in the portfolio.
Lutz Fügener studied mechanical engineering and industrial design, since 2009 he is head of Transportation Design at the University of Pforzheim.
SPIEGEL: Are important aspects such as parking space and land use in design neglected?
Fügener: Design is only one factor – the more important thing is the customer and how he decides. People are free to buy a small car, it is not forbidden. Currently, people are increasingly opting for larger cars. Of course, one can discuss where the chicken is in this problem and where the egg. In any case, there is no law that forces me to buy an SUV.
SPIEGEL: Was the Smart Not a Success?
Fügener: No, he was not. The Smart is one of the few new vehicle concepts of the past 25 years. Actually, he aimed at first-time buyers, but that went completely wrong. Fortunately, the car has saved, which I think is terrific, that he was often purchased as a second or third car from people whose children were already out of the house. Young people, the original target group, did not care about the car.
SPIEGEL: Are SUVs the successors of Vans, such as the Renault Espace or the VW Sharan?
Fügener: I would not say that, the target groups do not overlap.
SPIEGEL: So where does the popularity of the SUV come from, if not as a successor to these family vans?
Fügener: You have to fall back on that. After the end of the Soviet Union, new markets opened up for car manufacturers in Eastern Europe. There were bad roads and political insecurity. In these conditions, the SUV seemed like a castle, it conveyed security. In addition, the people in these regions are much more ostentatious about their wealth. They show what they have. All-terrain, somewhat boastful, luxurious, always air conditioning – that was the recipe for this market, and the auto industry delivered. In particular, Toyota sold the Landcruiser Station at that time like crazy. In the mid-nineties Mercedes came with the M-Class and the BMW X on the market. At some point this became a matter of course, people now believed in Western countries to need such a car. This belief was supported with significant marketing from manufacturers.
SPIEGEL: Why do people think they need such a "tank"? Every year more SUVs sell.
Fügener: There are many reasons for this. I do not want to exclude that it is sometimes synonymous with men in an extension of physicality in the sense of a prosthesis. For female buyers, there is the cliché of "Hockey Mom", the mother who chauffeurs her children around in the SUV. This is, as I said, a cliché, but in fact the buying behavior changes after the birth of the first child. Many people perceive the world as too aggressive for the child – then the SUV should offer protection.
SPIEGEL: Does this design appeal to you as an expert?
Fügener: I'm not a friend of SUVs. As a designer I have little freedom in large cars, because in the silhouette you can hardly distinguish one SUV from the other. For sports cars, station wagons or coupes that looks different. I do not drive an SUV myself and I do not know why I should change that.
SPIEGEL: Is there an SUV that they find beautiful?
Fügener: The Range Rover Velar. The design falls discreetly back to the first Range Rover in the seventies. Even then, this was a terrific designed car and treated surfaces and details very modern.
SPIEGEL: Now the era of electromobility is slowly beginning. Is this an end to the SUV boom?
Fügener: Not at first – because the wishes of the customers do not allow it. It's no coincidence that the first all-electric Audi, the e-tron, is an SUV. For me, however, this is a contradiction that should not be maintained long. If I want to market electric cars environmentally friendly, I should not build an SUV. Rather, a lightweight car is suitable – low air resistance, flat and light.
Fügener: The BMW i3 is a good example. A very compact car on the outside, that builds a bit of height, uses little parking space and feels big inside. Here you have really redesigned and not just in a conventional car built an electric motor. However, BMW has recently announced that it will expire in perspective. Obviously, the clientele did not appreciate the concept.
SPIEGEL: The i3 has sold 150,000 copies.
Fügener: For an electric car this is already a lot by today's standards, that's true. But for BMW, the i3 probably did not expect, the group has invested alone in the passenger cell made of carbon high sums. That was a real innovation, not the electric drive. Everything has been redone for this BMW. However, buyers did not seem to feel that this is the car of the future, so I want to be there.
SPIEGEL: The i3 was so daring?
Fügener: That may be good. Take Tesla as a counterexample. The motto was: we have to make the car look as conservative as possible. A new drive plus a new look that overwhelms the American customer. Although Tesla has thereby left a lot of innovation opportunities, for example in the design, left, from a marketing point of view, it was right.