What is French luxury, now and in the future? This is the guiding mission of DS, PSA Group’s premium brand that was spun off from Citroën in 2014. The opening last month of DS’s first design studio has brought exterior and interior stylists together to ponder the answers to that question.
The answer to the “now” is the DS 7 Crossback, a small SUV that seeks to surprise and delight drivers with details that harken back to the golden age of French coach building – and also offers cutting-edge active driving and safety aids. Five more all-new models, free of Citroën design influence, are to follow in the next five years.
DS design director Thierry Metroz and his team have two poles of inspiration. On the one hand: The legendary French coach builders of the 1920s and 30s, who adorned Delages, Delahayes and Talbot-Lagos with carrosserie inspired by the Artes Decoratifs (Art Deco) and Streamline Moderne movements. On the other: DS’s Formula E team, which is pushing the technological envelope to compete against top automakers and suppliers in the electric-only race series.
“The 1930s was the Golden Age of the French automotive industry,” Metroz said in April on a tour of the DS studio, at PSA Group’s technocenter in Vélizy, France. “Art deco was an inspiration. It’s sharp, it’s very graphic, with geometrical shapes — it’s very pure.”
As for the future: DS has created the DS X E-Tense, the company’s vision for 2035, a dream car that exists (so far) only as a digital design, and a philosophical study of two modes of travel — driving and being driven, perhaps in autonomous mode. “With this concept it’s possible to manage the two possibilities,” Metroz said. Its signal feature is asymmetry, with side-by-side passenger spaces that are meant to generate two types of emotion — and also refers, if indirectly, to the tension inherent in the two approaches.
On the left, open to the air, is a cockpit open to the wind, to heighten the sensations of driving one’s self. The seat is integrated into the body; controls are patterned in DS’s signature guilloche finish. On the right, an enclosed cocoon, accessed by a gullwing door, wraps the passenger in comfort, with feather-filled leather upholstery. A translucent floor provides glimpses of the road as it flashes by.