2011 Frankfurt – Wheel Design Trends

So somewhere in the 2400+ photos that I took (and almost lost) in Frankfurt are a few pictures of wheels.  OK, more than a few, I actually took roughly 250 pictures of wheels which works out to just over 10% of the shots.  Why did I take so many?  Because wheels are such a large part of a car’s design.  No other component can change the appearance of a vehicle so quickly.  Don’t believe me?  Try putting a set of smaller wheels and tires on your car and see how different it looks.  So off we go into the world of the wheel at the Frankfurt show, some awesome, some bland and more than a few just plain wacky.

The last two times I did a review of design and finish trends for wheels I got the same result, High Gloss Black was an up and coming finish, but silvers and greys still ruled the roost.  Frankfurt was only slightly different.  Silver and Grey is still the order of the day for wheel finish but a simple silver 5-spoke wheel was actually pretty hard to find.  Multiple spokes seem to be much more prevalent in Europe than in the US, at least for the vehicles that were on display at the show.

Smart Eco Speedster

High Gloss Black is still a very strong trend but was not as prevalent as Los Angeles last year where there were almost twenty of them.  There were only a few that were fully black while the majority were some combination of black and silver.  This combination of finishes is typically achieved by painted the wheel black than machining the face to expose the bright color of the aluminum and protecting that finish with a clear coat.  Wheels of this design were found on several vehicles each from Mercedes, Volkswagen, Renault, Lancia, Fiat and Citroen.  Many other manufacturers had one or two vehicles in the booth with this finish.

Chevrolet Cruze Hatchback 1.8

Mercedes M-Class

Is White the new Black?  You might have thought so when looking at the more than a dozen 1-Series BMW had on display.  Almost one-fourth of them had the exact opposite of the Black and Silver wheels described above: White and Silver.  And BMW was not the only company, Toyota and Renault had one each as well although neither company display more than one vehicle with them.

BMW 1-Series

These colors were a nice change from the traditional Machine-Faced wheels which are produced with the standard silver and grey paints, and there were plenty of them at the show too.

Citroen C4

For those people who think bright wheels aren’t popular in Europe, there were quite a few of them on display starting with the newest VW Beetle.  There were also a ton of Concept Vehicles featuring highly polished wheels.  Even the Chinese got in on the Bright Wheel bandwagon with their Sense concept.

Volkswagen Beetle

Changan Sense

Two-tone and multi-color finishes were accomplished not only by painting and machining, but also by adding inserts of various designs like these by Hyundai.  Hyundai also had the great colored inserts on the Veloster at the Detroit show earlier this year.

Hyundai ix35

Not sure of it’s a fad or a trend but wheels designed like a turbine impeller seemed to be in vogue.  Whether they were cast in aluminum and polished like the Ford EVOS and Lancia Delta or painted contrasting colors like on the Audi A2 and Mercedes F125, they seemed to be everywhere.  It would have been interesting to see which wheel has the most spokes but it never occurred to me to count them, once you are past ten or so it gets difficult for me (I run out of fingers and toes).  I think the Audi finally beat the 21-spoke BMW Alpina wheel from LA last year.

Mercedes F125

Audi A2

One thing that certainly turned out to be more of a fad than a trend are the Satin paints.  Whereas a couple of years ago they were everywhere, I only found a couple at the show.  My prediction for the newest fad are wheels with textures and designs in them.  Which they sure are interesting looking and the attention to detail is incredible, I cannot imagine they are very easy to clean.

Citroen DS5

Mercedes A-Class Concept

Citroen DS5

Finally, the attention to detail is probably the most interesting new trend to emerge in wheel design.  In the past a wheel either had a simple button cap with a logo in the center or a sculpted complete cap that covered and hid the lug nuts.  Then Audi can along with their “finger cap” and opened Pandora’s box.  Now everybody else is getting in on it.  My favorite is the Opel Insignia which manages an interesting cap and still leaves the lugs exposed.

Opel Insignia

Opel Astra

Honda Civic

So there you have it, everything you need to know about wheel design in less than 20 pictures.  And if a picture is worth a thousand words then I just wrote a short story.  Come back tomorrow as we discuss exterior and interior design trends

About Frank Schwartz

Frank Schwartz is the founder of CarFriend.me and Advanced Automotive Consulting Services, partner in The Middlecott Sketchbattle Experiment and serial entrepeneur. A long time automotive enthusiast, Frank started reading car magazines at the age of 8 and has spent 30+ years working inside the automotive industry. In his spare time Frank races with the Sports Car Club of America, spends time working on his numerous project cars and supports many local charities.
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