Monday, March 17, 2008

Thoughts from "Designing the Car of the Future"

This evening I found myself in NYC called to action by a colloquium of some of the world automotive design elite on the eve of the New York International Auto Show. What this amounted to was a 2 hr guided discussion, of three top corporate designers moderated by the 'Times' own Phil Patton.

(courtesy of

(view from my seat tonight, of the audience)

(courtesy NYTimes, Times Talks Series)

It is hard to say what I have to say here, because I respect the illustrious careers of the individuals involved and the design achievements that they each have under their respective belts (Pontiac Solstice, Saab Aero X, to name a few)......but

(courtesy General Motors)

(courtesy General Motors)

...... each of these top flight designers left me wondering where their soul was. They presented more about fuel economy and Coefficients of Fluid Dynamics (which one of them admittedly knew little about), and less about design and its inspiration. If I had wanted to go to a lukewarm lecture on corporate platitudes about engineering possibilities and the future of fuel cells, I could have traveled to a different city. But I came to hear about design and to be inspired about the future of it in transportation. For that notion, there was scant little. And what is worse, these gents had all the chops to do it. They each had more skill in the pinky about design and managing design then half the audience combined, but somehow, they couldn't let it roar. Hmmff.

This does not mean that the trip was a failure. In fact, quite the opposite. What it demonstrated to me was the vast inertia that the great automakers have, and how that slow, steady, motion has infiltrated their design studios. This pace has made them exacting and professional, but at the same time slow. Perhaps it is axiomatic that size means sluggishness....time will only tell for us, but I came away doubly invigorated to fight for design AND engineering to be close to the customer to invigorate the consumer/driver/enthusiast in a way not found today in the majors....or even the minors.

We must be nimble,
we must be responsive,
we must take our customer along with us as we educate ourselves,
we must excite to the bone,
we must provide a real lasting product.
If we do these things, we will BE different, and never have to TALK about being so.

I will say that there was one design that left me with a primal stirring. Yes, the Mazda Furai. Designed by Bernard Lee, part of Franz von Holzhausen's Mazda team, and built by Swift Engineering and Aria bodyworks in collaboration with Mazda, this vehicle is the kind of thing that keeps us all scanning the horizon in traffic for something worth dreaming about. Bravo!

(Mazda Furai, courtesy


leader one said...

YeS, Yes, Yes, my words exactly. I like your view, attitude and drive in underlining the importance of design in the automotive industry. This industry is design lead, because customers want to relate with the product in a way that identifies their status in life, their achievements, their aspirations. The technology that makes up the car is very important, but at the end of the day doesn't seal the deal; it doesn't make someone run to the dealership to buy it. Design pull the crowds, bring the customer to his knees and determines the success and failure of a brand.

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