What is American Luxury? Depending on what time frame you reference, the question can have a very different answer. In the twenties and thirties substantial machines like the Packard, Duesenberg, and Stutz set a standard for the world to follow. Many of these models rolled off the assembly lines as bare chassis in order to be fitted with custom bodywork by any number of domestic or European coach builders.
Fast forward fifty years and you have a completely different landscape. If you wanted to buy American Luxury in the early eighties you would have had to choose between a Cadillac Eldorado, Lincoln Mark VI, or Chrysler Imperial – and all three pale in comparison to the classics listed above. With only around 120HP and vehicle weights neighboring two tons they took almost 13 seconds to reach 60mph (which happens to be even slower than a slug or a Smart ForTwo)
But what does American Luxury mean today? And perhaps more importantly, what design cues, features, traits, and execution will define American Luxury in the future? Recently Ford Motor Company partnered with the Transportation Design Program at Lawrence Technological University to develop a design competition to find out how future designers might answer that question.
I stopped by Lawrence Tech to talk to Keith Nagara, Director of the Transportation Design Program, to understand how the theme of American Luxury was developed for this competition. Nagara explained that different groups of people define luxury in different ways, depending the specifics of their lives. For example, consumers who are different ages might identify luxury differently. Where a consumer grew up can also have an influence, as some nations may perceive luxury differently just as people who were raised in a city might identify luxury differently from those who grew up on a farm. Social issues can have an influence by determining what is acceptable luxury. And no matter what the starting point, consumer’s perception of luxury also changes with time. In the early twentieth century for example, the Model T was by itself a luxury and a symbol of affluence; today, almost everyone has a car thanks to Henry Ford’s assembly line that made automobiles more affordable and paid a wage sufficient to afford the very same cars they were building. Nagara told me how American Luxury defines a special kind of luxury – even with global competition the “Made in the USA” label is still highly sought after. He remarked that with all these factors in mind it was decided to “challenge students … with the question ‘What is American Luxury?’ “ in order to see “the creativity and design visions of young minds relative to the economic and environmental issues today”.
The competition gave the students the chance to choose from two different tracks; they could either present an automotive or consumer product proposal . Participants from twenty different countries supplied examples of their concepts and ideas to compete for the scholarships valued at over $75,000. In total, about 70% of the entries came from outside the United States giving the competition an unusual international flavor considering the theme of American Luxury. The deadline for entries was last December 11th and the winners were announced at the MAIN Event on January 8th. This is the second year for The MAIN Event (MAIN stands for MotorCity Auto Industry Night) and the first year for the design competition.
During the process of developing this competition, Ford and Lawrence Tech emphasized the very real need in the industry for talented and creative designers. Representatives from both organizations recognize that a single designer can have a measurable impact on a company by conceiving and creating innovative designs. Ford and Lawrence Tech have banded together to provide the platform for those talents to be discovered and both relish the opportunity to have a significant impact on the winner’s future. Nagara said he and his Ford counterparts identified that the cultivation and harnessing of a student’s passion is a key requirement if we are going to solve tomorrow’s challenges and needs – “they are our future”.