Questions to Ponder – AUTO DESIGN WEEK in REVIEW 3/19/12

This week’s posts could be titled Questions to Ponder as the auto industry seems to be at a serious crossroad.  (if you have ever wondered “Is there is another word for synonym?”, check this site out).  This week our we link to some serious design-related issues;  How big do you have to be to survive as a car manufacturer?  Does Feng Shui belong in car design?  Should cars be designed with specific cities in mind?  Is 200k the new 100k?  What does rugged mean to a consumer? Is Volkswagen really that far ahead of everybody else?  And my personal favorite, “Car race cars get any more unattractive?”

My Weekly Design Rant – The Formula 1 Season Starts

I am pretty sure I am not the only one here who stayed up until 1:30am to watch the beginning of the 2012 Formula 1 Season.  I still get a bit of a kick out of the pomp and circumstance, the pageantry, the technology and the personalities.  But in many ways I think the sport has jumped the shark and last night confirmed that feeling.  Why do I feel this way?  Because in the old days race cars were beautiful expressions of technology.  Who would argue against the fact that the Birdcage Maserati, Ferrari GTO, Porsche 904 and many, many others were not just fast, but beautiful?  This year’s crop of Formula 1 cars?  Not so much.  Just take a look at the Ferrari challenger here.   In fact, I am not sure that they can get much worse.  And the problem isn’t just the F1 grid, I feel the same has happened with NASCAR and to a lesser degree other forms of the sport as well (for whatever reason endurance race cars still work as the Audi R18 proves).

One could argue that technology is the root cause.  I don’t believe the issue is related to technology as much as it is to the single-mindedness of the design team.  As the Financial Times Reported, ‘It can be the world’s ugliest car, as long as it’s fast’.  No less than Gordon Murray stated in the article “Just when I thought they couldn’t make the cars uglier, they did.”  My evidence that technology doesn’t have to be ugly would be aircraft; the latest stealth fighters are still beautiful, but in an entirely new way.  I would suggest that part of what draws people to the sport of auto racing is the beauty, not just the speed (or the wrecks as in CRASHCAR).  A little side note – apparently aggressive driving issues drop on the day of NASCAR events but increase for 5 days after according to this study.

If sanctioning bodies and race car manufacturers don’t get back on the design bandwagon soon, I predict a future where race cars from the 2010 decade won’t belong anywhere near a car show.

Another Ugly Race Car – The Nissan Delta Wing

But in this case I certainly will cut the car some slack, as it is the first of what I hope is a string of increasing more attractive innovative ideas in the realm of auto racing.  In many ways the car resembles a salt speed racer more than a sports car racer (or an adult product depending on your point-of-view).  While I don’t think the basic design is attractive, which may be why Indy Car picked a more traditional design, it has potential.  The car will actually gets to turn its wheels in anger at Le Mans this year – I wish the team luck but will still be rooting for Audi.

Feng Shui Car Design

Ford has some ideas on how to improve your life by practicing Feng Shui in your car.  Among the ideas are naming your car and adding a statue.  My Mini Cooper got named Elvira on the day I brought her home but I am open to ideas on what statue or icon to put inside.

Small Car Manufacturers Having Trouble

Over the past few weeks we have talked about many hybrid and electric car manufacturers having difficulty and this week is no different as the Chevrolet Volt production line temporarily shuts down and GM issues some questionable stats.  But even gas-engined manufacturers are having trouble so perhaps the common theme is not technology, but size.  Lotus has had to suspend development of new vehicles as a buyer for parent company Proton is found.

Volkswagen Forging Ahead

While small car companies seem to be having problems, such is not the case with market behemoth Volkswagen.  Their new platform strategy is just now hitting the market, and it looks like it will bring flexibility AND profit.  It reminds me of the brilliance shown by Honda a few years ago when they reconfigured their domestic manufacturing plants to be flexible and capable of producing multiple models on the same line.

Audi TTS “a car designed for design connoisseurs”

The Wall Street Journal sent a love letter to the Audi TTS last week and we all got to read it.  The “TT remains the only car on the market to engage in industrial design so nose-to-nose, speaking in the discipline’s own code“.  ‘Nuff said.

Hyundai Releases Sketches of new Sante Fe

Ahead of the New York Auto Show next month, Hyundai has released sketches of the new Sante Fe.

Should Cars be Designed Specific to each City?

If customer needs are so important in the design of a vehicle, why do all the car companies consider generalizations rather than specifics.  Vincent Montreuil considered that the needs of people in Amsterdam are special, and designed a car around them.  I wonder what a New York car look like?

Is 200 the new 100?

How often does longevity enter into the automotive design process?  I can think of more than a few cars that look correct for the time when they were sold, but not so much anymore.  And others that stand the test of time, like the Porsche 911.  Consider this story, chances are the next car or truck you design will still be on the road in 2030!


About Frank Schwartz

Frank Schwartz is the founder of 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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1 Response to Questions to Ponder – AUTO DESIGN WEEK in REVIEW 3/19/12

  1. Greg Hill-Young says:

    Though it is odd at some angles, I do like the delta wing, if it actually works (seems like they need some Tyrrell inspiration, give it 6 wheels to avoid understeer) it is innovative, which is why you won’t see something like it in today’s F1…..(also) part of the reason for the ugliness in F1 and many series, innovation is banned; they have just millimeters to play with.

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