• May 16th 2010 at 6:34PM
  • 14
If automotive designers can agree on one thing, it's that the future will be more diverse. Three current designers and one teacher came together to discuss the way forward at the monthly Automotive Press Association luncheon in Detroit. Cadillac's Clay Dean, Hyundai's Phil Zak and Ford's Scott Strong joined Larry Erickson from the College for Creative Studies at the Detroit Athletic Club.

There will be multiple forces driving this increased diversity, including the emergence of megacities (like Paris, Beijing, Shanghai, Mumbai and Singapore), changing demographics and new powertrain systems.

The increased urbanization we're seeing in many regions is leading to larger, more crowded cities that make traditional automobiles unsuitable and unsustainable. There simply isn't enough room for large vehicles carrying only one or two occupants on the roads of these metropolises. Dean discussed vehicles such as the General Motors EN-V concepts being shown at the Shanghai expo as one possible answer to the increasing density. Read on after the jump to hear more of what the panelists said.

To help get to this future, Erickson is working with students to develop designers who can look 10 or 20 years out into the future. Those aspiring designers need to look not just at the vehicles but also at society and how those vehicles will fit into it. Designers need to anticipate potential societal problems before they exist in order to simulate the solutions.

As megacities continue to draw a larger populace, banning cars from city centers is increasingly viewed as one of the solutions to reducing congestion. Even outside of cities, there's growth in countries like China, which overtook the United States in 2009 as the world's largest car market. Over the next decade, it's expected to build the equivalent of every American highway. Even while China is already the largest auto market, significant sales are only just beginning to move beyond tier 1 cities such as Beijing and Shanghai.

To deal with this crowding, designers are looking beyond the traditional four-wheeled car to solutions like the aforementioned EV-N concepts, where semi-autonomous pod vehicles with three or even two wheels can move people around. Public transport will also be critical in these urban areas. But while people need mobility, not all all of them are enamored with cars as we have them today. Younger people in places like Japan and, to some degree, in the U.S. simply don't have the love of cars that prior generations did.

According to Dean, "we have the California car culture but when you go out there it doesn't exist." There's nothing glamorous about bumper to bumper traffic on the 405, and unless you hit the canyons late at night, the joy of driving is simply not there for most people. The problem for designers, says Dean, is "how to restore the magic." One possible answer is to "create opportunities to minimize moving around so that we can keep the things we want." Find ways to get the masses off the roads for commuting by working at home or using public transit and we can free up the roads for those who actually want to drive.

Designers also need to create passion and excitement in small spaces, and Dean referred to Gordon Murray's tiny T25 city car. Murray claims the T25 is still fun to drive, despite its diminutive size. All of the designers on the panel agreed that new powertrain systems like batteries and fuel cells will alter vehicle packaging in general, allowing designers to get more creative with cars' configurations. To do that, however, they'll also need to overcome customer inertia. Today, for example, luxury cars like Rolls-Royces have long hoods that they don't functionally need because that is what customers expect that type of car to look like.

Vehicle design will have to be tailored to the needs of different regions both functionally and stylistically. Ford's Strong said a vehicle provides a means to "maintain individual expression" and "resist autonomy." Erickson put it this way: "A car is the biggest thing you can wear." Dean said, "If there is a lack of desire for cars, it's because of what is being offered." He then brought up the idea that in the future instead of buying a car, we may get "a membership to a menu of transportation choices."

Perhaps Strong put it best when he said, "Think of transportation as the experience of moving between time and space." Designers need to "think first and then draw." They'll have plenty to think about in the coming years as our world evolves faster than ever before.

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 5 Years Ago
      sigh... that future which never come... that's 2010 and we still waiting for just new body design for the same cars, the Honda FCX is still a concept and GM keep creating ugly and boring electric cars.
      • 5 Years Ago
      The culture is entirely different in mega cities. Out here in fly over country we still have to get from point "A" to point "B", and there is no taxi, no bus, no trains, and no planes. Mostly you see pickup trucks, and a few tourists in cars. We will have to downsize, but there will never be public transit here. I kind of think I would like an electric motorcycle, if I could get some range out of it.
      • 5 Years Ago
      Anybody have a video of the discussion?
      • 5 Years Ago
      It is such a wonderful time to be a young car designer. Basically there will be only two kinds of cars in the future. Those you drive and those that drive themselves. Neither of which will look anything like the worst-case-senserio swiss army knife solutions we've been driving around for the last 50 years. Would love a video link.
      • 5 Years Ago
      Renault Vesta 2 would help. They just will not build it. Argh.
      • 5 Years Ago
      I would love to be one of those automotive designers. I'm trying to become an automotive designer, but getting started is sooo difficult.

      If any of the automotive designers featured in this blog read this: I have a vision for the future of the automobile!
        • 5 Years Ago

        you are correct! I am looking to get into 1 of those colleges. My absolute dream would be to become car designer. People like Henry Fisker, Chip Foose, and Donald Frey are my inspiration(s).

        I'm just worried I might not have the right kind of portfolio to get accepted into one of these colleges. I design automobiles (from the side-view of the car) and I am really good at that. I also have visions and ideas of some really awesome designs...but I have trouble putting it onto paper.

        I am going to go as far as I can to get into a good design school.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Sorry. Comment fart.
        • 5 Years Ago
        You should go to an automotive design school! College for Creative Studies, Art Center College of Design, Cleveland Institute of Arts or somewhere else but these are the main ones in the US.
        • 5 Years Ago

        Thank you sooo much for the information! This really helps me out alot! I guess I should begin on other angle-views on the cars instead of side sketches!

        I have a mind for transportation design...I just need to get my design groove on. I will aim to get into whatever design-specializing college will accept me.

        Going to the ACCD would be a dream come true.

        Dreams do come true...so I believe I have a great future.

        Thank you again for your words of wisdom!
        • 5 Years Ago
        Russell, my advice as far as portfolios go is diversity. If you only do side views that may be a problem when trying to get into CCS or Art Center. They are important but you'll still need to learn how to display a car realistically. Even side views need a certain bit of perspective to appear realistic. You should be able to see the wheels on the other side underneath the car and your front and rear ends should be shortened. A good way to get used to drawing perspective is to use thin paper or vellum and overlay existing images. Sketch your cars over the existing images while changing the details. Try to pay attention to where the center line of the car is and the way the details get bigger or smaller depending on their location. Look online at sites like Core77 and CarDesignNews to get a feel for what others are doing. When you find an image you like, try copying it verbatim to get a feel for how a good sketch should look. Pay attention to line-weights and how they usually go from thin at the ends to thick at the centers. Don't use copies for portfolios pieces of course, but use them to improve your skills at visualization.

        Hope that's not too much info:)
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