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Electrifying Design

Autonomous and electric drive technologies will radically transform the way tomorrow’s car look, inside and out.

by on Feb.10, 2017

Double sliding doors make it easier than ever to climb in and out of the Chrysler Portal Concept.

You can call it a minivan, if you wish, but while the Portal shares the same, underlying platform as the Chrysler Pacifica minivan that debuted last year, they don’t have much else in common.

There are the four sliding doors, for example, and the unusually short nose. Though it’s a full 19 inches shorter than the Pacifica, the Portal boasts a larger interior. It also has a steering wheel that, with a touch of a button, folds into the instrument panel.

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The Portal is, for now, just a concept vehicle, but it hints at some of the dramatic changes reshaping the auto industry as manufacturers start to adopt electrified drivelines and prepare to introduce autonomous driving systems. Both those technologies will, in turn, give automotive designers an opportunity to radically shift the way tomorrow’s vehicle look and are laid out, says Ralph Gilles, the head of design for Fiat Chrysler Automobiles.


GM’s Renaissance Design Chief Ed Welburn Retiring

Groundbreaking 44-year veteran credited with helping Detroit maker regain image of styling leadership.

by on Apr.07, 2016

GM design chief Ed Welburn unveiled the Buick Avenir at the 2015 Detroit Auto Show.

He got his inspiration at an early age, just 10 and visiting the Philadelphia Auto Show. There, Ed Welburn got a look at a 1961 General Motors concept car, the jet-like Cadillac Cyclone. He was hooked and dreamed of becoming an automotive designer.

As an African-American growing up in the years before the Civil Rights Act was passed, it might have seemed the impossible dream, yet Welburn broke through all sorts of barriers in a 44-year career that will come to an end on July 1st as he cedes the reins as GM’s global design chief to 33-year veteran Michael Simcoe.

By Design!

Over the past decade, Welburn nurtured a creative, inclusive and customer-focused culture among our designers that has strengthened our global brands,” said GM chairman and CEO Mary Barra.


Mileage Still Critical to Shoppers, Despite Plunging Prices

Technology, exterior and interior design, also critical, finds Power study.

by on Jan.19, 2015

Power's Avoiders study warns that motorists still won't pay a stiff premium for alternative power models like the new 2016 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid.

With gas prices down below $2 a gallon in most of the country, there’s been a surge of demand for pickups and other big vehicles. Even so, fuel economy remains the key factor most motorists consider when buying a new car, truck of crossover, according to a new survey by J.D. Power and Associates.

But even the highest-mileage vehicles may not connect with buyers turned off by poor design or by the lack of the latest technological features, notes Power’s 2015 U.S. Avoiders Study. The annual report looks at both what motivates motorists to buy, reject or avoid particular models.

Consumer Insight!

For the fourth year in a row, it turns out, fuel economy has remained the most influential factor in choosing a new vehicle. According to the 2015 study, 14% of shoppers listed mileage as number one on the list of why they bought a particular vehicle, while 16% said they rejected a vehicle because of its poor mileage.


Design Remains More Art than Digital Science

Designers search for the balance between passion and hard data.

by on May.08, 2014

GM Designer Tom Peters with the 2014 Chevrolet Corvette. He led the exterior design team.

While sophisticated technology has become an essential tool in the modern automotive styling studio, it still requires a human touch to bring designs to life.

“The artistic aspect is critical to car design,” stressed Tom Peters, the lead designers at General Motors for performance cars, during a discussion on car design at a meeting of the Automotive Press Association. “It’s through the human touch the passion is instilled in cars,” added Peters.  “Our products are very tactile, you have to engage the senses.”

Designed for You!

Though infotainment systems and fuel economy have becoming increasingly critical, competitive elements in today’s auto market, design remains one of the most important factors for shoppers choosing a new vehicle, studies reveal. In fact, there are many who contend that this is a new “Golden Age” for stylists as even brands like Toyota and Hyundai that traditionally settled for “plain vanilla” styling push for more passion in their products.


Volvo Concept XC Coupe, Ford Mustang Win Auto Show Design Awards

Hailed as best by jury of global designers.

by on Jan.15, 2014

The 2015 Ford Mustang at its global debut.

The new Ford Mustang and the Volvo Concept XC Coupe took honors as the best designed production model and concept vehicle at the North American International Auto Show.

They were among scores of new products unveiled during the annual Detroit event’s media preview that faced scrutiny by 30 current and retired chief automotive designers from around the world.

Designed to Please!

While fuel economy, performance and digital safety and infotainment systems have become increasingly important to buyers, studies routinely show that design remains one of the most critical factors, especially when shoppers are first figuring out which models to put on their shopping list.  And, if anything, that has triggered what many observers are calling a new golden era of automotive styling.


J Mays Stepping Down as Ford Global Design Chief

Moray Callum to take on global design duties.

by on Nov.06, 2013

Ford's global design chief J Mays, shown here at the launch of the Ford Flex, is resigning from the post effective Jan. 1.

J Mays, the talented but at times controversial group vice president and global design director at Ford Motor Co., will be retiring after 16 years with the Detroit automaker – and 33 years in the auto industry.

Mays, who was instrumental in breathing new life into Ford Design during the company’s often painful turnaround over the past decade, will be replaced by Moray Callum, who has been elected a Ford Motor Co. officer and named vice president, Design effective upon Mays’ official retirement on Jan. 1, 2014.

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Mays is stepping down even though two of his key projects recently, the redesign of the Ford Mustang and the F-150 pickup truck, have yet to be shown publicly. However, a concept version of the pickup truck was unveiled during the North American International Auto Show last January to favorable reviews. The maker continues to hold the new Mustang – which will debut on the nameplate’s 50th anniversary – under tight wraps. (more…)

What is It? Many New Car Designs Defy Categorization

Is it a coupe, a crossover or a hatchback? Maybe a little bit of them all.

by on Sep.20, 2013

Infiniti's Q30 doesn't readily invite categorization, says its designer, Alfonso Albaisa.

As the Infiniti Q30 concept car rolled onto the stage during the Frankfurt Motor Show media preview last week, design chief Alfonso Albaisa noticed puzzled expressions throughout the audience. “It defies characterization,” Albaisa said, suggesting that the Q30 might best be thought of as “not a coupe, not a hatch and not a crossover but a fusion of the three body styles.”

During the two days of Frankfurt press previews, Infiniti wasn’t the only automaker to roll out a design that didn’t fall into any easy or traditional category. There was also the Opel Monza which might alternatively be described, depending upon your viewing angle, as a wagon, sedan, coupe or even a sports car. For lack of a better definition, designer Mark Adams said he’s settled on the British-style “Sporting Brake.”

Your Global Auto News Source!

“What is that?” was a phrase one heard quite frequently during the Frankfurt Motor Show media preview.

And the biennial German auto show wasn’t unique.  It’s becoming more and more difficult to define many of the vehicles – both products and concepts – showing up at other recent automotive events.


Cadillac ELR, Ford Atlas, Nissan Resonance Win Auto Show Design Awards

Former GM “car czar” Lutz honored for design role.

by on Jan.17, 2013

Team members celebrate the EyesOn Design Production Car Award for the Cadillac ELR.

According to the latest consumer surveys, good fuel economy is the number one factor for potential car buyers.  But put two vehicles with similar mileage together and you can be all but certain most customers will opt for the more stylish model.

No wonder good design plays such a significant role in drawing the public to an auto show like the North American International Auto Show, or NAIAS, in Detroit.  And a group of professional stylists have weighed in on which of the nearly 60 cars, trucks, crossovers and concepts had the most visual appeal.

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The 2014 Cadillac ELR, the luxury maker’s new plug-in hybrid, got the nod winning the EyesOn Design Award for Best Production Vehicle.  And in a first-ever tie, the Ford Atlas and Nissan Resonance shared honors with the EyesOn Design Award for Best Concept Vehicle.


Student Designers Aim to Reinvent the Wheel

Tomorrow’s stylists asked to “lightweight with passion.”

by on Dec.04, 2012

One of the winners from the 24th annual Michelin Design Challenge.

Short of having four wheels, tomorrow’s automobiles may look very different from those of today as automakers adapt to a variety of challenges like fuel economy and safety regulations, overcrowded highways and other concerns.

So why not let the designers of tomorrow see what concepts they can come up with? That’s the premise behind the Michelin Challenge Design competition which turned to students at Detroit’s College for Creative Studies, one of the fertile sources for some of the best stylists in the industry today.

Your Global Auto News Source!

Now in its 24th year, the theme for the latest design competition was “Half! Lightweight with Passion,” putting the emphasis on slicing the weight of a typical vehicle without having to sacrifice room, comfort, safety and other factors. As might be expected, considering Michelin’s sponsorship, students were asked to come up with some interesting ways to advance tire and wheel technology as part of the process.


Bangle Given Lifetime Achievement Award

Controversial former BMW design chief honored.

by on Jul.17, 2012

Chris Bangle, shown with his design team during his years at BMW.

He is one of the most influential designers of the last two decades – and one of the most controversial.  All of which added up to a Lifetime Achievement Award for Chris Bangle, the former BMW styling boss that gave the world the notorious “Bangle-butt.”

The annual Design Lifetime Achievement Award was presented to Bangle this week during the annual Eyes on Design Automotive gala, the capper to a weekend event that focuses specifically on styling. And controversial as he might have been, there are few that would argue that Bangle didn’t have a significant impact on the shape of the modern automobile.

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“Chris was constantly exploring new ideas and innovations in design, as seen in the GINA concept,” noted Alec Bernstein, director of advanced communications, BMW DesignWorks USA.

Now running his own design studio in Turin, Italy, the 55-year-old Bangle became BMW’s first American design chief in 1992, quickly creating a splash with the Z9 Gran Turismo concept.  Few designers seemed more willing – or ready — to relish controversy, Bangle either penning or overseeing a series of distinctive and often debated products during his 17 years with the Bavarian maker.

But arguably no model generated more controversy than the 7-Series, known internally as the E65.  BMW was an also-ran in the premium luxury segment and had decided it was time to tackle rival Mercedes-Benz’s dominant S-Class.  The new 7-er was bigger, bolder – and featured such unusual design elements as its hooded headlights and huge decklid – which critics quickly dubbed the Bangle-butt.

Initial reaction was anything but positive.  Sales slipped sharply and Time declared the new 7-Series one of the “50 Worst Cars of All Time.”  But after a slow start the demand began to click, eventually becoming the best-selling 7-Series ever.  It ultimately helped BMW overtake its Stuttgart rival to become the best-selling luxury automotive brand.

Of course, that’s just one of the more distinctive designs to emerge from the BMW studios under Bangle’s reign.  He also brought forth the Z3 roadster and its successor, the Z4 – as well as another love-it-or-leave-it design, the Z Coupe.

Bangle introduced the concept of “flame surfacing” to BMW, allowing the maker to use the latest computer technology to create distinctive, if not always elegant, compound surface curves and bold design elements like the 7-Series’ rear deck.  A student of industrial design and architecture, Bangle has often pointed to Frank Gehry as one of his strong influences.

Martin Smith, a senior designer with Ford, suggests Bangle has steered automotive stylists to provide more “surface entertainment.”

Patrick le Quement, of Renault, meanwhile, suggests that Bangle’s “designs have a great deal of presence, and they’re well proportioned. He’s been highly influential. My only concern is his use of concave surfaces: they’re hollow shapes and lack that tightly muscled look I feel helps design.”

Whichever side of the debate one falls on, however, it is clear that Bangle continues to have an influence on automotive design even after leaving BMW to work on his own.