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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.


American Dreaming: Exhibit Looks Back at the Golden Age of the U.S. Auto Industry

Rare finds often were smuggled out of Detroit’s design studios.

by on Apr.24, 2015

Bill Blogh's 1953 Ford concept sketch captured the sci-fi mood of the era.

In the optimistic post-War era, few things better defined the American lifestyle than the cars we drove. The ’57 Chevy and the finned Cadillac Eldorado were far more than mere transportation.

Drawings and sketches by designers who created the cars of the 1950s and 1960s are being honored with a unique display at Lawrence Technological University in Southfield, Michigan through May 2.

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The exhibit, “American Dreaming: Detroit ’s Golden Age of Automotive Design,” is the first comprehensive exhibition to offer a look at the art work produced inside the design studios of Detroit ’s automakers between 1946 to 1973.


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.


Lincoln Claims MKZ Production Finally Up to Normal

Supply crisis short-circuited critical sedan’s launch.

by on Mar.25, 2013

The new Lincoln MKZ should reach normal levels of inventory in the coming weeks.

It was billed as the most important product new product roll-out in decades for Lincoln, the 2013 MKZ expected to anchor a wave of new products designed to put the long-suffering domestic luxury brand back on the map.

But things didn’t go right almost for the start for the new sedan, parent Ford Motor Co. putting the brakes on production in a bid to head off troubling signs of potential quality problems. The result was a crash-and-burn that instead of kick-starting Lincoln sales saw them fall to a 32-year low.

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But the maker finally appears to be back on track, a senior official has advised, with production now on a fast increase that should soon see plenty of 2013 Lincoln MKZ sedans in dealer showrooms.


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.

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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.


Lincoln Gets Dedicated Design Center

Collaboration “the order of the day, not the exception.”

by on Oct.19, 2012

A clay model at the new Lincoln Design Studio.

Ford Motor Co. has opened a dedicated Lincoln Design Center in Dearborn, Michigan, part of its effort to put the long-struggling brand back on track as a true competitor to marques like BMW, Lexus – and even the resurgent cross-town competitor Cadillac.

The new design center and studio will house approximately 150 designers, craftspeople and engineers dedicated solely to Lincoln production and concept vehicles, Ford said.  It also marks the first time in 40 years that all the disciplines required to develop a new vehicle for Ford’s up-market brand, both creative and technical, will work collaboratively in one space.

Setting up the new design center is all part of Ford’s efforts to reinvent the Lincoln brand, executives said. Once a serious competitor to Cadillac as dominant players in the U.S. market, Lincoln has become a weak second-tier nameplate – and one with virtually no presence outside North America.

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Ford hopes to change that situation by rolling out more stylized, technically sophisticated products – including an all-new version of the Lincoln MKZ coming for 2013. It has an assortment of additional models under development but industry observers warn that Lincoln now has to prove it has a unique identity and isn’t just a marketing operation for slightly more up-market versions of vehicles sold by the mainstream Ford “Blue Oval” brand.

A 2013 Lincoln MKZ shown with the brand's design director Max Wolff.


Hyundai Woos Top GM designer

Could imports tap Big 3 troubles and steal Detroit's best?

by on Apr.03, 2009

Veteran GM Designer Phil Zak, shown here with his '05 Chevrolet Cobalt, is moving to Hyundai.

GM Designer Phil Zak, with his 2005 Chevrolet Cobalt, is moving to Hyundai.

General Motors has lost another top designer to a Korean competitor. Hyundai America Technical Center has announced that Phillip Zak has been named chief designer of the Hyundai Design Center in Irvine, California.  Zak will be responsible for new vehicle and concept design for Hyundai, officials for the Korean automaker said.

Though design departments have been among the most protected operations in Detroit, the domestic industry’s ongoing problems – and the appeal of the new – threaten to lead to a brain drain from Detroit’s styling studios, industry observers caution.

“Phillip’s strong experience in working across multiple regions and his leadership role on advanced projects was exactly what we were looking for,” said C.K. Park, president, HATCI.  “We are thrilled to have Phillip Zak as chief designer for Hyundai and continue the strong momentum of our vehicle designs.”

Zak has more than 20 years of automotive design experience at GM and most recently served as the design director for General Motors Europe where he was responsible for all Opel and Saab exterior production design work and future strategies.  Zak started his career at General Motors in 1988 as a designer sketching new vehicle concepts.  During his 20-year career at General Motors he held various positions including lead designer, chief designer and design manager.


Design Sustainability and the Race to Green

Pasadena Art Center summit features car design experts plus a green racer girl.

by on Feb.27, 2009

Chevrolet Volt: Wishing will make it so?

Chevrolet Volt: Wishing will make it so?

The Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California is a storied institution that has brought forth numerous automotive styling luminaries, including Wayne Cherry, J Mays, Henrik Fisker and Chris Bangle. For the past several years, the Art Center has hosted a Sustainability Summit that explores the role of design in addressing key environment challenges.

Among the Center’s graduates is Bryan Nesbitt, General Motor’s vice president of design for North America, who opened a panel discussion of what might lie around the many curves ahead on the road to sustainable mobility. Perhaps predictably, that panel — which included Bill Reinert, manager for advanced vehicle technology at Toyota USA, and John Waters, president of Bright Automotive and formerly of GM’s EV-1 team — didn’t agree on what’s just around the bend, let alone farther down the road.


Bangle Bails on BMW

by on Feb.03, 2009

Chris Bangle with the dramatic -- and controversial -- 2002 BMW 7-Series

Chris Bangle speaks his mind at Geneva Motor Show

“It’s all about design.” As an automotive journalist, you hear that phrase a lot, especially at auto shows and new product previews, whether you’re looking at the latest luxury car or something more basic. Yet, by and large, designers are a relatively anonymous lot, with only the rare Harley Earl gaining a place in the collective consciousness.

Chris Bangle is another name that has risen beyond the automotive headlines. After all, how many other designers have earned profiles on network TV – CBS Sunday Morning, for one – or been the motivation behind a popular online fan site. Make that anti-fans, if you prefer, for there were several online efforts to force Bangle out as global head of styling at BMW after the automaker launched a controversial remake of its flagship 7-Series sedan, early in the decade.

Ultimately – and ironically – that car’s most distinctive design, known to many as the “Bangle-butt,” has become more the norm than the exception in the luxury market, these days. And with the launch of yet another remake of the 7-er, for 2009, Bangle and his team have largely won over even the harshest skeptics.

And so, it might seem, a good time to move on – as Bangle is doing. In something of a surprise, the youthful 52-year-old stylist tendered his resignation as head of design for the BMW Group, this morning, Munich time. According to a statement, he’ll be pursuing “other design challenges” beyond the automotive industry.