Automotive design: Wikis


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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Designers at work in 1961. Standing by the scale model's left front fender is Richard Teague, a famous automobile designer at American Motors Corporation (AMC).

Automotive design is the profession involved in the development of the appearance, and to some extent the ergonomics, of motor vehicles or more specifically road vehicles. This most commonly refers to automobiles but also refers to motorcycles, trucks, buses, coaches, and vans. The functional design and development of a modern motor vehicle is typically done by a large team from many different disciplines included in automotive engineers. Automotive design in this context is primarily concerned with developing the visual appearance or aesthetics of the vehicle, though it is also involved in the creation of the product concept. Automotive design is practiced by designers who usually have an art background and a degree in industrial design or transportation design.


Design elements

The task of the design team is usually split into three main aspects: exterior design, interior design, and color and trim design. Graphic design is also an aspect of automotive design; this is generally shared amongst the design team as the lead designer sees fit. Design focuses not only on the isolated outer shape of automobile parts, but concentrates on the combination of form and function, starting from the vehicle package.

The aesthetic value will need to correspond to ergonomic functionality and utility features as well. In particular, vehicular electronic components and parts will give more challenges to automotive designers who are required to update on the latest information and knowledge associated with emerging vehicular gadgetry, particularly dashtop mobile devices, like GPS navigation, satellite radio, HD radio, mobile TV, MP3 players, video playback and smartphone interfaces. Though not all the new vehicular gadgets are to be designated as factory standard items, but some of them may be integral to determining the future course of any specific vehicular models.

Draft of OScar design proposal.

Exterior design

The stylist responsible for the design of the exterior of the vehicle develops the proportions, shape, and surfaces of the vehicle. Exterior design is first done by a series of digital or manual drawings. Progressively more detailed drawings are executed and approved. Clay (industrial plasticine) and or digital models are developed from, and along with the drawings. The data from these models are then used to create a full sized mock-up of the final design (body in white). With 3 and 5 axis CNC Milling Machines, the clay model is first designed in a computer program and then "carved" using the machine and large amounts of clay. Even in times of high-class 3d software and virtual models on powerwalls the clay model is still the most important tool to evaluate the design of a car and therefore used throughout the industry.

Interior design

The stylist responsible for the design of the vehicle interior develops the proportions, shape, placement, and surfaces for the instrument panel, seats, door trim panels, headliner, pillar trims, etc. Here the emphasis is on ergonomics and the comfort of the passengers. The procedure here is the same as with exterior design (sketch, digital model and clay model).

Color and trim design

The color and trim (or color and materials) designer is responsible for the research, design, and development of all interior and exterior colors and materials used on a vehicle. These include paints, plastics, fabric designs, leather, grains, carpet, headliner, wood trim, and so on. Color, contrast, texture, and pattern must be carefully combined to give the vehicle a unique interior environment experience. Designers work closely with the exterior and interior designers.

Designers draw inspiration from other design disciplines such as: industrial design, fashion, home furnishing, architecture and sometimes Product Design . Specific research is done into global trends to design for projects two to three model years in the future. Trend boards are created from this research in order to keep track of design influences as they relate to the automotive industry. The designer then uses this information to develop themes and concepts which are then further refined and tested on the vehicle models.

Graphic design

The design team also develop graphics for items such as: badges, decals, dials, switches, kick or tread strips, liveries.

Development process

Includes the folowing steps:

History of automobile design in the U.S.

In the United States, automotive design reached a turning point in 1924 when the American national automobile market began reaching saturation. To maintain unit sales, General Motors head Alfred P. Sloan Jr. suggested annual model-year design changes to convince car owners that they needed to buy a new replacement each year, an idea borrowed from the bicycle industry (though Sloan usually gets the credit, or blame).[1] Critics called his strategy planned obsolescence. Sloan preferred the term "dynamic obsolescence". This strategy had far-reaching effects on the auto business, the field of product design, and eventually the American economy. The smaller players could not maintain the pace and expense of yearly re-styling. Henry Ford did not like the model-year change because he clung to an engineer's notions of simplicity, economics of scale, and design integrity. GM surpassed Ford's sales in 1931 and became the dominant company in the industry thereafter. The frequent design changes also made it necessary to use a body-on-frame rather than the lighter, but less flexible, monocoque design used by most European automakers.

An early example of Forward look design 1956 Plymouth Fury

The most famous American auto stylist is probably Harley Earl,[2] who brought the tailfin and other aeronautical design references to auto design in the 1950s. He is joined among legendary designers by Gordon Buehrig, responsible for the Auburn 851 and iconic Cord 810 and 812 (hence also the Hupmobile Skylark and the Graham Hollywood). Another notable designer who had a markedly different style was Chrysler group's designer Virgil Exner, an early pioneer of Cab forward (a.k.a.Forward look) design in mid-1950s later adapted by rest of the industry. He is also credited with introducing the pointed tail fins in the 1956 Plymouth Belvedere later adapted by all other Detroit studios.

History of automobile design in Europe

An early radical French Voisin C27

Europe is the continent where the first Automobile was invented, eventually replacing the Horse Drawn Coaches. Till World War I most of the manufacturers were concerned with mechanical reliability rather than its external appearance. Later, luxury and aesthetics became a demand and also an effective marketing tool. Designs from each nation with its own strong cultural identity, reflected in their exterior and interior designs. The World War II slowed the progress, but after early-1950s, Italian designers set the trend and remained the driving force until the early part of the 1980s.


Citroen DS

In France notable designs came from Bugatti and Avions Voisin. Of the mass selling cars Citroen, launched their vehicles with innovative designs and engineering and mostly aided by the Styling of Flaminio Bertoni as evident from Citroen DS. After World War II with the disappearance of French coach building industry, barring Citroen, others stuck to following British and other popular trends till they gained financial stability. From the 1980s, manufactures like Renault cultivated their own strong design identities with designers like Patrick Le Quement demanding more freedom from engineering departments. Peugeot, which was dependent on Pininfarina since early post-war period, later established its own brand identity from 1980s onwards. Its other company Citroen still retains it distinctive French innovations in its designs. Today French designs are known for their innovativeness and forward looking.

Great Britain

Great Britain was Europe’s leading manufacturer of automobiles until the late-1960s. During that era there were more British-based automakers than in the rest of Europe combined. The British automobile industry catered to all segments ranging from compact, budget, sports, utility, and luxury-type cars. Car design in Britain was markedly different from other European designs largely because British designers were not influenced by other European art or design movements, as well as the British clay modelers used a different sweep set.

British cars until World War II were sold in most of the British colonies. Innovations in vehicle packaging and chassis engineering combined with global familiarity with British designs meant vehicles were acceptable to public tastes at that time. British skilled resources like panel beaters, die machinists, and clay modelers were also available also partly due their involvement with motorsport industry.

Notable contributions to automobile designs were Morris Mini by Alec Issigonis, Several Jaguars by Sir William Lyons, Aston Martin DB Series, and several cars from Triumph and MG. Ford Europe based in Great Britain is notable for Ford Sierra a creation of Uwe Bahnsen, Robert Lutz and Patrick le Quément


Germany is often considered the birthplace of industrial design with Bauhaus School of Design. However, the Nazi regime closed down the design school. Ferdinand Porsche and his family played a significant role in German design. Mercedes Benz passenger cars were also in luxury segment and played more importance to aesthetics. After the 1980s German design evolved into a distinctive Teutonic style often to compliment their high engineered cars suited to Autobhans.But the early German design clues of present day owes some part to Italian designers like Bruno Sacco and Giorgetto Giugiaro. During Mid and late 20th century the most influential coach builder/designer in Germany was Karmann. German designs started gaining popularity after the 1980s, notable after the formation of Audi. Volkswagen, which was dependent on Giorgetto Giugiaro and Karmann, later formed the contemporary design language along with Audi. BMW’s foray into sports sedan marked a new trend in automobile design as it called for a sporty-looking everyday sedan. Mercedes Benz also set its own benchmark for German Styling.


Ferrari Testarossa from Pininfarina Studios by Leonardo Fioravanti

In Italy, where art is often considered a serious profession since Renaissance period, companies like Fiat and Alfa Romeo played a major role in car design. Many coach builders were dependent on these two major manufacturers. Italian manufacturers had a large presence in Motorsports leading to several sport car manufacturers like Ferrari, Lancia, Lamborghini, Maserati, etc. During late-1950s the elegant Italian designs gained global popularity coinciding with the modern fashion and architecture at that time around the world. Various design and technical schools in Turin turned out designers in large scale. By the late-1960s almost all Italian coach builders transformed into design studios catering to automakers around the world. The trend continued in the 1990s when the Japanese and Korean manufacturers sourced designs from these styling studios. One example is Pininfarina.

Sweden (Scandinavian)

Ursaab, an early Saab concept illustrating an advanced headlamp treatment

Sweden has Volvo and Saab and the Scandinavian landscape required that cars had to be sturdy and withstand Nordic climate conditions. The Scandinavian design elements known for their minimalism and simplicity. One of the early original Scandivnavian designs was Saab 92001 by Sikstena Sasona and Gunnar Ljungström.


The 1934 Czechoslovakian Tatra T77 is the first serial-produced aerodynamically designed automobile designed by Hans Ledwinka and Paul Jaray

Prior to World War and until early 1990s, Czechoslovakia had strong presence in the automotive industry with manufacturers like Skoda, Jawa, Tatra, CZ, and Zetor. Czech automobiles were generally know for their originality in mechanical simplicity and designs were remarkably Bohemian as evident from Tatra cars and Jawa motorcycles. During the Communist regime, design started falling back and ultimately the domestic automakers ended up as subsidiaries of EU-based companies.

See also



  1. ^ Babaian, Sharon. The Most Benevolent Machine: A Historical Assessment of Cycles in Canada (Ottawa: National Museum of Science and Technology, 1998), p.97.
  2. ^ Harley Earl 1893~1969 - accessed 07 March 2010

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