Whether it is solid German engineering at Hochschule Pforzheim, new technologies at the RCA in London or size limitations at Academy of Art University in San Francisco, what rolls off students’ drawing boards today could be at the Frankfurt Motor Show tomorrow. And with a school dedicated purely to automotive design opening in India, the future of car design is picking up speed.
Given the country’s automotive heritage – think BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Audi – it should come as no surprise that one of the world’s leading schools for car design is located in Germany. Hochschule Pforzheim has students from around the world studying for Bachelor of Arts and Masters degrees in transportation design. “I really wanted to come to Germany because it is the centre of car design and I wanted that unique German experience,” says Alain Brideson, a postgraduate student from New Zealand.
The university is located in the sleepy town of Pforzheim, between Karlsruhe and Stuttgart, and while students admit to a lack of nightlife, this doesn’t seem to bother them. “You definitely do not come to Pforzheim for the city. All you tend to do is work here but that’s OK because you know that when you graduate you are pretty much guaranteed a job,” says Ben Nawka, a German undergraduate.
Professor James Kelly has been head of the transport design department since 1992. Although aware of Pforzheim’s unglamorous location, Kelly is pragmatic and is quick to point out that the university’s whereabouts is its greatest asset. “The world’s most important manufacturers – Mercedes, Porsche, BMW and Mazda – are all here on our doorstop. It’s great for making contacts. The automotive industry is an extremely competitive market and the German car industry is still very influential in the world,” he says.
Daniel Hunter, a postgraduate student from Newcastle, believes that as an automotive designer you are taken more seriously in Germany. “I want to work in Germany after I graduate. As a designer you are far more valued here,” he says.
When Monocle visited Pforzheim, the students were getting ready to present their crucial end of semester project. The academic year is divided into two semesters in which students study different themes decided by Kelly and there is an average of 12 students in each academic year. The BA offers a comprehensive overview of car design and includes a compulsory internship; the MA focuses on how to design vehicles using the latest computer software. For both degrees, students must complete an interior and exterior design project, often working in collaboration with a manufacturer.
This year, undergraduates in the fifth and seventh semesters were challenged to design a car as it might look in 2015 for Renault. The project was run in tandem with fashion students who had to design a collection for Renault’s customer of the future. “This interdisciplinary design is growing in importance. Everything influences car design, from fashion through to jewellery,” says Kelly.
The BA lasts seven semesters. It takes students about three-and-a-half years to complete and is taught in German. The MA lasts three semesters, takes 18 months to complete and is taught in English.
€595 each semester.
Michael Mauer, chief designer at Porsche; Marc Lichte, lead designer at Volkswagen.
More individual and bespoke designs.
Landing a job in the German car industry.
Frankfurt Motor Show
With backroom negotiations churning on between Europe’s car manufacturers and the EU over the latter’s insistence on a 130g/km emissions average for new cars by 2012, expect the predominant colour scheme for the show stands at this September’s Frankfurt Motor Show to be green on green.
In an unprecedented show of cooperation Audi, Mercedes-Benz and VW are working together on clean diesels under the Bluetec banner (not to be confused with VW’s super-frugal Blue Motion range). Aiming to steal their thunder will be “beleaguered” (its now customary prefix) General Motors, unveiling its latest E-Flex diesel-electric hybrid in a Zafira-style concept with, it says, a Segway in the boot.
Mercedes will tackle the rising seas with a hybrid S-Class. We can also expect various concept frolics from the Stuttgart company, in a more carefree frame of mind now that it is rid of the parasitic Chrysler.
Chrysler has now hopped into bed with the Chinese, whose car manufacturers these days turn up to European shows en masse, like embarrassingly dressed relatives. Expect reliably risible offerings from the likes of Brilliance but, then again, that’s what we said about Japanese cars 40 years ago.
Jaguar will show its latest make-or-break model, the self-consciously contemporary XF saloon, while its owners-for-the-moment, Ford, will reveal a Mazda 2-based concept that is due to replace the Fiesta by 2009 and an all new compact 4x4, called the Kuga, coming to a showroom near you as early as spring next year.
As usual, VW will demonstrate its uncanny knack for turning up late to an established niche with something instantly forgettable (as it did with the Touran), with the new Tiguan compact SUV. More promisingly, BMW will give us a good look at the Mini Clubman and unveil an as-yet-unnamed juicy concept – our money’s on the Judge Dredd-style X6. It will also show the rather less juicy 1-series coupé.
It is too early for tangible signs of Porsche’s new position as majority stakeholder at VW, although Frankfurt is renowned for springing surprises. Rumours are rife that a new small Cayenne off-roader with Audi underpinnings, and a mid-priced Audi two-seater, the R4, based on the next generation Boxster, are in the pipeline, but the 204mph super-911, the GT2, and a new Audi A4 saloon are surer bets to turn up.
When the Royal College of Art opened its Kensington doors to automotive design students in 1967, it marked a global first. “There was no course like this at the time. The RCA recognised the industry didn’t just need petrol-heads, it needed professional industrial designers,” says Professor Dale Harrow, who has been head of department since 1999.
Peter Stevens, ex-design chief of MG Rover, was one of the first to graduate from the course. A self-confessed car fanatic and now freelance design consultant, he is the man behind some of the world’s most lusted-after vehicles, such as the Lotus Elan, McLaren F1 and Jaguar XJR-15. Reminiscing from his studio in East Anglia, he says: “At the RCA we learnt not just how to design cars but more importantly, how to make a living from it.”
Monocle met up with the Class of 2007 a day before graduation. The students were in a jubilant mood. The two-year vehicle design MA degree was over and their final projects – complete with portfolio, prototype and all-important business card – were on display at the annual RCA graduate summer exhibition.
As part of the MA, students can choose to study from three theoretical modules. Urban Flow explores how vehicle design is affected by a journey; Inside Out focuses on production, manufacturing techniques and new technologies; and Automark explores the commercial aspects of vehicle design. In the first year the RCA teams up with an industry partner, such as the Corus Group steel firm and GE Plastics, and students are assigned into teams to work on specific projects. In the second year students are free to pick their own design project, which they then present at the graduate show.
This year there was a breadth of conceptual work on display. Florian Seidl’s giant, flying helicopter-taxi, inspired by Aldous Huxley’s novel Brave New World, stood out as one of the more fanciful designs. “Tutors are really open to our thoughts and you are free to explore many ideas. I don’t think I would have been able to do this at any other place,” he says, confirming the wide-held belief that the RCA runs one of the most creative courses in automotive design.
Sustainability was a common theme addressed by students in the show. Their imaginative and plausible prototypes ranged from Matt Croft’s Second Life car, designed from recycled materials, through to Daniel Kafka’s Everlast car, made never to be scrapped. “We don’t want to design the next Hummer. We want to create something that will change the world. I could have studied elsewhere but it seemed dead compared to London. The RCA is the place to get inspiration,” says Swiss graduate Filip Krnja.
Degree takes two years. Students can choose to study from three modules.
Tuition fees per year
EU students £4,550 (€6,750); non-EU residents, £21,800 (€32,400).
Ian Callum, design chief, Jaguar; Marek Reichman, head of design, Aston Martin.
Sustainability and how to design more eco-friendly cars. Mobility and designing a car better suited to congested cities.
Although the industrial design programme at San Francisco’s Academy of Art University is still in an embryonic state – it only opened in 1998 – it is perhaps the best place to see where the future of car design is headed. Here, students are different from other industrial design schools if only because no portfolios are required for admission.
“All we ask for is desire,” says Tom Matano, the programme’s executive director, who left his post as design chief of Mazda to head the school in 2002.
Matano suggests that the future of car design will be in the hands of those who can work within a size limitation and this is the focus of the only semester-long project of its type in the world.
Students use a favourite non-automotive brand as a starting point to design a four-passenger vehicle no bigger than 3m long and 1.8m wide. Third-year student Steve Goodrich created the Oakley transporter, which features a 1-2-1 seating configuration, electric motors in the wheel hubs, and a windscreen like a helicopter nose. “I had to figure out a way to allow big openings for the doors and windows, because it’s small inside,” he says.
While students are drawing next-generation fuel sources into their designs, their use of exotic body materials is tempered by Matano’s 30-plus years in the business. “Innovative materials are popular, but not always best,” says Matano. “Aluminum bodies are lighter but require higher electrical energy to create them and they lose strength after recycling. On the other hand steel is very reusable. If we can find a new way of doing it, good. But for mass producing at volume, what we have is a pretty good system in total. Designers who help a company execute quality at the right price for consumers are doing the most to be ‘sustainable’, in a way.”
Distribution of good design is a hallmark of successful companies. “Toyota incorporates improvements across the board. If they can find a better way to close a door, it will be incorporated from the least expensive car up to a Lexus. That approach is smartest. We need our designers thinking more like that.”
Roughly two dozen students in each year for this four-year programme.
Dohee Lee, GM; Sam Rosen, Daimler Chrysler; Jae-Sup Park, Hyundai; Shin Imai, Mazda.
Packaging effectively, reducing weight, “sustaining” by choosing smart – not buzzworthy – materials.
Open-door policy on admissions; large international student base; learning from the former design chief of Mazda.
India is to get its first school specialising purely in automotive design. The man behind the wheel is Dilip Chhabria, founder of DC Design and the person responsible for the design work on the prototype of the Aston Martin AMV8 in 2003 and the GM Chevrolet Beat, showcased at the New York International Auto Show in April this year.
Chhabria’s latest venture, the DC College of Automotive Studies, will verse students in the entire process of car design. “A lot of schools turn out designers who are so narrowly focused on design that they really don’t understand how engineering or marketing works. They need to have an understanding of all aspects, so our courses will be interdisciplinary,” he says.
Initially enrolling about 400 students when it opens this August, this will increase to 1,480 pupils as it becomes established. The school will be based 75 miles southeast of Mumbai in Pune, a key centre of car production from where Tata Motors’ widely anticipated Rs1 lakh car (€1,752) will roll off the assembly line next year.
GM Motors, DaimlerChrysler and Volkswagen are investing over €1.1bn in Pune to expand operations, with a view to doubling production over the next decade. Ford alone saw its sales increase 50 per cent in India last year.
“We are trying to create a college which exposes the students to what the industry is. It wants candidates who understand the way it works rather than to retrain them for two to three years on the job before they can actually contribute,” Chhabria explains. Although he expects pupils from Europe and the US as “this will be the only school in the world where students can build full-scale models”, he predicts that 75 per cent of his students will be Indian.
Currently the automotive industry makes up 5 per cent of India’s total GDP and the government predicts that this figure will grow to 10 per cent by 2016.