Specialists look into car's future

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 16 November, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 16 November, 2011, 12:00am


The design of a new car entails numerous specialists who must consider everything from performance and brand image to technology and sales targets. Those aspects and how they affect the final product will be highlighted at this year's Business of Design Week, where some of the automotive industry's most influential figures will discuss their work, successes and approach to innovation.

'My job is to identify the best design proposals and I am lucky that I can influence the outcome based on my preferences,' says Hong Kong-born Anthony Lo, vice-president of exterior design for Renault in France. 'Good car design must stand the test of time, so the starting point for us is to achieve good proportions. Then the general theme, whether for a city car or a minivan, must be as simple and uncluttered as possible, while clearly expressing the intended 'character' of the particular product.'

Lo studied at Diocesan Boys' School and took industrial design at Polytechnic University before completing a master's in transportation design at London's Royal College of Art. He has worked for several major manufacturers and regards today's challenges as among the toughest the industry has faced.

'Competition is fierce, so finding the right design direction, one that meets customer needs and stands out in other ways, has never been more important,' he says. 'The technical constraints have become more stringent, which has [a] direct impact on design freedom and, therefore, affects overall appearance.'

He notes the rising cost of development work, components, materials, and manufacturing processes. Government-imposed crash safety standards also have a bearing on the weight, size and shape that are permissible.

Usually, it takes a minimum of three years to design a new car from scratch. The subsequent sales life cycle should be at least six years, meaning that the designer's job entails a detailed understanding of commercial considerations and evolving market trends.

'We must have a very clear idea of the car we will develop and find an architecture that fits,' Lo says.

In giving his team guidance, Lo uses simple concepts and comparisons. He likens a sports car to a professional athlete and sees developing a marque or brand image as akin to finding the best style and clothes for a special occasion.

When it comes to the exterior design, the highest priority is to establish a clear 'front-end identity'. This must be recognisable from a distance, since it acts as the 'face' of the brand or model. To illustrate this, Lo points to the Renault R-Space Concept and its distinctive lines. 'It shows the company's innovative approach to family cars, with great proportions, a sporty look and without compromising on space,' he says.

For every design it is very important to achieve high perceived quality, he adds. 'This covers everything from shapes and surfaces to how components are assembled. In defining all the technical solutions, there are usually lots of compromises, which are not visible to the customer.'

As head of Audi Design for the German car firm, Stefan Sielaff never forgets the need to reflect strong brand values. The company has built its reputation on being timelessly elegant, technologically advanced and paying great attention to detail. These standards feed directly into the design process, accounting for a characteristic look - the distinctive single-frame grille and precisely defined 'tornado' alignment - seen across the complete range of models.

'For example, in the Audi A7, you see the dynamic line over the door sill rising towards the back of the car, giving it an agile, sporty appearance which at the same time is classically elegant,' Sielaff says. 'Although the details remind you to a certain degree of the Audi 100 Coupe of the 1960s, the design itself is not retro. We are always looking to the future.'

The challenge, he notes, is to combine technology and aesthetics. This requires close co-operation with the firm's technical development department and regular discussion with the engineers about production and operation targets. Sustainability and energy efficiency issues are increasingly key in these exchanges.

'The car still has to be very desirable some years from now - and as a used car,' says Sielaff, who is excited by the chance to communicate his thoughts at the Business of Design Week.

'I will share my ideas about German design philosophy, Audi's design roots and our interpretation of 'Vorsprung durch Technik'. I will provide a look into Audi's future in terms of design and technology.'


Date December 2
Time 2.15pm -5.50pm
Venue Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre