Diego GarcíaProduct and Transport Designer
The automobile is, since its creation, an object that has fascinated several generations. It’s no longer a mean of transport but it became something else: art, passion, a status symbol, freedom… It is an object with soul and this is mostly due to design.
Car and design merge as no other daily object. The automobile industry pioneered using design as a differentiation aspect, understanding the relationship between sales and the attractiveness of the models and innovating with concepts never applied in other industry. Among them, the ideas implemented in world’s first automotive design studio by Harley Earl for General Motors during 30’s. Without his contribution, daily basic techniques such sketching or clay modeling would not be the same.
Car design has been able to showcase the culture and the country in which it was manufactured, adapting to the needs and taste of the local population. Forty years ago, a Cadillac, a Volkswagen or a Citroën were completely different objects which were born from specific situations. It contrasts with the current globalized world, where a few companies control the automotive market, applying standardized design and minimizing the importance of the user requirements in each continent. Ford is a clear example: in order to reduce costs, they decided to share platforms and sell the same designs around the world. (Ford Fusion-Mondeo, Escape-Kuga, EcoSport…).
In this situation, companies have prioritized the differentiation based on the price and the status offered, leaving design aside. In the current post crisis –or crisis…- era where the distance between rich and poor is getting bigger, sales polarized. Low cost and Premium cars have increased, being detrimental to generalist companies, the former market leaders. The solution that many brands are opting for is to create new luxury brands from scratch (Citroën with CS or Hyundai with the new Genesis). Theoretically the idea is valid, but the challenge is to convince the current customer willing to invest in brands with a solid heritage, but rejecting new brands. In order to overtake this challenge, strategic design and positioning are essential.
Another strategy to sell more for generalist brands would be to adapt its models to the current world. Would it be right? It would be true if automotive industry were not go against logic.
Car purchase is based on impulsivity, aesthetics and the perception associated to the object, besides the influence of marketing and design departments. The brands seduce the consumer with halo models, more attractive (and expensive) and that follow market trends. That is the reason why SUVs are successful (excessive and useless in many cases) but rational cars aren’t. Design as pure aesthetics and the form over function and logic have succeeded.
Aesthetics is the most sellable and attractive part of the car. For designers it is magic, allowing to the car as it would be a sculpture. Unfortunately, that design magic based on the harmony and right proportions has changed lately towards baroque and exaggeration. The need of certain brands to differentiate is causing the application of as many design ideas as possible in one car, obtaining extravagant models -that I doubt they remain relevant over the years.
Some strategies to stand out against competitors are: to incorporate a distinctive element that is repeated in all models. (e.g.: “the BMW kidneys”); to unify the design of all its models, differentiating them by details or customizable parts, but allowing the client identify the brand at first glance. The headlights are among these details. They evolve from being a mundane item to become a technologic and prestige showroom. Audi and BMW are leaders, using OLED and laser headlights with spectacular designs (sometimes more than the rest of the car). It is fair to say that in Mormedi envisioned the potential of these elements when ten years ago we worked in collaboration with Nissan to design a more innovative and attracting concept of headlights.
We are in a crucial moment for the automotive industry. Competition does not only limit to rival brands or to design and engine offerings. The “enemies” are the new transportation technologies, a less loyal client to cars and a society with urgent needs of new means of transportation. In this new scenario, Mormedi has a lot to contribute due to our experience in global design and our capability to understand the needs and worries of users.