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Automobile design

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Automobile design or car design is the design of automobiles.

File:Bruneibentley.jpg
First sketches: example of design work for a Bentley by Wikicars' bureaucrat Red Marquis.

The design of modern cars is typically handled by a large team of designers and engineers from many different disciplines. As part of the product development effort the team of designers will work closely with teams of design engineers responsible for all aspects of the vehicle. These engineering teams include: chassis, body and trim, powertrain, electrical and production. The design team under the leadership of the design director will typically comprise of an exterior designer, an interior designer (usually referred to as stylists) and a color and materials designer. A few other designers will be involved in detail design of both exterior and interior. For example, a designer might be tasked with designing the rear light clusters or the steering wheel. The color and materials designer will work closely with the exterior and interior designers in developing exterior color paints, interior colors, fabrics, leathers, carpet, wood trim and so on.

In the USA, automotive design reached a turning point in 1924, when the American national automobile market began reaching saturation. To maintain unit sales, General Motors Corporation head Alfred P. Sloan Jr. devised annual model-year design changes, to convince car owners that they needed to buy a new replacement each year. 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, and 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 player 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 car makers.

Another turning point came in 1935, when automotive engineers abruptly dropped aerodynamic research when they discovered that, among other problems, aerodynamics would tend to produce one single optimal exterior shape. This would be bad for unit sales, and for GM it would obviously work against their new strategy of market differentiation. Style and engineering went their separate ways, and all body shapes underwent plastic surgery every year, whether or not the underlying automobile had changed.

Since 1935 automotive form has been driven more by consumer expectations than by engineering improvement. Form still follows function, but the primary function of the car was to get itself sold. The notable exception in the American market was the postwar appearance of the imported Volkswagen Beetle. VW represented a surprising experiment in product-driven design integrity: one body shape that remained constant from year to year, parts interchangeable from year to year, and that stability made it possible to make incremental technical improvements with a cumulative effect.

The most famous auto stylist is probably Harley Earl, who brought the tailfin and other aeronautical design references to auto design in the 1950s.

See Category:automobile designers for a list of automobile designers.

See also

External links

Art & Design schools with degree courses in automotive design

Automobile design websites