Speaking to Michigan political and business leaders at the recent Mackinac Policy Conference, Chrysler design chief Ralph Gilles had some strong thoughts on where automotive design is headed. He said that aerodynamics have become a key design aspect, both for Chrysler and the industry, and that models like the Audi A7 and redesigned Toyota Avalon show that this approach is not something reserved just for sports cars. “The wind is starting to sculpt these vehicles,” he said.
The Chrysler 300 is known for its boxy design, but Gilles said the next generation of this sedan will reflect the industry trend toward sleeker vehicles. “We’ll have no choice but to be some of the most wind-swept vehicles that you’ve ever seen,” Gilles said.
Gilles’ comments got us thinking about the design languages that various automakers have embraced over the years.
For the uninitiated, an automaker uses the term “design language” to indicate a broad scheme that guides and influences the look of its line of vehicles.
The three design languages listed below are the ones that struck us as being the most memorable, for better or for worse. Picks are listed in alphabetical order.
1. Automaker: BMW
Design Language: Flame Surfacing
The brainchild of former BMW design head Chris Bangle, Flame Surfacing involves sheet metal sculpted with convex arcs that bump uglies with each other at sharp angles to create contours that call to mind dancing flames. Confused? Maybe the photo (left, of the 2006 Z4) will help.
The approach was the result of a BMW brainstorming project dubbed Deep Blue. Bangle exiled his designers to a California beach house for a six-month period in 1996, where they drew sketches using past models as inspiration. In the end, they decided to build their efforts around the idea of the flame. It seemed appropriate; the twisting flame calls to mind a propeller, and BMW’s logo is meant to represent a head-on view of a propeller in motion. Though Bangle’s Flame Surfacing drew much criticism during its run, most now agree that the design language has proven to be both influential and forward-thinking.
2. Automaker: Ford
Design Language: Kinetic Design
Ford’s Kinetic Design was first introduced in Europe, born from the mind of Martin Smith, head of the brand’s European design operations. The design language was launched overseas in 2005, and within a couple of years it had made its way to U.S. shores.
“Kinetic Design is something we can actually describe,” says Smith. “The key elements are confident stance, dynamic lines, expressive form language, taut surfacing, bold graphics and great detailing. Together they convey movement and athleticism, and they telegraph the dynamic capabilities of our cars with that fun-to-drive spirit. It looks like the car is moving when it’s standing still.” Today, Ford is in the process of moving on to a new global design language, which it says are based on pillars such as “silhouette innovation” and “perceived efficiency.” But the cues embodied by Kinetic Design are still in evidence, seen in successful Ford models like the Fiesta (2012 model shown).
3. Automaker: Hyundai
Design Language: Fluidic Sculpture
Hyundai says its design team spent three and a half years developing the design language it calls Fluidic Sculpture. The approach was introduced to the U.S. market via the redesigned 2011 Sonata (shown), and it continues to inform the look of the Hyundai fleet today. The language is all about low profiles and organic curves.
“In developing the initial Sonata sketches, Hyundai designers considered the interplay of natural, fluid elements with more rigid surfaces and structures to create the illusion of constant motion. Inspired by nature, Fluidic Sculpture injects sophistication and dynamic angles into the shape of a vehicle and now serves as the core of Hyundai’s future design identity,” says Hyundai. The manufacturer’s success has grown from strength to strength in recent years, and the distinctive look of its models has no doubt played a part in that.
Which design languages would you add to this list?
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