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I’m A Real Car Designer And I’ll Draw Your Ridiculous Ideas


Car design is easy right? When something looks wrong or bad, it’s just the designers being lazy, isn’t it? Those marker pushers should get out of the way and let the engineers do their job, shouldn’t they?

Hi, my name is Adrian Clarke, and I am a professional car designer. I have a degree in automotive design from Coventry University, and a masters in vehicle design from the world famous Royal College of Art in London, where I was tutored by J Mays. I was hired straight from there into a major European OEM, where I worked for a number of years until the world went sideways.

To give you a better understanding of what a designer does and doesn’t do we’re going to be doing some car design right here on The Autopian. If you’ve ever thought you could do better, or have great ideas for a vehicle type that no sober OEM would ever build, well then this is your chance to get involved!

So if you want to be a designer, put a diecast model car on your desk, pull on a black turtleneck sweater and grab an espresso. We’ve got cars to create. To kick us off and give you an idea of what we’re going to be doing, I’ve come up with a design for an off road minivan. Torchinsky gave me plenty of ideas, all of which had me screaming into a cushion. This one came from the slightly saner mind of David Tracy who gave it to me to implement. This isn’t entirely unlike how it works in the real world, where a marketing department or the board might ask the design studio to create a proposal for either a new version of an existing car or a new type of car altogether. Of course, the design studio can and does come up with ideas on its own as well.

The problem with minivans is, despite their suitability for doing family-hauling type stuff, they lack sex appeal. They have been usurped in family duties by the crossover, which give off a slightly rugged outdoorsy vibe that customers find appealing. Despite arguably not being as good as minivans for lots of families, crossovers are practical enough, and this matters – image does sell cars.

So with all that in mind, let’s try to give the humble minivan some of that “active lifestyle” appeal. Here are some quick thumbnail sketches. These are done to get the ideas down on paper – designers do their thinking on the page. They won’t all be good ideas, and you won’t always be sure exactly what you’re going for – but getting them down helps the designer understand what might and what might not work.

My car designer interpretation of an off-road minivan.

At this point we’re not concerned with any boring production reality, safety legislation or anything like that. All that comes later after the design is frozen and the process moves into what is known as the realization, or production design, stage. The only thing to consider is that what you are drawing has to conceivably fit in with the brand.

It’s worth noting that it’s mainly premium OEMs who have a strong brand identity – a set of visual cues and style that is common across all their models. Mass market manufacturers tend to go for distinction within a segment to stand out. Of course, we have no such limitations here, so we’re free to be a bit more creative.

At the beginning of a project, a designer will turn out loads of these rough types of sketch – typically ball point pen on paper, with maybe one color of marker (usually gray) to indicate highlights or graphical elements. Mine were done directly in Photoshop, but the principle is the same – a simple outline and one gray tone, although here I’ve used it to indicate the graphical break-up of the body. Minivans are essentially “one box,” or to use a professional term, a “monovolume.” They don’t have a lot of shape to the sheet metal aside from the outline of the car, so the graphical break-up becomes much more important.

Once the designer has found something they like, it’s time to turn it into a more detailed render. Color, details, highlights and shadows will be added. This will take that favorite ball point sketch and make it into something suitable to pin up on the board for review by a more senior designer.

When all the junior designers have put their work up, a review will take place. Suitable designs might be chosen to go forward to the modeling stage, or the senior designer might ask for another round of renders if they don’t see anything they like.

So our chosen design has a large body volume, with a lot of glazing. Occupants in the back two rows, especially if they’re kids, like a good view out. The rise in the belt line in the middle, across the doors, provides visual interest. If this were just a straight line, it would look a bit dull and weak. The chamfer at the top of the tailgate where it meets the roof takes some of the visual weight out of the profile and prevents the car from looking too blocky, and potentially moves the hinge point back so less room is needed to swing the tailgate open. The body colored middle section means you can still fit roof accessories without worrying about damaging glazing trim pieces.

Hopefully this has given you some idea of the beginning of the car design process. Now it’s your turn. Submit your ideas to design@theautopian.com and we’ll pick the best, most interesting or downright weirdest, and together set about turning them into reality. Well, into some nice renders, at least.

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97 Responses

  1. It’s time to bring back the land yachts! Electric cars take away the fuel efficiency concerns of massive cars (ahem, GMC Hummer) so why not make a big, beautiful two door convertible with a back seat as spacious as a large truck with a trunk as big as its bed?

    And let’s buck the trend of super curvey electric cars! Who needs aerodynamics when we can have sweet, sweet angles.

    A couple other modern necessities:
    * Automatic air ride so you can be slammed and comfy at the same time
    * 22inch rims
    * Suicide doors

    Design-wise, I’m thinking a combo of MadMax cool with the oppulence & chrome of a 50s Cadillac.

    1. I’m with BugMan. Bring on the electric Land Yacht. I have a Cadillac Fleetwood that has the most comfy button tufted seats and coddling suspension ever. I don’t need it to handle well or look like it is angry with the rest of the world. I need gold trim and bench seats for six! Don’t listen to the 22 inch rims thing – they ruin the ride.

      1. I am now replying to myself. VW already designed an off-road minivan the Vanagon Syncro by the way. It kicks the ass out of Jeep Wranglers on trails. But that isn’t what I came here to say.

        WHY DO CAR DESIGNERS COPY ENDLESSLY??? Does every new (esp. electric) car have to have flush door handles that pop out when it senses your aura? Subaru did a great job of flush door handles that I would bet mostly still work in like 1988 on the XT4/6. The new ones are all gonna break. Come on designers – stop the lemming and design something new and awesome.

        1. The Vanagon Syncro is a bit a deep cut – probably too agricultural for the market today, but point taken, it does exist. Flush door handles are important for aero.

          It’s not that designers copy each other, but more that you (i.e. the public) only gets to see a small fraction of what designers actually come up with – the stuff that makes production – and that is by nature similar to what competitors are doing. This is especially true of mass market companies with no strong brand identity of their own. It’s the difference between fashion and style.

    2. Believe it or not aero isn’t always about the overall shape. It’s optimized by lots of little gains all over the car. Flush wipers, glazing, flat underbodies and careful cooling management play a much bigger part.

      I’ll need to do some thinking around this one – but it’s a great shout for something for me to try!

      1. In the book “Aerodynamics of Road Vehicles” by Wolf-Heinrich Hucho, this process was referred to as detail optimization. This author also wrote an entirely separate publication on this subject, titled “The Optimization of Body Details—A Method for Reducing the Areodynamic Drag of Road Vehicles”. You can take a shape that is very poor regarding drag coefficient, and make all kinds of subtle modifications to it in order to reduce drag. This is how a box like the 2nd-gen Scion Xb has a drag coefficient of only 0.32, when a rectangular-shaped box that it resembles would normally be around 1.00.

        That said, starting with a slippery shape is probably the best place to work from if the goal is maximum efficiency/performance, also noted in the above book. The industry universally does the opposite, almost always choosing to emphasize brand identity before determining the function of the vehicle. We still see it today with BMW’s enormous kidney grilles, Lexus’ predator-grilles, and all of the fake vents tacked onto the recent Toyota Supra. The modern automobile has a drag coefficient on average comparable to the 1921 Rumpler Tropfenwagen, about 0.28, which also has outboard wheels(REALLY BAD for drag), and I find it rather offensive that it took 100 years for the industry to get its cars to that point through multiple fuel crises and wars fought over fossil fuel resources, when it’s known to be possible to have a practical road-going vehicle with roughly half that 0.28 drag coefficient since the 1940s. The Volkhardt V2 Sagitta had a 0.17 in 1944 and was designed without any of today’s CFD techniques, well more than half a century before the Navier-Stokes equations were solved that made accurate drag simulations possible. One of the books mentioned above explicitly mentions that cars could have a drag coefficient around 0.15 and still retain functionality that people are used to as well as enough variety in design, and it was published many decades ago.

        Albeit, such a focus on aerodynamics uber-alles would make your job a lot harder. Your artwork is amazing, and throwing so many constraints would possibly render it obsolete.

        1. For some reason I can’t reply to your latest comment, so you’ll have to excuse my replying here.

          It’s one thing creating a research vehicle for outstanding economy – building a car for production is another matter entirely. Those Viking cars are all exceptionally compromised in their pursuit of economy above all other considerations, and when you’re designing for customers and the mass market there are a LOT of other considerations to take into account.

          in 2014 introduced the production version of the XL1 (the 1-liter car). It had an 800cc diesel and a small battery in a series hybrid layout and could get reliably over 200mpg. It cost €110,000…….

          In Europe, the fleet average CO2 emissions have to be under 95g per km. Every gram over this they pay a fine of 95€ per gram, per sale. So if a model has tailpipe emissions of 105g per km, for every single one they sell they pay a fine of €950. Manufacturers take fuel economy and efficiency very seriously indeed and the existence of some hand built research projects shouldn’t be taken as evidence they are doing otherwise. In fact, the existence of such vehicles shows the amount of work they put into finding ways to improve fuel economy.

          1. The XL1 was also a very low volume car and used the most expensive materials available. There is little reason something like it couldn’t be built using conventional materials. It might gain 200 lbs and its efficiency might drop 30 mpg, but a non-hybrid variant with a bone stock TDI engine could easily do 100+ mpg with such a low drag coefficient. Look up Casey Putsch’s OMEGA sports car, which does 0-60 mph in 5 seconds AND gets 100+ mpg highway using a tuned TDI engine. A mainstreamed version of such a thing with all the creature comforts people expect from a car like a Miata could be built for Miata-like input costs. The wind doesn’t care how expensive a car is, what is in its interior, or what material the body is made out of. That few hundred dollars per unit spent on extensive wind tunnel tests to keep the vehicle slippery could save the buyer literally thousands of dollars over the life of the vehicle, AND performance would be greatly improved.

        2. I’d love to see what that 0.15 drag coefficient vehicle looked like. It it’s anything like the Aptera, which according to their website is 0.13, it’s way too far out there for mainstream acceptance (Whether the Aptera ever actually makes it to market is another matter entirely….).

          Vehicle aerodynamics is a hugely complicated area. It’s more important for EVs, as it makes up something like 80% of their overall efficiency. With ICE vehicles, it’s only about 35% (from memory, it’s a long time since I took it as a class!). Another factor to consider is aero really only comes into effect above about 50mph.

          1. Some examples that are close, off the top of my head:

            1999 GM Precept (Cd 0.16)
            1985 Ford Probe IV (Cd 0.152)
            1987 Ford Probe V (Cd 0.137)
            2020 GAC ENO 146 (Cd 0.146)

            There are a lot more concepts in the 0.17-0.19 range that I could list.

            The fact is, the industry has known how to do this since at least the 1940s. And the fuel economy benefits are tremendous. Some examples all over 20 years old, starting from the 1970s fuel crisis, of cars whose efficiency greatly exceeds today’s offerings:

            The Vehicle Research Institute of Western Washington University made some interesting concepts in the 1970s. The 1978 Viking IV was powered by a 1.5L 4-cylinder diesel from a Volkswagen Rabbit, producing 48 peak horsepower. The car weighed a mere 1,250 lbs. In 1981, the Viking IV was able to average 87.5 mpg during a rally that spanned the continental United States. According to the car’s builder, Professor Michael R. Seal, it was safe enough for the occupants to survive a 50 mph head on collision. In 1982, the car was tested at the GM proving grounds and the Transportation Research Center of Ohio, yielding 73 miles per gallon at a steady 70 mph. It was later upgraded to make use of low rolling resistance tires, a 5 speed transmission with overdrive, and a 1L, 3-cylinder turbo diesel. This allowed it to achieve 100 mpg at a steady 50 mph.

            The Viking VI was built to achieve high fuel economy while exceeding the crash safety standards that were in place; it achieved 118 mpg at a steady 50 mph.

            The Viking VII took this concept even further, proving that high fuel efficiency, safety, and high performance could exist within the same vehicle. It was able to accelerate from 0-60 mph in 5.3 seconds, achieve over 1G on a skid pad, and still manage 50 mpg highway. It was driven to a top speed of 186 mph on the Bonneville Salt Flats. It made use of a 4 cylinder DOHC Boxer engine which produced 133 horsepower. These features of high performance, adequate safety, and high fuel economy could coexist within the same vehicle due to a low drag coefficient of only 0.26, a small frontal area, a lightweight composite body, and an aluminum chassis. The performance of this car rivaled some the fastest production cars of the era; for comparison, the legendary Ferrari Daytona did 0-60 mph in 5.3 seconds and had a top speed of 175 mph.

            None of the Viking Research Cars have ever reached production. The Avion, modeled off a previous Viking Research car and designed by former VRI student Craig Henderson, was perhaps the closest any of the cars came to being produced. While the car only achieved 40 mpg combined, it could reach a top speed of 135 mph and accelerate from 0-60 mph in under 6 seconds using a 4-cylinder engine from a 1980s model fuel-injected Audi. This combined performance and fuel economy was possible thanks to a 0.27 drag coefficient and a curb weight of only 1,500 lbs.

            The major automakers also demonstrated concepts that were at least equally as impressive.

            Renault unveiled their EVE concept car in 1980. The EVE was built on a Renault R18 chassis, used a supercharged 1.1 L inline 4-cylinder supercharged diesel engine, and had a 0.239 drag coefficient. This engine output a maximum of 50 horsepower. The curb weight of the vehicle was 1,900 lbs. The combination of these traits allowed it to achieve 70 mpg combined fuel economy.

            Expanding upon the previous concept, the Renault EVE+ concept car was revealed to the public in 1983. It used the same 50 horsepower diesel engine as the EVE, but had reduced the curb weight to 1,880 lbs, had reduced the drag coefficient to 0.225, and achieved 63 mpg city, 81 mpg highway.

            While the diesel Renault EVE concept cars were being developed and tested, Renault was also working on their gasoline powered Vesta concept cars. The Renault Vesta was revealed to the motoring public in 1981. It had a weight of 1130 lbs, a 0.25 drag coefficient, and a top speed of 75 mph. The Vesta’s fuel economy is 78 mpg.

            Renault’s next generation of their Vesta concept car had reduced weight and reduced aerodynamic drag, which improved fuel economy and top speed. The 1987 Renault Vesta II weighed only 1,047 lbs, had a 0.186 drag coefficient, a 27 horsepower engine, and was able to return 78 mpg city, 107 mpg highway. Its top speed was over 80 mph.

            Not wanting to be outdone by Renault, Peugeot and Citroen began the ECO 2000 program. The 1981 Citroen SA103 was able to obtain 65 mpg, thanks to a 0.27 drag coefficient, 948 lb curb weight, and a rear-mounted 700cc 2-cylinder gasoline engine.

            The 1983 Citroen SA117 showed a remarkable improvement over its predecessor due to a drag coefficient of 0.21, front mounted engine with a front wheel drive configuration, and a curb weight of only 932 lbs; these improvements resulted in a fuel economy of 79 mpg. The SL117 used the same engine as the SA103.

            The 1982 Citroen SA109 used an upgraded engine to 750cc 3-cylinder gasoline engine. The car weighed in at 1,058 lbs and had a drag coefficient of 0.321, giving a fuel economy of 67 mpg.

            The 1984 Citroen SL110 was the first of the ECO 2000 vehicles revealed to the public. It made use of the SA109’s 35 horsepower engine, which allowed a top speed of 88 mph. The fuel economy was 76 mpg combined, and 112 mpg at a steady 55 mph. This was achievable due to a low drag coefficient of 0.22 and 992 lb curb weight.

            Peugeot also revealed its ECO 2000 concept car. With a drag coefficient of 0.21, 990 lb curb weight, and a 28 horsepower 2-cylinder gasoline engine, the Peugeot ECO 2000 returned 70 mpg city and 77 mpg highway.

            An effort by Peugeot from 1982 were its VERA and VERA+ concept cars. Unlike the ECO 2000, these cars used 50 horsepower turbo diesel engines. The VERA+ had a 0.22 drag coefficient, 1,740 lbs curb weight, and achieved 55 mpg city, 87 mpg highway. The VERA+ also had performance comparable to the commercially available cars of its time, with 0-60 mph acceleration in 13.2 seconds and a top speed of 100 mph.

            The 1981 Volkswagen Auto 2000 obtained 63 mpg city, 71 mpg highway, boasting a 0.25 drag coefficient, 53 horsepower diesel engine, and 1,716 lb curb weight.

            Volkswagen’s E80 diesel concept obtained even better fuel economy. Using a 51 horsepower supercharged 3-cylinder turbo diesel, the 1,540 lb Volkswagen E80 managed to obtain 74 mpg city and 99 mpg highway. It had a 0.35 drag coefficient.

            In 1983, Volvo was able to demonstrate that fuel efficiency, safety, practicality, and performance were possible in a production-ready car with its LCP 2000. First and foremost, the car was designed for maximum safety; not only were the rear seats facing backward so that the center of the car could be designed for added structural rigidity and increased resistance against side impacts, but the car passed a head-on passenger-crash survival test at 35 mph, which exceeded the 30 mph requirement of the time. Performance was excellent for the time period and is still comparable to the entry level compact cars sold today, with 0-60 mph acceleration in 11 seconds and a top speed of 110 mph. Fuel economy was rated at 56 mpg city, 81 mpg highway, and 65 mpg combined. The car weighed a mere 1,555 lbs, had a 0.25 drag coefficient, and was powered by an 88 horsepower diesel engine. In volume of 20,000 cars per year, the cost penalty would have been effectively zero over comparable production cars for the period.

            The 1982 GM TPC managed an astounding 61 mpg city, 74 mpg highway, using a lightweight aluminum body and engine; the curb weight was light at only 1,040 lbs, but the drag coefficient was an unremarkable 0.31. It used a 3-cylinder gasoline engine which only produced 38 horsepower.

            In 1983, GM had upgraded its Lean Machine concept to obtain up to 200 mpg. To obtain such stunning efficiency, the vehicle needed to be as light and as aerodynamic as possible, weighing in at only 400 lbs and having a 0.15 drag coefficient. A 38 horsepower, 2-cylinder Otto cycle engine was able to rocket this machine from 0-60 mph in 6.8 seconds. Top speed was 80 mph.

            Not wishing to be surpassed by the American and European automakers, Toyota began experimenting with its AXV series of concept cars in the late 1980s.

            The first Toyota AXV was powered by a 56 horsepower direct-injection diesel engine; this combined with a low curb weighed of under 1,500 lbs, a 0.26 drag coefficient, and a continuously variable transmission allowed the AXV to achieve 89 mpg city, 110 mpg highway, and 98 mpg combined.

            Later incarnations of the AVX were not as fuel-efficient.

            In 1991, Honda developed the EPX, a tandem two-seater concept car that used a 1 liter lean-burn engine, weighed under 1,400 lbs, and supposedly returned a fuel economy of 100 mpg. Currently, the car isn’t in running condition.

            Continuing a trend of fuel efficient concepts, the Honda JVX was unveiled in 1997; using a 1.0 liter, 3-cylinder gasoline engine and an electric motor with a capacitor bank, it was able to manage 67 mpg. Designed for safety, the passenger and driver seat belts are configured to inflate during a crash to help protect the occupants from injuries normally caused by seat belts.

            I could rant on and on. Efficient concept cars continued to be built to this day, like the 80 mpg GM Precept midsized car(1999), the 70 mpg Dodge Intrepid ESX(2000), and the 72 mph Ford Prodigy(2000). All of which were comparable in interior space to cars such as the Chevrolet Malibu, Dodge Intrepid, and Ford Taurus. But that efficiency almost NEVER trickles into the products we can actually buy. That decision is deliberate.

  2. Love this! My dream electric is a 76 Town Car – just imagine the size of the frunk! As a minivan driver, this article resonates, but did you guys just design an off-road version of the Canoo https://www.canoo.com/canoo/?

    My biggest design question/gripe is why modern wagons and sedans are so damned low with such small windows? Seems to ne the way to win people back from crossovers isn’t to make sedans harder to get into and see out of. Then again, I’m old.

  3. I really enjoy this content, and I was pleased to see that the sketch I liked best was the one that got carried through the next steps!

    In terms of pitching a concept to be designed, the thing I’d like to see most is a modern, light-duty CABOVER pickup. Something that could fill the roles that most people use a pickup for (camping, traversing job sites, family-hauling) but with a cabover design that eliminates the pedestrian-killing front blind spot created by today’s muscular, bulging, and totally-not-compensating-for-anything hoods.

    Would it be more of a pain to service the engine? Maybe. Would it be a nightmare for NVH? Probably! (The answer to both of those questions probably depends on whether it is electric or ICE.) But would it be safer to drive, allow for a larger, more practical bed size in the same overall footprint, and (perhaps most importantly) look absolutely incredible? You’re damn right.

    1. Every modern cabover concept I’ve seen lately has been fake cabover, it looks cabover from the outside, but inside it just has a giant dash and the people are still behind the front wheels, for crash standards I’m assuming. It sucks because blogs run stories about these super funky fresh lookign concepts without noticing that the passenger placement is completely traditional, and can you imagine driving a fake cabover? You would not be able to see what color a stoplight was if you were in it. The pillars would be wayyyyyy out in front of you as well.

    2. Yes cabovers kind of died because of having the ICE in between the seats wasn’t ideal for access or NVH. With an EV, it’s less of an issue but the main problem is crumple zones, or lack thereof. That’s why most cabovers these days are the little Kei ones in Japan, because they don’t have to adhere to the same legislation.

      But hey, we don’t have to worry about that, so I’ll add it to the list!

  4. The mini-truckin’ trend is returning! Only with car platforms. How about fixing up some other mini-truck concepts? Like a Subaru Baja, based on a Forester, or what could Chevy offer as a Blazer derived Luv? Or make a Jeep Patriot Truck from the Renegade or some such. Mitsubishi could definitely use a new Might Max too based on the Outlander.

    Keeping with the modern trend of needing 4 doors, but not looking weird like the aforementioned Baja, and maybe not as ute-like as the Santa Cruz, more truckish like the Maverick.

  5. I’m a high school teacher. When it comes to cars most of my students are concerned with how fast a vehicle goes, acceleration numbers, or how quick it looks on the street. That is nice and all, but as a Jeep owner and enthusiast, top speed and acceleration numbers don’t really factor into how I drive. I like taking my time outdoors. Stopping and smelling the proverbial roses as I climb trails.

    Maybe I am missing something, though. Have I been blind to pure acceleration? Perhaps I could sway my students to the “Jeep Way” with a Jeep hyper car! A Jeep that doesn’t have to think about anything off the pavement. The Ferrari of Jeeps! It still has to feel like a Jeep, though. It needs the 7 slats and preferably round headlights (or at least the feeling of one). I want to be able to take the doors off and feel the wind rip the skin off my face!

    1. This is a great ‘what if’. It’s a popular theme with auto design students – to do a car not in keeping with the brand. In fact someone I graduated with did a Land Rover hypercar as their graduation project, and walked straight into a job with Jaguar (he recently did the Jaguar Vision GT).

  6. The final render in my mind is the modern equivalent of the van from Tango and Cash and I am here for it! It’s probably mostly just because of the windshield rake though


    Also this line is probably the main reason I’m so excited for this site to succeed. Giving these two madmen (and I mean it in the best possible way) free reign is going to bring me great joy.

    “Torchinsky gave me plenty of ideas, all of which had me screaming into a cushion. This one came from the slightly saner mind of David Tracy who gave it to me to implement.”

  7. I want to play vintage iconic car styling bingo. We always ask why we can’t have a new/modern BMW 2002 or Lancia Fulvia or Pagoda or Corvair or Super Seven or whatever. I’m convinced that a new age of coachbuilding is on the way enabled by skateboard EV platforms and large-scale 3D printing/milling, so I’d love to have a real designer talk about the real-world limitations of hard points of these platforms and collision regs etc., and how close we could get to some classic designs.

    1. There’s some stuff here that I’ll probably go into in an article, but the short version is skateboards are not gonna happen, and additive manufacturing (3D printing) and milling is not suitable for mass production.

  8. My dream is a coachbuilt tribute to the Facel Vega HK500, but built on the current Dodge Challenger ….OR…a Facel Vega Excellence built on the Charger or 300. Fun fact, the Facel Vega’s originally used Chrysler v8 engines.

  9. Quite the challenge you have presented to us. Here is my attempt to rise up.

    A self driving family vehicle. I am envisioning a Conversion van style with most of the interior dedicated to resting, watching TV, having a meal on the go. The market would be the long roadtrip and comfort for 4-6 people. Couch with table? Storage for stuff? A microwave for on the go quick meals? Cooler? Mobile office option? The sky is the limit here.

    May be a bit boring but it is the first attempt. 🙂

    1. I’m not an interior designer, but I see a lot of students and start ups thinking along these lines – the so called ‘third space’ (i.e. not work or home). The problem is full autonomy is still a long way off…..

  10. “It’s worth noting that it’s mainly premium OEMs who have a strong brand identity – a set of visual cues and style that is common across all their models. ”

    THIS would be a neat series to pick apart. Going through design details that each brand uses as their calling cards.

    “The chamfer at the top of the tailgate where it meets the roof takes some of the visual weight out of the profile and prevents the car from looking too blocky, and potentially moves the hinge point back so less room is needed to swing the tailgate open.”

    I love this type of information! Explaining both the practical and aesthetic justification.

    I can’t remember which magazine it was in, but it was reoccurring article of a detailed breakdown of a vehicle’s design, calling out 15-20 different features and explaining the visual impact of that design choice and why the designer would choose to do that. They were some of my favorite articles and I would read every word.

    It was similar to DT’s engineering deep-dives, but solely discussing different creases, angles, and surfaces.

    More of this!

    1. Road & Track featured regular styling analyses by Werner Bührer, circa late-60s through mid-70s. He did beautiful technical drawings of then-current race cars, too. His rendering of the McLaren M8F Can Am car was pretty sexy stuff for a (nerdy) 13 year-old.

    2. I’ll endeavor to explain the thinking behind stuff I post and the choices made and why, after all that’s what you have to do when you put stuff up for review!

      I’d love to do deep dives on actual vehicles, but it really needs access to cars to do it properly – you can’t do it just from press photos. Maybe something for the future.

  11. I’d love to see a new car with a design from the ’60s – ’70s. I don’t mean neo retro like a modern Beetle but an honest to god old school shape with little modern elements, just enough to get it to be road legal.

    1. The custom shops whose work I really like and think works well are doing this sort of thing. Ring Brothers spring to mind. Not using off the shelf parts but integrating newer lighting and graphics onto old school muscle cars.

  12. Here is my Homer:

    I want a convertible. But I live where its cold many months of the year. And snowy. I also want a backseat sometimes, but not a kid backseat. A real one! But i dont want it all the time. But when its there, it should have easy access. Or a way to put kids there and have them far enough that they dont steal my road fries. Does it have to be in the BACK? maybe. It needa unique lights that astonish and confuse Torch. Alsonot a blob, she needs style that can land a post-jeep wrenchfest DT a supermodel. Thats my Homer.

  13. This sketch actually highlights something that I’ve often wondered about similar sketches and concepts I’ve seen. I hope I can ask my question here without coming off as dismissive or antagonistic. This isn’t meant as a “gotcha”—I’m sure there are reasons for the practice I’m curious about, I just have no idea what they are. So:

    In what is ostensibly a design for a hypothetical off-road production vehicle, you’ve given it no pillars, no mirrors, and huge wheel-well-overflowing wheels wearing ultra-low-profile tires. Since the eventual vehicle would inevitably have to change all that—thereby compromising the looks of the original design—why design it that way in the first place? Why make something obviously impossible that will have to be watered down, rather than assuming from the get-go that the vehicle will have door pillars, side mirrors, and chunky off-road tires with plenty of room for articulation?

    Perhaps this is naive of me, but I would think that the final product might be better if its initial inspiration acknowledged more of the constraints that would eventually be imposed on it. Heck, once those factors are in play it might even be possible to *use* them, to play with them and make them part of the whole rather than having to accommodate them later, once the design is frozen. You see what I’m saying, right?

    Automotive design rarely seems to work that way, though. Why is that?

    1. It’s typical transportation designer BS. It’s why industrial designers > transportation designers, because ID actually cares about something working well instead of just hopping on trends. For a while concept cars all had hubless wheels in the 90s/00s. Now it’s angry slit eyed things with giant wheel wells for offroading for an… urban autonomous package deliver vehicle.

    2. I’ve gone into this in detail in another article I wrote for another website, but the bottom line is it’s about selling the ideas and themes at first. With doing sketches like the above, the constraint is always time (the render took me about half a day).
      The pillars actually are indicated on the glazing on the side of the van you can’t see – I left them off the visible side for clarity’s sake.

      The bottom line is you don’t always know at first what platform you’re going to be using, what the hardpoints will be, or the dimensions, so you don’t need to worry about it. It’s better to start way out and wind it back, rather than start with something prosaic and try to funk it up.

      1. Thanks for the explanation! I get what you’re saying about this stage of design being more about selling the basic themes and ideas, and that it’s easier to tone things down than spice them up. I’m still not sure I *totally* agree that e.g. a sketch of an off-roader should have wheels like that, but I do get where you’re coming from in general. I’d love to read that more in-depth article, but I get that it’s a delicate time for TA and maybe you don’t want to link it. Anyway, thanks for taking the time to reply!

    3. I guess it’s just like any mechanical design (I’m talking for what I know which is mechanical engineering but I guess the tae away applies). Starting with rough outlines does the job and frees up your creativity. Personnaly, incorporating too many technical contraints from the get go kind of freezes me up when I have to come up with a concept.

  14. So you’ve assembled a designer, a chassis engineer, and a cooling engineer on staff. This site is actually a cover for a new EV startup, isn’t it? 😉

    I look forward to buying the first Autopian Jalop(y).

  15. Couple of things.

    1. David Tracy is the sane one? Lol.

    2. Where’s the stripper pole in your van? I thought we didn’t have to worry about production value?

    3. Project ask – Jetsons briefcase car and/or a flying car. Someone else mentioned it – I’m in!

  16. Sup. Industrial designer here. Gotta say, can’t stand most transportation designers. Unrealistic proportions, nothing makes sense, all utility sacrificed for “looking cool”. I don’t get why everything has to have giant wheels, low pro tires, and a stance where the wheels stick out of the body, even for ‘urban’ vehicles designed for a user that just commutes to work and back.

    Stop it.

    Make renderings realistic again. I know the bean counters will change some things, but not everything needs to look like a baja truck on dubs.

    1. This is something I’ve covered in my series of articles I’ve written elsewhere. The bottom line is customers like cool looking cars. You might not like it, but I’m afraid it’s the truth. It’s not only the chief designer who has to be sold on a new design – it’s the project leaders, managers, the board etc – the people who sign the big checks.

      It not really possible to create ‘realistic’ renders when starting out a new design – you don’t know always know what platform you’re going to be using, what the dimensions will be, etc. Drawing is an analog media (even if the tools are digital). It’s not like digital modelling where you have dimensional accuracy.

      1. You can have cool looking cars with realistic proportions, see: tons of production cars.

        I’m aware of the design process, I have a full time job as senior ID guy in powersports industry.

        Yes, it is possible to create realistic renders. When we hire transportation designers, we can’t use their work for a bit, nothing is usable. When we hire ID guys, we get usable stuff but their form development tends to be weak. Gotta aim for the middle bro; good forms but think critically of your design as you go so it makes sense and is manufacturable.

        1. I studied ID for a year before realizing I wanted to design cars, and switching my degree.
          I’m not surprised you struggle with transportation designers – although both disciplines are design, it’s a slightly different skillset. An industrial designer is much more concerned with manufacturing, production processes, use cases, usability from the outset, the more prosaic nuts and bolts stuff (although I understand that image is still important an sells – a product should look good whatever it is).
          A transport designer is more concerned with form, appearance, market positioning, branding – the slightly more creative side. If you imagine a graph with functionality on one end and fashion on the other, industrial design skews towards the former, transportation design skews towards the latter.
          Sketching and rendering is really only a small part of what a car designer actually does. They’re about getting the ‘wow’ factor – “we want to build THAT!”. Once the design transitions into 3D it gets a lot more realistic in a hurry, and it’s the designers job to maintain the ideas and feeling of their sketch onto something that can be made.

    2. THANK YOU.

      It appears to me a lot of these design trends are there to upsell the buyer on the car’s parts. Those large wheels and low-profile tires are more expensive and consume more resources than what they replaced. The extra unsprung weight necessitates heavier/more expensive suspension designs. The low-profile tires generally aren’t as reliable as those with thick sidewalls. There’s also the issue of crash test regulations changing the proportions of the vehicles, where the marketing perception is that the vehicle is “ugly” if its wheels are two small. There’s also the issue of planned obsolescence; the industry sells more cars by constantly changing things and cycling out old designs/components, even when it is not necessary to do so.

      There’s an old saying, “You’re selling the sizzle, not the steak.” But I’m “that guy” who wants the damned steak, and I know I’m not the only one. I’m sick of modern automobiles being style over substance, especially considering the societal consequences that the modern automobile has caused.

      What is interesting is that modern cars(especially SUVs/CUVs) look almost as cartoonish as the renderings of them. I think that might explain why so many enthusiast are so jaded on modern offerings and styling trends. From a non-marketing, non-profit-at-all-costs-driven, consumer-oriented perspective, little about the modern automobile makes any sense, when the goal is to get from Point A to Point B on the weekdays, maybe have some fun on the weekends, and spend as little money as possible while doing it. The modern industry is all about extracting as much money from people as possible and manipulating their tastes through advertising.

      1. The problem is that most mainstream OEMs operate on tight margins, especially for the capital investment involved. If they manage over 10% they’re doing well. Upselling on higher trim levels and larger wheels creates a useful extra income stream. It’s no coincidence that higher trim levels are usually (but not always) the best looking versions.
        Cars are ugly if the wheels are too small because it’s all about balancing the proportions of all the elements that make up a car, and giving it a good stance on the road. Look at a lot of the Chinese domestic vehicles – they are usually under wheeled and look top heavy. Bigger vehicles need bigger wheels to look right – and to cover the larger brakes they require.
        Planned obsolescence is not a thing. Cars are the most complicated and expensive consumer grade products you can buy. They are made up of thousands of parts made from different materials with different operating properties and tolerances. And they have to start first time in the middle of Alaska or the Gobi desert. Every time. And they have to be assembled by the thousand by semi skilled labor. And make a profit. Are parts going to wear out or fail in unexpected ways? Of course, but they are certainly not designed that way. These days OEMs make rolling improvements, which is why you never buy the first model year of a new car – give them time to work out the kinks first.
        Every car has a finite amount of time it is appealing to customers – most last around seven to eight years with a mid-cycle refresh. Eventually if you don’t bring out a new model customers are going to look elsewhere because you can’t offer what they want!

          1. I’m afraid they’re the truth – a bare bones ‘function over form’ car doesn’t sell these days. In the UK, when Dacia originally introduced the Duster SUV, they advertised the base model in appliance white with grey bumpers, steel wheels and minimal equipment for something like £8995 (I’m going from memory).

            What they found was they sold hardly any. Customers would enter the dealer and wonder where the nav screen was and why they couldn’t get an automatic.

            Now the Duster starts at just under £15000 and is slightly more upmarket with more equipment and metallic paint. And yes, an automatic (admittedly this is still somewhat of a bargain proposition).

  17. Very cool. I’m generally a function over form kind of guy, so I probably can’t offer any terribly inspiring suggestions from a design standpoint.

    But, I find this extremely interesting, and will be reading intently.

    I had a serious lightbulb moment when I read the sentence about the location of the tailgate hinges. I HATE the slanted rear on wagons/hatches/crossovers, as it cuts so severely into the cargo area (ever try to put a dryer in one of those cars? blech). But it’s interesting hearing something other than aerodynamics and aesthetics.

    Keep it up!

  18. When he was very young, my son wanted nothing more than an electric Ferrari with 3 seats. This was his phase between wanting a city bus and wanting an X-wing. All good things to want, but I’d mortgage something to get the Ferrari.

  19. How about this: I want a vehicle to tow my LBC when it inevitably breaks down. But I don’t want a truck or SUV because driving them is miserable and they’re yuge. I’m thinking something small but with a big-ass, torquey engine. Like one of those little tugs at the airport that can haul an airliner, but with Bluetooth.

  20. I’d love to see a realistic depiction of what some whacky concept from a normal car company would look like if it actually made it to production. Something like the Ford Indigo or Chrysler Firepower. Since obviously they get more boring and get things added on to meet crash test regulations.

    1. The Chrysler Firepower was essentially a toned-down Viper, right? To me, it looked good enough for production. The Ford Indigo on the other hand, well… maybe Adrian can tackle that one.

  21. Luxury full-size sedan but all the luxury signifiers are from some culture that hasn’t done automotive manufacture and you have to infer it from fashion or architecture or something similar. Let’s go distant past with it so you’re not in dodgy appropriation territory.

  22. Something like Arrival’s EV delivery van as an ambulance; so with all the visibility and packaging efficiency of that chassis but 1) Butched up enough that the never-would-admit-they’re-image conscious-but-wow-are-they firefighters buy it instead of a Freightliner M-2 or F-350 2) Compliant with NFPA 1917 . Bonus if it can control another lane next to it with the same kind of swing out bar that school bus drivers have to keep the kids away from the front.

  23. A large, quiet, four door sedan that isn’t pretending to be a sports car, doesn’t look like either an SUV or an irradiated garden slug, has an actual back seat with leg room, doesn’t cost more than 30 years worth of groceries, gets decent gas mileage, and isn’t a Chrysler 300.

    Of course, there’s no market for it, but this was an invitation for ridiculous ideas.
    And I’m old, so there’s that.

  24. I’ve always wanted to see a design study of a car with everything minimal – in other words, the smallest possible lights, the smoothest possible shapes. Less creases, less lines. Basically, something where the shape of the car becomes the focus, rather than the lights or grille or artificial lines. And it would be neat to see that in sedan and SUV form.

  25. I want to change my answer. My head was is a MEH place earlier.

    We all have heard to the flying car. Too small, think bigger.

    Imagine it, Sicily 2025. You are stuck in traffic in with the family and decide to go airborne. Flip a switch and you are flying along.

    The kids get bored quickly and you decide to do a couple of orbits around Earth. Hit the rockets and you are in space. After spending time weightless, it is time to come home.

    Land on the road? What am I a commoner? Flip a few switches and you are gliding in for a water landing. While floating around you catch some dinner, and drive up to boat ramp. Maybe go airborne, the choice is yours.

    What you have is a flying amphibious space car that can bring a family of four around town, to space, to the lake, the world is yours.

    That is my real answer.

  26. I emailed my design idea off. We’ll see if anything comes of it. Love this site. My idea being, to build a hyper-efficient, hyper-fast, inexpensive, minimalist 2-seater electric sports car coupe of roughly Porsche 550 Spyder dimensions that will outlast the buyer. Screw planned obsolescence. That concept and all of its associated unnecessary waste of resources needs to be consigned to the dustbin of history. My dream is a no-nonsense design made to minimize the number of parts, minimize complexity, minimize maintenance requirements, minimize energy consumption, while maximizing performance and vehicle lifespan.

    Anyhow, I proposed something that does the following:
    -monocoque chassis with T-top and gullwing doors
    -ends planned obsolescence by going full-retard on aero, for a given set of practical constraints
    -is an enthusiast’s vehicle: Porsche 550 Spyder-like in dimensions, all electric, ready-to-drive weight of ~900 lbs, all wheel drive via overpowered ebike hub motors, offset two seater with only the bare minimum downforce needed for stability at its top speed in the interest of keeping drag low
    -efficient: assuming CdA of ~0.15 m^2, it will only need a 20 kWh battery for a 300+ mile real world range on the highway at legal or slightly above legal speeds and 80+ mile range on the race track or cruising the Autobahn at a 160-ish mph top speed
    -independently controlled motor, and suspension for each wheel with slip detection and torque vectoring, for maximum possible traction and lateral grip for whatever narrow low-rolling-resistance tires with meaty sidewalls are fitted
    -uses low cost parts and a small battery pack with the goal of Miata-like production costs
    -evokes styling cues from the Ferrari 250GTO, Jaguar D-Type, 2017 Ford GT, and Alfa Romeo BAT7 in the hope that it will be sexy, beautiful and timeless

    I emailed a more detailed description of what such a thing might look like or how it would perform. In a sports car, less is so much more, as Colin Chapman and many others learned in the last century.

      1. That’s only true if you go with vehicles of a conventional nature with conventional aerodynamics and typical size/mass. Motorcycles don’t have that dilemma, generally speaking, when compared in cost/performance to that typical of cars. You can spend under $20k and get a bike capable of out-accelerating cars 10x its cost. Spread out over tens of thousands of units and ignoring things such as brand identity and focusing almost exclusively on drag reduction, making a car very slippery to the wind is cheap(few hundred $ per car), and has enormous performance/efficiency benefits. Starting small and staying small cuts down on materials used and therefore cost, as well as cuts down on the amount of power needed to go fast, further cutting cost, and also improves efficiency thus reducing the size of the battery needed for a given amount of range, further cutting cost. A less massive vehicle also places less stress on its components, improving reliability.

        If you keep the mass low enough, you could get away with using inexpensive and extremely lightweight ebike motors and controllers for the desired acceleration, without exceeding their rated specs, further cutting mass/cost. The EV parts cost for such a machine at the retail price for building a one-off at the hobbyist level would be well under $10k(I’ve already come up with a parts list and have been planning such a build). With mass production and large volume orders, the EV parts cost could possibly be less than half that, leaving a large budget for the rest of the vehicle while keeping the cost reasonable.

        Something can be built with all three traits, but it would have to be able to sell enough units to justify the production volume needed to keep it cheap. And a lot of custom components would need to be designed, as one would have to go less with the “design-by-committee” mentality ubiquitous in today’s industry and more the Paul MacCready(GM Impact/EV1) or Gordon Murray(McClaren F1, T.50) mentality when conceptualizing the design.

        This all being said and my opinion of the auto industry methodology of designing cars being bassackwards aside, I love your work that you’ve showed us and look forward to seeing what you put out there for whatever concepts you choose to draw. This is really cool that you’re drawing your interpretation of peoples’ visions and putting them on this site. Seeing the talent that was brought on board to this site lured me here. I’ve been a Jalopnik lurker for years, but once Torch and Tracy worked their magic, I was sold on becoming a part of this site. The knowledge base here is something special, and who knows, maybe a really badassed enthusiasts vehicle will eventually surface as a result of its existence.

        1. I was over simplifying, but it still holds true. In years past, there was a great deal of scope for weight reduction, because the mass market couldn’t weight optimize cost effectively. This is how companies like Lotus were able to do what they did, because they were low volume high cost, which allowed more careful construction and exotic materials and lighter all up weight.
          That simply doesn’t exist now, as production techniques and computer aided design have advanced so much, nearly every part will be carefully designed to be as light as possible. The problem is cars have so much more content now as well as having to be strong enough to pass crash and pedestrian impact regulations. To save more weight you have to start getting into really advanced materials which costs and may not be suitable for mass production.
          You mention a few hundred $ per car as if it’s nothing, but I can assure you even premium OEMs make content decisions based on a dollar value a lot less than that. There simply isn’t the profit margin available.
          Gordon Murray can do what he does because he charges a lot of money for it, although he’s really an engineer and not strictly speaking a car designer. His methods simply wouldn’t scale up to mass production. The old days of Issigonis, pencil in one hand, gin and tonic in the other sketching out brilliance on the back on an envelope are long gone. Cars are simply too complicated these days.

          1. Cutting content is exactly what I’m talking about. I see all of these 4,000 lb “sports cars” that weigh almost as much as midsized SUVs from 20 years ago with their manufacturers bragging about their “light weight” construction techniques and extensive use of composites, when they are loaded with thousands of lbs of luxury crap in their interiors, standard(heated seats, screens everywhere, hundreds of lbs of sensors all over the car, ect). To me, that’s not a sports car. It’s a luxury car pretending to be a sports car.

            The modern Miata is even feature-rich by the standards of cars 20 years ago, and it weighs in at ~2,300 lbs. One of the lightest cars available in the U.S. Significantly lighter/smaller should be able to pass crash test regs, if only barely so, possibly using conventional materials. Not everything needs to be built to fit 400 lb lardasses that are too lazy to walk and opt to ride the electric scooters at the local Walmart, but seemingly every car out there, even subcompacts, are built to fit this demographic, even when they opt to buy oversized trucks and SUVs/CUVs instead.

  27. How about a reinterpretation of classic British roadsters? Maybe pull some cues from Triumphs or Austin-Healeys? I’ve seen it done a lot with Jags and MGs, but not so much the “lesser” marques…except in April Fool’s posts.

    As long as BMW owns the Triumph name for cars, hope will spring eternal. And thank you for sharing your talent with us!

    1. As the owner of a Triumph GT6, I second this notion. I converted mine to electric, and it will be a while before I have it road legal. The precious little that I’ve driven around a cemetery and on some side streets has been fun in a way that no bloated modern car can come close to. It peels out in 4th gear at a stop!

      I’ve thought a lot of what a modern interpretation of a GT6 would look like. Were I rich enough, a dream I’ve had would be to resurrect the brand and build 3 variants of a modernized GT6: the GT6, the GTE, and the GT6D. The platform that all three would be based upon would be designed for minimal weight, minimal features, minimal drag, minimal size/frontal area. Perhaps we’d end up with a vehicle of the following dimensions: 160″ length, 59″ width(minus mirrors), 42″ height, 92″ wheelbase, 5″ ground clearance, front mounted engine with rear wheel drive for the GT6 and GT6D versions, mid-mounted rear drive for the GT6E. Like the Triumph ADU1B racecar that inspired the original GT6, it would be a quasi-streamliner. Unlike the original ADU1B, it would have the advantage of modern aerodynamics know-how. The original ADU1B had a drag coefficient of roughly 0.32, so I think something around a low 0.2X is possible today for a practical road-going sports car, while keeping the frontal area similar to the original GT6. It would be made to be more functional than to look pretty, but I think its looks could come into its own as a result, as the Alfa Romeo Disco Volante C52, Porsche 550, Volkhardt V2 Sagitta, and similar could attest. Its front end design might look sort of like an Alfa Romeo 4C, and its rear, Miata-like but highly tapered. It would be a mostly featureless vehicle regarding creature comforts, with optional air conditioning, roll-up windows, minimal technology. Suspension design would be heavily Miata-influenced or maybe even take parts from the Miata, due to its low cost and its forgiving nature. The target would be to shoot for a 55%/45% F/R weight distribution for the GT6 and GT6D varaints, and a 50/50 for the GTE variant.

      The GT6 would be powered by a 3.0L inline-6 gasoline engine from Mazda, making 300 horsepower. This variant of the car, being smaller than a Miata with even less features, might be able to pass crash test regulations at around 2,000 lbs. This combination would prove potent, possibly 0-60 mph in under 3.5 seconds if enough traction can be had(remember, no nannys, minimal features). Top speed would be limited based upon stability, but possibly exceed 200 mph if just the right amount of downforce can be achieved without significantly adding drag, although likely will need to be less. A 5-speed or 6-speed manual transmission would be the only option, no automatics, none of this double-clutch BS, no paddle shift. Fuel economy would be excellent in such a light, slippery platform with long-legged gearing, possibly 30+ city, 50+ mpg highway. A Miata-like price point would be the target.

      The GT6D would be like the above, but with a tuned 3.3L inline-6 diesel engine from Mazda. The engine would have to be tuned for a similar amount of power as the above, with the advantage being increased fuel economy, at the expense of more front weight and more cost. Ballast may be needed in the rear to offset the imbalance created by the heavy diesel engine. 40+ mpg city and 70+ mpg highway might be possible, for the same performance as above.

      The GTE would use the lightweight drive unit from a Tesla Model 3 and delete the manual transmission. The batteries would be placed in such a way as to achieve a 50/50 weight distribution, and perhaps only a 30-35 kWh pack would be needed to get a real-world 200-250 mile range in something so light and slippery, which would allow it to have weight comparable to the gasoline version. The 21700 batteries used in the Model 3 are at roughly 270 Wh/kg specific capacity, so a complete pack with thermal management included should weigh slightly less than the inline 6 engine from Mazda. The drive unit from the Model 3 weighs under 200 lbs, and can be coupled directly to the rear wheels bypassing the need for a tranny. This variant could be geared to top out around 155 mph, and have the fastest 0-60 mph acceleration of any of the variants.

      Anyhow, rant over. I’m frustrated by the disconnect between what modern technology allows, and what we are getting in the marketplace.

    2. Good shout. I’ve long thought BMW could could resurrect those brands and maybe sell them alongside MINI. After all, they have the RWD platforms and 6 cylinder engines for them.

      Interestingly a lot of Triumphs were designed by Giovanni Michelotti, who also involved in the Neue Klasse BMWs. You can see some similar themes – light airy glasshouse, headlamps set within the grill.

      1. The long-standing rumor is that US MINI dealers vetoed the idea of selling a Triumph sports car alongside MINIs so we got the MINI. Roadster instead. Sad. Especially with Z4 production in South Carolina (USA) already…

        1. That’s an interesting rumor if true. British sports cars were massively popular in the US – you took the lions share of the exports. The emotional appeal is there. And you know the Japanese would totally be into it as well.

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