Here’s to car designers who never make the headlines

As a journalist, I keep hearing automakers speak about how their new product was designed using inspiration from an eagle or a shark. It all fascinates me because deep down inside, petrol heads like me are still kids who would draw a car of their liking on a piece of paper using crayons.

But as much as the car has evolved, its design too evolved over time and the crucial factor here is ways of designing have come their way from the early 20th century.

Allow me to explain on the pretext that I will not get into explaining some PXD-C200TE design software that made designing a car way easier than it was done using pen and paper.

In the earlier days of car production, things were simple. A car-maker would produce the chassis, bolt the engine and suspension parts to the car and then give it to the owners who then took it to a coach-building factory, who then designed cars according to the buyers’ liking.

Cars were beautiful back then but not safe as such. Many lives were lost. With the development of safety systems over time like seatbelts and airbags, design had to be changed taking safety into account.

So, in the ’70s, along with the development of crazy hairstyles and rock-n-roll, cars were designed with better safety. Also, cars had now become more accessible and more and more people could lay their hands on one. Not in India, of course, for our country was way backwards in this category.

Because car-makers had to mass produce cars, exclusivity was lost. Coach-builders were resigned to building one-off concepts, and thus beautiful cars came once in a blue moon. Why? building beautiful cars is tough when you have a budget cap. Just look at the mainstream cars today, even with the technological advancements, most cars are still drab-looking.

It was around that time car-makers started using wind tunnels to shape cars. Subsequently, software was developed to make life easy for the designer. This was actually the by-product of people wanting cars that gave good mileage and could carry more people with ease.

While a young businessman could do with a two-seater sports car, most families preferred a thrummy little hatchback that was quick but could also take their dog in the boot if they wished.

Thus, out went curvaceous body styles and in came straight lines, that could easily be pressed in a dye. Even supercars of that time did not escape such designs, pitifully.

However, with time, people learnt to play with coefficient of friction (that somehow is termed Cd), and made cars streamlined, mostly to eke more mileage out of the cars.

As the century dawned, car-makers started to heed the word of the accountants. Thus, all the beautiful concepts never saw the light of day and those that did had changed so much that they looked like before and after images of a person who underwent plastic surgery.

But today, humans have learnt to play with design. Supercars are looking prettier and angrier according to their roles, GTs are looking cool and because of clever design do not weigh as much many mountains. Modern mainstream cars, too, are not as ugly as they were, but still, they can be better.

What is important to note here is that a car’s design changed in the inside as well. In the present time, cars have wireless mobile charging, cup holders, touchscreens and the lot and still, appeal to those who buy it. That I think is the true victory of designers, because it is the insides that one notices the most.

But there is one thing that I have refrained from talking – software. Because no matter how better software become, with laser pens and computerised this and that, no matter how much accountants poke their nose into car-making, design has and will come from one point – the human brain. That is what makes us special, eh?

Praveen Kumar S