The progress of design has been massive in the last few years and needs to fulfil dual purposes of form and function. Despite the design having to cater to needs such as lighter weight and aerodynamics, it needs to strike a chord with the consumers, where it's being marketed. A key reason why vehicles from Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation (SAIC) didn't work well for General Motors India was the inability of the design to find favour among consumers.
Switching to an aggressive mode though, GM India will now launch 10 products over the next five years. It was quite timely then to understand the kind of design approach the company will have for these vehicles. We caught up Michael P Simcoe, Vice President, Design, GM International Operations to understand the design direction for vehicles aimed at emerging markets such as India.
As part of the global announcement of $ 5 bn for new products, $ 1 bn has been reserved for India-specific product development. Simcoe told us that the idea is to develop a new range of products especially suited to markets such as Brazil, India and China, among others. He added that Chevrolet now follows a global DNA for interior & exterior design, which is developed in sync with feedback from regional studios. Summarising the brand's approach, he said design needs to be holistic than specific. Developing designs specific to one country doesn't yield much success in a global market, which is where everyone operates today, he added.
Answering the question about the key ingredient Indian consumers look for in vehicle designs, Simcoe mentioned three things – value, value and value – since consumers want more for as little as possible. Some of the new trends that have surfaced in the market are demand for richer materials and strong graphics. A few key characteristics Indian consumers look for irrespective of vehicle class are strength, dynamism and execution.
Explaining the last trait, he said customers want more options in colour schemes and the way the fabric has been styled & executed.
This need arises out of the natural desire of consumers to look good in a car. Another thing that is being done is to bring design elements from halo products such as the Corvette into mass-market vehicles. Without replicating the design, the intent is to draw a relation to the lineage of such vehicles. This can be achieved by placing similarities in detailing, surface treatment and graphics.
Competitive designing within the company is also helping bring out new ideas. For example, if a new model of Beat has to be sketched, it would be done by designers at multiple locations, bringing out the best in them as everyone wants their design to win.
FUTURE OF DESIGN
Designing vehicles in the future would largely depend on the direction taken by the industry in the areas of materials, powertrain and connectivity. Of these, materials are being experimented with in almost every market, including India. One of the most popular metals today is aluminium, which offers lightweighting benefits but also poses manufacturing challenges and higher repair cost for customers.
Talking about the changes designers need to make while working with aluminium, Simcoe said it's not an issue. The customer would never end up seeing a difference in the execution of an aluminium or steel skin. What would change for future vehicles though is the next level of change in materials. As carbon-fibre makes inroads into more vehicles, design, surface treatment and packaging will undergo significant change, leading to a change in the appearance of cars, added Simcoe. In the long-run, the biggest shift would be the progression to autonomous vehicles, which would allow designers and engineers to completely reinvent the vehicle. Today, the vehicles are designed to interact with their occupants but when they start communicating with each other is when we'll witness a paradigm shift in all areas including design, Simcoe concluded.
Text: Arpit Mahendra