What is automobile design?
The process of designing a vehicle from a concept to a production-ready version comes under automobile design. A design team in a car/two wheeler company consists of three departments exterior design, interior design and CMF (Colour, Material & Finish).
For designing a vehicle there are several stages of development.
Trend analysis and user research: In this stage, the team tries to understand the market trends and the consumer needs to get the overall category of the vehicle and where it will sit in the market. They also try to analyse how the vehicle will be a part of the target consumer’s lifestyle.
Concept sketching and ideation stage: In this stage, the designers create a mood board to take inspiration for the initial design sketch. The mood board will have pictures of anything which represents the consumer’s lifestyle like accessories, clothes, living space etc. A lot of concept sketches and renders are done to get to the final key sketch where the design is partially frozen.
Clay modelling: After that based on the final key sketch an actual size tape drawing is made with flexible plastic tapes to get the real proportion of the vehicle. In this stage, the design and proportion of the car become much more real for the designer. After that, an accurate clay model of the vehicle is made referencing the key sketch. Industrial clay is used by the clay modellers to make the models and it is covered with dyno sheets to create the vehicle surface. The clay model looks 99% like the actual vehicle. Based on this clay model only the higher executives or management sign off the design concept to move further into the development process, otherwise, the entire process up until now is repeated again by the designers.
CAS modelling stage: After the clay model is approved, it is scanned by lasers to create a digital surface model of the vehicle using surface modelling software. Then every nuts and bolt of the vehicle structure is digitally created using surface modelling. Then packaging of the vehicle shell around the engine, passengers and other components is digitally fit and the dimensions of the vehicle are frozen. After that, the digital model of the vehicle is stress-tested with software to test its structural integrity. Then class A surface model of the vehicle is created.
Actual prototype: After the CAS modelling of the final product is complete and the actual concept prototype of the vehicle is manufactured in very limited numbers.
Colour and trim: This aspect of the vehicle is also handled by a different team, who dig deeper into the present trends and user’s lifestyle to decide on the colour of the vehicle exterior and the interiors. They also decide what materials should be used for the seats, interiors and how the vehicle will look at different lighting conditions etc.
Interiors: Interior designers are a separate dept. in the whole development team. Interior designers go through the same steps as explained above to get to the final approved design.
What are the skills required to become a vehicle designer?
To become a successful vehicle designer you need to have strong visualisation of the surfaces of different shapes. You should be able to visualise the reflection of light off a surface and have a proper understanding of the shadows. Excellent sketching skills are a must, and for that, you must practice a lot daily. Digital rendering skills through photoshop. You must know at least one digital modelling software. Or if you are interested you can learn CAS modelling software like Autodesk Alias. Basic skills of creating clay modelling is also a requirement. Of all these skills you are expected to be very strong in at least one of the skills mentioned above be it sketching, clay modelling, or CAS modelling.
What are the opportunities and future of vehicle design?
Automobile design is a very niche field and opportunities are limited. But if you are really passionate, you have to sharpen your skills and be better than your competition. There are less than 20 vacancies that open up every year for newer candidates and hundreds of design students are graduating from design schools, so the competition is very fierce. The better your skills are, the higher are your chances to get noticed and get hired. You should participate in design competitions to get yourself noticed by the veterans of this field and also this is a very small and close group of people who work in this field. Everyone knows almost everybody working in the industry.
The average automobile designer salary in India is about 6,50,000 INR.
The Indian car market is ever increasing with the rise of the middle class. There is a shift happening in the auto industry. It is still in the early stages. But electric cars are the future of mobility. The electric power train is much simpler and takes very less space than the IC engine. Because of this much tighter packaging of components of electric cars the structure of the car can be reimagined based on the newer electric powertrain. Currently, designers are using modern tools like AR & VR to design the car in much higher detail. But no matter how advanced the tech is, the design of a car always starts with the stroke of the designer’s pencil.
Who are the famous personalities in the vehicle design field?
The following are some of the legendary designers of the automotive world:
Massimo Tamburini: Legendary motorcycle designer. He designed the MV Agusta brands of motorcycle, which were years ahead of his time and still some of the best looking bikes in the world.
Edgar Heinrich: He is the head of design at BMW Motorrad. For a short period of time, he was the design VP at Bajaj Motorcycles India. He designed the bike Bajaj Pulsar 200 NS.
Chris Bangle: He was the chief of design at BMW group which included BMW, Mini and Rolls Royce brands of cars.
Ian Callum: He had an illustrious career in automotive design. He has worked with several brands of cars like Ford, Jaguar, Land Rover etc.
Walter de Silva: He is a legendary Italian car designer. He was the head of design at the Volkswagen group.
Marcello Gandini: He was a designer at Lamborghini and designed one of the most iconic cars Lamborghini Countach.
The following is the list of some of the Indian designers who are currently working at various positions in different automotive companies.
Sathiyaseelan G: He is the Vice President of styling at Ashok Leyland. He also conducts a lot of workshops on automotive design for students.
Gaurang Nagre: He is an exterior designer at Volvo cars. He did his bachelor’s in industrial design from National Institute of Design, India.
Swaroop Roy: He is working as a senior designer at Renault Group India. Previously he has worked as Exterior designer at Hyundai Motor India and also as interior/exterior designer at Tata Motors India. He was one of the faculty at IIT Guwahati Design Department,
Nileah Kirtane: He is the head of design at Honda Two Wheelers India. He is also an alumni of National Institute of Design, where he did his masters in Industrial design.
Sourabh Singh: He is the DGM of Design Studio at Maruti Suzuki India Ltd.
Snehal Pawar: She is head of Design of CMF (Colour, Materials, Finish) Department at Hyundai Motors India.
What does the day in the life of a car designer look like?
A typical day in the life of a car designer will vary a lot based on which company he is working for and at what position and in which department of the design team. Every company has its own way of operations. If you are a junior designer at the sketching dept. you would be spending most of your time coming up with new concepts, doing market research, user interviews, trend analysis and discussing the concepts with your team members.
Automotive design is a long process. It takes almost 3-4 years to develop a car from the concept stage into a production-ready product. Therefore, in automotive companies, there are always 5 to 6 projects running simultaneously with different teams at the designing stage. So, if you are a clay modeller then you would be spending most of your time doing clay modelling with your seniors. In some companies, regular concept designers also take part in the clay modelling process. If you are CAS modeller you will be spending most of your time making digital models of the whole car using surface modelling softwares, or designing different components of the vehicle like headlamps, wheel rims etc.