Last week, I visited what is essentially the neo-natal ward of the automotive design industry: ArtCenter's school of Transportation Design.

I already showed you the Lincoln concept by one of the designers, and today I'd like to give you this broader overview of the other incredible work I saw. Tomorrow I'll have video interviews with the instructor and some of the designers, so stay tuned— it's fascinating stuff.

So, come on, let's see what we've got here!

One of the first models that caught my eye was this idea for a Rolls-Royce city car. The idea itself is so delightfully perverse that I love it. Though, if you think about it, Aston Martin's Toyota/Scion iQ-based Cygnet has really opened up the possibility of something like this. It retains a variant of the traditional grille, even though it's got a rear-mounted electric motor. So it looks like my grilles on electric cars question will still be haunting me in the future. The headlight treatment is very novel— they sort of feel like expensive spectacles or something.

Supercar concepts are to designers what bags of unattended camper food are to grizzly bears— pretty much irresistible. These three Ferrari concepts are quite nice, with the designer focusing each on one particular Ferrari-related idea: a single seat enthusiasts' car, a twin-seat, twin-turbine electric, and an advanced aero study. It was hard not to grab these and start playing with them on the floor.

Here's a better view of the Ferrari aero concept, because— you know why because. It seems like a logical and likely progression of where design trends are already heading.

This is a rough model of a Lamborghini concept, made from what is essentially the same kind of packing styrofoam you'll be throwing out in lavish abundance this holiday season. This model is especially interesting because it's the 3D equivalent of a quick pencil sketch on paper— the designers make these quickly with hot-wire sculpting methods to get an idea of how their computer models will look in person. Often, they told me, intercuts and scalloped openings and vents tend to flatten out on screen, and the only way to really know what you're working with is to make an actual object.

... and this is the actual model of the rough styrofoam car. The designer here is working with some very advanced materials concepts. You may have noticed the little detail of the lack of a windshield. The designer told me the concept plans on the use of privacy glass technology that's already been developed. This view of the car is in its parked configuration, where the glass turns opaque. When driving, it becomes transparent.


I'll have an interview with this designer tomorrow, so check in to hear his whole explanation.

Hey, it's our pal Woo, the Lincoln guy! We've already heard from him, but I thought you may want to see another picture of his model. Missing a wheel.

Auto design students most often pick an existing brand to design for, but they can greatly extrapolate and expand what sorts of cars the company would, hypothetically, be making. That's why they take chances and design Rolls-Royce city cars as you saw before, and, in this case, ultra-premium Kia models as well.


Kia's been pushing upmarket in their design for a while now, so something like this, a sleek, four-door executive coupé/sedan type of car doesn't seem so improbable. It still has enough Kia design cues to make it recognizable, but is clearly a premium vehicle.

Sometimes, models are made not to entirely suggest an actual production car, but to introduce advanced concepts and ideas. This Scion model is in that category. It's one sheet of laser-cut aluminum, folded into a 3D shape and detailed with the lacing you see. It's a design study for an overall "industrial origami" concept. We'll have an interview with this student tomorrow as well, and see the value these not-for-eventual-production sculptures really have.

Interestingly, each concept car begins with people and a story. Who is the car for? What are these people doing? Why do they need a car for their lives, personalities, actions, etc. Sometimes, these stories can get very conceptual, such as this Ford concept that the designer developed for Bonnie and Clyde. Well, not literally the lover-murderer pair, but Bonnie and Clyde-like couples who, I guess, love doing crazy things in cars, but probably not including murder. We'll give the designer a chance to explain herself tomorrow as well.

Other examples of the people/stories behind the cars: these are sketches for a Ford concept for a VIP car. It's a sort of armored van with a tail gunner's position, among other defensive additions. It's cool, but suggests kind of a bleak world.

More upbeat is this Acura/Honda "Peter Pan Complex with Kids" idea, for very active families who like to, it looks like, do lots of active things to make themselves ideal car advertisement subjects. I noticed no one was designing cars for Lazy Flabby Fucks Who Sit On Their Ass Playing Call Of Duty All Day. Someone should get on that.

I really loved these studys for front and rear light treatments for a hypothetical new Nissan SUV. There's so many good ideas right on this page.

This is an interesting concept for a Mercedes-Benz high-end electric executive sedan. Of special note are the wheels, which incorporate stationary horizontal stators to make the whole wheel an energy-regenerative generator. Designers, while not engineers, nevertheless have to be knowledgeable about the fundamental technology of cars, and coming up with novel technical/design ideas of their own.

Some designers may choose to specialize in one particular part of auto design. Different companies handle things in different ways, with some having separate teams for interiors, and some keeping one lead designer and/or team in charge of the entire car. These are interior sketches from a student who's focusing on automotive interior design. I'd like to sit in there.

Here's a nice detail: a brake rotor, fresh from the laser-cutter, prior to painting and installation.

Honda was sponsoring a number of designers to do work on future Pilot concepts. This sort of corporate sponsorship is not uncommon, and helps students pay for expenses and materials in exchange for thinking about a particular brand and/or model.

This is a concept for an advanced Honda Pilot rescue vehicle. I'm planning on using it for a prop in my movie about Jaw's cyborg great-great-great grandson.

This is a Jaguar concept. One interesting thing to note about the paint used on these: it's actual automotive paint, but for metallic finishes, they select the paints with the smallest metallic flakes inside, to help fool the eye into thinking the model is actual size. Little details like the flakes in paint looking too large proportionally can throw off the entire effect.

I was told by the instructor, Jason Hill (full interview tomorrow), that the side elevation of the car is the most important. From the side, you get the real feel of the car, and the packaging of the people, drivetrain components, fuel, cargo area, etc, can all be planned out most effectively.

Even before the designers take to their computers, they sketch. Simple pencil sketching and drawing is still fundamental to being a designer. As instructor Jason Hill asked "What are you going to do if, like recently, a storm knocks out the power? Do you stop? No. You sketch."


As a result, idea walls like this one for a McLaren concept are key to all the designs. Many, many sketches, some rough, some finished, some dead ends, some leading to the eventual model. You have to think on paper.

That animation there shows an Alfa concept being roughed out by one of the school's computer-controlled carving machines— it's essentially like a very precise Dremel bit on a robotic arm.


Models are either made from clay, like this one, or foam. These machines use 3D model data from a computer file to rough out the shape of the car, which is then hand-finished by the students, then painted with automotive paint, and details, usually from a rapid-prototyping machine, are added. More on this in the interviews tomorrow.