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An Ode to Great Design

By Sandy Baruah

Page 4

While I never studied design – and my third-grade art work posted on the refrigerator clearly demonstrated my lack of talent – I am a big fan of great design. From Henry Moore sculptures to Daniel Libeskind architecture to the everyday paperclip, I have long been moved by design’s ability to turn something of necessity to something of desire. Fusing an interest in design with a lifelong interest in cars results in someone who, on an amateur basis, has spent an inordinate amount of time examining automotive design.

Automotive design is a funny thing. Often, the most popular and respected vehicles on the road would never make a “most beautiful” list. The Toyota Camry with its perennial No. 1 ranking and legions of loyal followers must be beautiful to its owners – but I’m sure it’s not destined for display at the New York Museum of Modern art.

Designing a car today is also much more difficult today than in days past. The students going through the College of Creative Studies today have to learn to design around constraints such as pedestrian safety (front end shape and height), passenger safety (safety cells), crash protection (energy absorbing bumpers), fuel efficiency (aerodynamic drag) and countless others. None of these requirements impeded Sir William Lyon and Malcolm Sayer when they produced the stunning 1961 Jaguar E-Type, or played a role in the design of the 1934 Chrysler Airflow.

These very design constraints contribute to the outstanding efficiency, safety, value, and balance found in most new cars today. But despite these challenges and the need for most vehicles to take on the same general shape, there are great examples on the road today of design excellence – and unlike bygone eras, great design is not regulated to just the fantasy sports cars. Some examples:

Ford Fusion. As sophisticated as a sedan can look – and still seat five people. All at a family friendly price point. The family driveway never looked so fashionable. The Fusion led the way for today’s “everyday car” as a fashion statement.

The New Cadillacs. While there is a good deal of debate around Cadillac’s “Art and Science” design language, there is no doubt that Cadillacs look like nothing else on the road.

Kia-Hyundai. Many of us “car guys” laughed when Kia and Hyundai entered the market in the 1980s. But today, their value and design, led by former Ford and Volvo designer Peter Schreyer, are among the best.

My favorite examples of automotive design combine the following: links that tie today’s vehicle to its history, lines that emphasize length as opposed to height, and timelessness – something that will look good 20 years from now. My favorites on the road today:

Boxy can be beautiful. There is a purity in a well designed box. The Ford Flex and Land Rover LR4 look like the box they came in, but have a wonderful presence – with lines that exude crispness and formality. This well executed box ethos is why the original 1976 Cadillac Seville and 1960’s Lincoln Continental look good today.

Heritage matters. Looking at a Jaguar today still evokes the breathtaking lines of the E-Type and original XJ sedan. How designer Ian Callum has created such stunning beauty while honoring heritage is masterful.

All-time favorites. The two most beautiful cars in my book are the Jaguar E-Type (which Enzo Ferrari called “the most beautiful car in the world”) and the William Clay Ford’s classic 1956 Continental Mark II – both of which have been displayed in the New York Museum of Modern Art and both way ahead of their time.

Bob Lutz recently opined on the importance of good automotive design, commenting, “If I were running a major car company, I would poach [Peter Schreyer] at whatever cost.” As a consumer who loves automotive design, I agree with Bob Lutz.

Enjoy the 2016 North American International Auto Show. This is really the new golden age of the automobile and I am proud that Michigan remains the epicenter of this dynamic and critical industry.

Sandy Baruah is the president and CEO of the Detroit Regional Chamber.