Possibly the easiest question?

“What is car design?”

Purely as a gut reaction no matter how short or long - please leave what your answer would be. Hopefully will get some convo’s going!




Interesting comment - what makes you say that? Do you think the industry isn’t moving as much as it should or is purely not doing enough in terms of pushing designs and breaking barriers?

Many thanks for your initial post


The breakthrough designs never get to market. A security veil of blandness gets draped on top of the best designs . Once the final product gets to market, the design has been osha-ized.
A ten on the drawing board ends up an eight at best when seen at the dealership.

little boys who want to draw cars all day…

Am I just jealous? Maybe…

Ok then, shifting this slightly across how well do you think car designers are doing in accomodating rapidly evolving technology in cars such as the iPod, aftermarket sat nav as this seems to be moving faster than car design is?

And the environmental angle; I read an article today saying that by 2030 all city centres will be car free with hydrogen, electricity and biofuels supplied at the majority of fuel stations by 2050. How realistic do you think this will be and what impact will switching fuels have on car production, in particular the monitoring of carbon emissions?

Will the cost of upgrading our infrastructure of factories, fuel stations and development centres start to reduce the environmental impact that switching fuels will actually have in the long run?

New technology is not only being brought in by designers. I’m sure marketers, hungry to be associated with success, even if it is not theirs, probably pushed for the iPods in cars. Most stereo makers (Kenwood, JVC, Sony etc) have started to look at adopting memory card slots of headphone jacks as inputs for all sorts of add-on audio equipment. Mainly because the iPod only accounts for half of the mp3 market.

Anyways, there is technology sneaking into design. Just today, I was reading about the new new Mini (2007 model in Europe) has an option for color-changing LED lights in the doors. Kinda kitsch, but well-integrated, and definately a design option. LED tail lights and headlights, whether designers are pushing them or not, are certainly changing the way cars will look in 10 years.

As far as the environment goes…I think we are stuck with gas in NA without government intervention. The cost of infrastructure change-over is just too high for any gas company to do voluntarily. Perhaps in countries like Sweden and Norway, where people prefer more government involvement in the economy, this changeover will be forced through. I guess that would be boon to protecting the Scandinavian auto industry!


Government intervention is precisely the reason why we are stuck with gas in NA! This is intensely frustrating to me. It’s like saying “if only it rained more, we could stop this flood.” Look into US oil subsidies. More gov’t intervention will most certainly NOT help the current mess we are in, for it is the very genesis of said mess. What needs to happen is for the government to step away, to stop subsidizing the oil companies and let the price rise, that’s the surest way to a real incentive to develop alternative fuels, not by beaurocratic decree, but by genuine market pressure.

You say that the infrastructure change is too costly. That is only true given the artificially stunted gas price. Right now it’s too cheap to give up. Let the price go up, let the market function, and the change-over cost won’t seem so insurmountable.

Your right, to an extent. Looking around the web, I found a statistic of about $5 billion/year for US oil subsidies. However, the state and federal take on gas tax is $50~60 billion/year. If the US is like Canada, that means $25 billion for the feds. This doesn’t quite even out.

Moreover, what are those subsidies? Is it just money given to the oil companies with no strings attached? I doubt it. It is probably subsidies into plastics and alternative fuel research…which is what we all want. If anyone has more info on this, please post it.

The US is doing an acceptable job in discouraging fuel consumption through the gas tax. The unfortunate part is that the government has not adequately funded realistic alternatives to automobile transportation. Here in Montreal, I can leave my car parked for months (well, ok, I have to move it to avoid tickets). I have a multi-billioni dollar transit system at my door that costs less to use than owning a car (I’ve done the math). I used to live in Phoenix, AZ. Phoenix has a larger population than Montreal, but a mass transit system that is out of a wild west film. They have infrequent buses, running bizarre routes, they charge customers too much and, worst of all, you have to wait for the bus in 120 heat. Give me some car keys PLEASE!

That is where there is not enough being done in the US. Because its people, me included, have not demanded an efficiently run society. We’ve demanded liberty.

Who says democracy doesn’t work?


You could also factor into the US gov. subsidies the expenses accrued for foreign endeavors who’s primary goal is to secure the low gas prices. My guess is that the amt. poured into that alone topples any direct subsidy.

As far as people demanding an efficient society, it’s a fool’s errand. One expert’s idea of an efficient society might well be quite opposite of another’s. Unfortunately, an economy is much to complex for any voter to even understand just what would make it function efficiently, let alone be able to factor in any unintended consequences of tampering with an organically developed market. There are just too many variables, the market too dynamic, for top-down central planning to have any positive effect beyond a few decades. Unemployment rates in Sweden and Germany come to mind.

“We’ve demanded liberty.” Thank God! Societies that have demanded anything else are generally riddled with institutionalized oppression of the least powerful class.

“Who says democracy doesn’t work?”
Socrates for one. Democracy is just another path to tyranny, the mob is the dictator rather than the individual. Democracy is a good tool, but not an end in itself because the majority tends to steamroll over the rights of the minority. That’s why we have to demand Liberty!

Anyway, I’ll get off my soap box. I’ve just found governments to be the least competent actor to tackle any real problems. Occasionally they’re downright oppressive. I tend to shy away from giving them any more power than they already have!

We are way off topic, but who cares. This is now the most interesting thing that I’ve read on Core all week.

It’s true that US foreign policy is effected by oil. This is nothing new, foreign policy has traditionally been about securing trade routes, securing export markets and securing scarce resources. The war in Iraq is no different, however I think liberals have often misunderstood it. Only the most ignorant people could have thought that a war in Iraq would have lead quickly to reduced fuel prices. The war is about securing future energy reserves.

Compared to Saudi Arabia, Iraq’s oil has not been exploited as much. So Iraq is the real value in the mid-east. Another aspect is fear. This war has shown other countries that the US government will invade any country it wants, regardless of it’s popularity at home or abroad (despite what any survey says, I think the US population was 50/50 the day the war started).

Then there is the domestic political strategy of the war, but I don’t want to go there.

In any case, the oil companies don’t receive any of this money directly, and one could argue that that wars like this are protecting the entire US economy. In fact, looking at how contracts are never given to Iraqis might lead one to think the whole war was a job creation scheme…but that wouldn’t be very conservative would it?

When I mention efficiency, I don’t mean central planning. However, capitalism is only at its most efficient when dealing with physical goods. When it comes to services, ideas and information, capitalism can swing wildly away from efficiency. Two extreme examples:

The weather report: once one person knows the weather report, they can share this information freely. There is an incentive for people not to buy the weather report, when they can get the information free from someone who has seen it. So what is the producer of the report to do? Sue everyone that gets the report from a friend instead of purchasing it directly from the source? It’s unwieldly.

Health care: There is a vast over-investment in US health care. Mostly because there was no incentive for doctors and hospitals to control cost when people had old-style health insurance (ie not HMO). For example, there are enough mamography machines in the US to do twice the number of screenings as are needed.

Sometimes capitalism breaks down, and government can step in and conserve resources for more important things. Two examples from Canada:

The weather report: the government invested money in satellites and meteorologists to create a freely distributed weather report. This ensures that everyone has access to weather information, very important in the lightly populated Canadian north. It also helps the economy in general by providing data for shipping companies, airlines, farmers etc. Industries that can succeed or suffer according to the weather.

Healthcare: The US government spends as much money per person on healthcare as the Canadian government. The strange thing is that the US only provides insurance to 20% of the population, and Canada can to 100%. The answer is that Canada spends less than a quarter of what the US spends on administration and accounting. That’s the benefit of a single-payer health insurance scheme. Despite the savings, Canadians enjoy a longer life expectancy and lower infant mortality rate than the US. This creates efficiency by freeing up monies to spend on other things.

Americans (even many liberals) consistently fought alternatives to “free-choice”. Healthcare is only the obvious example.

Off topic indeed! :slight_smile:

I concur, no one should have thought that the Iraq war was for immediately cheaper fuel. My earlier sentiment about the complexity of calculating subsidies had more to do with the money/effort allocated to securing energy reserves, like you mentioned, and just what the difference in fuel prices would be if that governmental support weren’t there. Indirect, sure, but there all the same.

"but that wouldn’t be very conservative would it? "

LOL, there’s nothing economically conservative about this administration!

The next part is where I disagree. The idea that an individual would have to pay for every datum of information they desire in a capitalist system is inaccurate. Websites where-in advertisers bear the cost and the consumer pays nil are a good example. There are many ways to skin a cat, the least effective being with a combine. This is the problem with government run entities. Aside form using a heavy hand to handle complex and delicate problems, there is no incentive to innovate because there is no competition. There is virtually no accountability save for elections where the largest mob dominates anyway. Examples of failed federal entities are ubiquitous.

As far as health care, the aforementioned example is really a false dichotomy. The US system is hardly representative of capitalism in any real sense. Most of it’s problems stem from government intervention. Trade barriers and the ridiculous FDA being two examples.

Life expectancy and low infant mortality rates are deceiving metrics from with to judge a system. For example, a third world society could conceivably have an extremely low infant mortality rate. Because of technological advances in the US, say, more fetuses are brought to term that would otherwise have perished had prenatal care not been what it is. Not all of the infants go on to live long lives, though. A fetus that perishes before birth does not factor into the infant mortality rate. I’m not saying that Canada is like this (I hope not!), but just illustrating that better health care could appear worse given incomplete statistics.

Anyway, I digress.

"Americans (even many liberals) consistently fought alternatives to “free-choice”

If only that were true!

Cheers guys for your replies, it’s made very interesting reading, and a good insight into the differences between US and Canadian policy workings. To gently guide the conversation back somewhat - there was an interesting point made earlier by wellfellow…

You say that the infrastructure change is too costly. That is only true given the artificially stunted gas price. Right now it’s too cheap to give up. Let the price go up, let the market function, and the change-over cost won’t seem so insurmountable.

This does make sense in theory in terms of economics but do you think this is what would truthfully happen? Especially here in the UK the percentage of tax that the we as customers already have to pay for fuel has caused the price to steadily rise over the last year or more. When this price is compared to what others in Europe and you are paying in the US, even once any government subsidies are taken out of the equation it would probably still mean cheaper fuel for us! However some type of legislation over here restraining other parts of the industry such as the manufacturing stages and development as to their emissions may prove influential - similar to the Kyoto Protocol.

It does seem the case that the motor industry and its infrastructure will have to take several steps back, and in the short-term be worse off for it, in order for the industry as a whole to progress to a more environmentally friendly position. In my opinion it’s only going to be a matter of time until one of the large fuel companies does this as the environment is coming more to the forefront of conversation with more and more people are concerned with it. Highlighted by the widespread introduction of biofuels at this years British Motor Show - most manufacturers want to be seen to be helping or looking for a solution. The company that makes this brave move first will hope that it will bring them more custom due to them appearing to be ‘the only one that cares’ whereas in truth the main reason maybe for financial gain. Maybe we’re being too harsh on these fuel companies, but at the end of the day they are profit run organisations!

Something else that I’ve recently read was suggesting improving public transport schemes (also mentioned by Mr-914) including light railway and cycle networks but allowing them to be ‘door-to-door’ i.e. from your front door to your office. Have you guys in the US had any similar suggested ventures or already had any successful schemes like this?

When Phoenix began looking at alternatives to its bus network, it contacted alot of designers and architects who had unorthodox views of mass transit. I believe there was one designer who suggested a rail network with 4~6 passenger cars. The idea was that one would always be ready for next group of people, essentially eliminating the wait time that is always a problem for rail users. It didn’t go anywhere though.

Here’s the link:

One thing that I’ve found comparing Boston, Toronto and Montreal subway systems is that, as a designer, I wanted to use the subway more when the stations were clean and of an interesting design. The subway in Boston is pretty ugly, and in fact it felt downright dangerous in downtown. Toronto’s is very clean, but every station looks the same. Montreal’s subway is the youngest, started in the mid-60’s. Almost every station is different, with really nice artwork and sculptures. Almost every Montrealer I’ve asked is proud of it. I know which I’d rather ride.

For those who read french, or like beautiful photos:


A wide view of rail transit can be found here (note how small the french cities with subways are!):


On a side note, I think the recent biofuels push by automakers is more abot advertising than action. Having said that, the environmentalist in me will take whatever he can get!

OH, and, happy “no car” day!

“the end of the day they are profit run organisations”

As if that were a bad thing. I get the distinct feeling that many designers look down on business and profit rather than recognizing them as essential tools toward manifesting your values without the ethically messy compulsion/force baggage.

A perfect example is Whole Foods. Do they make a handsome profit? Absolutely, and good for them. Do they charge a premium for recognizing and accommodating the values of their consumers? Absolutely. Is it a viable business plan? Again, absolutely. Smart companies will learn from this an leverage environmental values to attract savvy consumers. Another example: Patagonia. These businesses are doing quite well and prove that cumbersome, ill-conceived and often costly legislation is really unnecessary.
(don’t even get me started on CAFE or Kyoto!) :slight_smile:

Robert, you ask,

“This does make sense in theory in terms of economics but do you think this is what would truthfully happen?”

Without a doubt. It’s the price differential.It’s functioned for every other ‘scarce’ resource throughout history. As a resource becomes more scarce, the price will naturally rise (sans any meddling). Eventually it will rise to a point where the consumer no longer thinks it’s worth it. This combined with the market incentive to innovate, case tested by the likes of Whole Foods, Toyota or Patagonia, spells environmental responsibility and big profits.

You also said:

“most manufacturers want to be seen to be helping or looking for a solution. The company that makes this brave move first will hope that it will bring them more custom due to them appearing to be ‘the only one that cares’ whereas in truth the main reason maybe for financial gain.”

That nails it! That’s exactly the way it will go. And if they do that, they deserve financial gain! I look at that as a feature, not a bug, of the system. Everyone wins. I think designers should embrace this instead of fighting it. It’s all part of the larger design problem. Design a product that:

2)expresses your values, environmental, social, political, whatever
3)appeals to, and educates the consumers
4)rewards the investors for caring about people and values so they do it more

Nobody wants to be punished or reprimanded into submission and when that’s the case, they’ll do the bare minimum. (CAFE standards)

Anyway, I’m way off track. (no pun intended) Great posts, and great info on mass transit. It would be great if there were an active dialogue about mass transit. Here’s my question, is there a way to make it financially viable? The Boston T is a terrible example.

The problem with saving the environment is this, the cost is not born by the product manufacturers. If I build an Excursion that pumps out tons of CO2, the CO2 is no where in my spreadsheet. Materials, yes. Assembly cost, yes. Design, engineering, marketing, sales, etc…yes yes yes. Environmental damage, nope. This makes it a negative externality. It is something that hurts society in general, but not the producer. Therefore, it is up to the technological fix of pollution to drop below the cost of the current product to ever succeed in a typical capitalist market.

This is the whole reason gas tax exists, and regulation. Government realizes that manufacturers are not paying for these negative externalities, and therefore forces them to pay, or follow a regulation, or discourage consumers from buying the product. It is the only way for this to work in a capitalist society.

You can blow this up to a trade debate too. To make a shoe in Tulsa, means I have to pay disposal costs for all the chemicals I use. I need to have proper ventilation for my workers so that they don’t get cancer from the toxic glues I use. I can make the same product in Mexico or China and avoid these costs. However, the Mexican or Chinese society will pay for these costs in terms of environmental clean up later on, healthcare cost to sick employees, reduced quantities of clean water and clean food because of pollution.

That’s part of the reason an imported product costs less to the importer. They are only paying for the material, not the negative externalities.

So is profit bad? No…but profit purely because of avoiding paying for negative externalities can be.

On another subject, I just found this tidbit at the BBC:

If ethanol is imported from the US, it will likely come from maize, which uses fossil fuels at every stage in the production process, from cultivation using fertilisers and tractors to processing and transportation. Growing maize appears to use 30% more energy than the finished fuel produces, and leaves eroded soils and polluted waters behind

I heard recently that US government policy at all levels is based on providing Americans jobs. Ethanol policy seems to be as well!


“The problem with saving the environment is this, the cost is not born by the product manufacturers.Etc”

“It is the only way for this to work in a capitalist society.”

Wrong on both counts. The cost is certainly born by the manufacturers, especially given the current climate of consumer environmental sensitivity. The cost is bad PR and loss of sales to an ever savvier market. That’s how it works in a capitalist system.

"However, the Mexican or Chinese society will pay for these costs in terms of environmental clean up later on, healthcare cost to sick employees, reduced quantities of clean water and clean food because of pollution. "

Which they will be able to do as soon as they emerge from tremendous poverty and become first world nations through economic development. Let’s not prevent that.

Anyway, on Ethanol policy, that’s right. It has little to do with the environment and everything to do with agricultural subsidies, jobs and votes. (Surprise!) That’s the government for ya. And people keep asking for more…

So does this not then lead onto a scheme such as the tradable permits coming into its own, to limit these negative externalities such as pollution levels? But what can also be done to things like noise pollution etc. how is a price put on these that can be issued back to the manufacturer to account for everything that has resulted from production?

After looking into the automotive production process and the supply chain as a whole, how close are we to coming to a near harmonized process with minimal effects on the environment - or is this just a holy grail that will never actually be realised?

The motor industry has been heavily publicised that more and more investment and effort is going into making it more ‘sustainably-minded’ do you think once (or if sorry) this is achieved this will be transferable to other industries, i.e. product design, industrial design, etc.?

I also agree that profit just for profit’s sake and not caring about any other consequences such as externalities is very wrong, it was in this way that I was referring to the fuel companies as “profit run organisations”. There’s no denying that we as designers do need profit run companies in order to better develop products in terms of cost so it can be past onto the consumer, and also for it to be a realistic product and/or solution.

Going back to the point on who was going to come out on top for bio-fuels, I’m not sure whether I added it, but after further deliberation I think it’s going to be a relatively unknown company that will come through and ‘crack’ that market so to speak with the introduction of bio-fuels and a new engine system, such as a research facility/company that has been in industry but not competing with the likes of BP, Shell… Basically, are we looking to the wrong people for an answer on this subject? Or is the temptation of tapping into this waiting market going to be enough to drive BP, Shell etc. to strive to be the first in this field…? I guess time will tell!