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EXPECT VW DESIGN THEMES TO INFLUENCE THE NEW DECADE

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Published on Sun, Aug 4, 2002

By: The LACar Editorial Staff

EXPECT VW DESIGN TO INFLUENCE THE NEW DECADE

By ROY NAKANO

As we entered the new century, one thing is becoming abundantly clear: VW-Audi design themes will dominate automotive design in the beginning of the first decade. The reasons for this are not all related to the excellence of the designs. Much of it has to do with the fact that a cadre of former VW-Audi designers now occupy key positions in automotive studios throughout the world.

  First, Martin Smith, Audi's long-time interior design wizard, was picked up by Opel. Then came Ford's acquisition of J Mays, who was the chief of VW-Audi design and the individual most responsible for the Concept One Beetle - the concept car that spawned the New Beetle and put VW back on the sales chart. Then Chris Bird, whose portfolio includes the Audi A4 and A8, was made director of Small Vehicle Design for Ford of Europe. Then Freeman Thomas, the succeeding chief of VW-Audi design and the designer of the vaunted Audi TT, accepted the position as vice president of advanced vehicle strategy at DaimlerChrysler. Last, but not least, Frank Saucedo, the VW-Audi chief designer that succeeded Thomas, accepted GM's offer to head up their new design studio in North Hollywood (see below). Perhaps the most influential designer will be J Mays. As head of Ford Motor Company's worldwide design operations, he's put his mark on several products, including the Concept One-influenced 2002 Thunderbird, the new billet machined-styled Mercury Mountaineer, and the soon to be released Passat/A6-inspired Five-Hundred. 

Ford's New Edge styling (e.g., the Ka, the new Cougar) represented the first earnest attempt to move away from the jellybean look of the 80s and 90s. However, the reach of New Edge was limited to small cars. The VW-Audi themes of body panels that look more like machined and sculptured metal rather than molded plastic or clay has resonated better with the entire spectrum of automobiles. The designers seem to be convinced that the machined, billet metal look does a better job of exuding quality and strength over the molded plastic or clay look of the recent past. Expect designs from Ford, GM, and DaimlerChrysler to carry flatter, chunkier planes with parallel lines. Expect also the arching roofline from the A6 and Passat as well as the pronounced wheel arches from the Audi TT to show up on more passenger vehicles in the next few years (note the arching roof of the new Nissan Altima - expect to see the same from the next-generation Honda Accord). Recent focus group sessions of Mazda and Ford future products had these in abundance.

The new Altima (left) borrows heavily from the Volkswagen Passat (right). 

How long the new VW-Audi themes will last remains to be seen. Cars that carry cutting edge design themes can look dated when the theme becomes too common (witness how dated the aero-jellybean look of the first generation Altima looks today). In the meantime, however, expect to see the new machined look (also known as geo-mechanical by Mitsubishi, architectural by Isuzu and stealth by GM) to dominate for the next few years.    

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