06/19/2018 by I-CAR

I-CAR’s Collision Reporter recently spent the afternoon with a group of transportation designers at the College for Creative Studies (CCS) of Detroit, taking a “sneak peek” at what vehicles may look like 15 to 20 years from today -- including the types of materials that may comprise these concept vehicles. These Master-Level Transportation Design students, who hail from around the globe, did not disappoint. In fact, our visit coincided with students’ presentations to National Association for Surface Finishing (NASF) leadership. Buckle up – with these future designers behind the sketch pen, get ready for one incredible ride.

Stepping inside CCS’ Graduate Transportation Design II course could make an episode of the Jetson’s look like child’s play.

But this isn’t a far-fetched view of what space-age vehicles may look like. Instead, these budding designers are re-imagining the transportation of the future, right down to the surface finish(es).

On the day we stopped by, the student designers were presenting their “out-of-the-box” concepts to Instructor and Graduate Transportation Design Program Chair Raphael Zammit and members of the board of directors of NASF. NASF is a Washington, DC.-based trade association whose mission is to promote and advance a sustainable future for the North American surface finishing industry.

On this particular day, students’ initial concepts became part of NASF’s Bright Design Challenge 2018; Advancing Identity for the Next Automotive Era, a national competition aimed at identifying trends from up-and-coming vehicle designers. At this mid-point in the competition, students have followed Zammit’s guidelines to push their concepts way outside the box, and to really “challenge their (and the sponsor’s) comfort zones.” Following instructor critiques and NASF feedback, the budding transportation designers will return to the drawing board to “tone it down for production levels” and submit their final concepts, explained Zammit.

So what did we see? How about vehicles sans headlights and grills, and in one case, an orb-like “boat” perched atop a lone spherical tire? Clearly, autonomous vehicles are much more of a reality than a trend in the transportation of the future.

Dripping in Gold
In Won Choi’s futuristic vehicle, gold foils appeared to “drip” from the trim, in an over-exaggerated way. “If it’s [the gold trim] everywhere, it’s no longer special,” critiqued Zammit.

Nearby, Sung Kim’s “Future Craft” is covered in patina copper and brushed aluminum, with a chiseled surface.

It’s clear the influx of culture, digital media and nature ---think hexagon “bee hive” markings - have found a way into the design expressions of the future. Satin copper, anodized aluminum, satin and translucent glosses – even rose wood – are all popular markings.

Yeongsoo Choi prefers titanium plating for the leading surfaces for his sleek vehicle – reinforcing it against air friction as it darts at hyper-loop speeds. The hood of Shahbaaz Nilgiriwala’s concept motorcade vehicle, with “honeycomb geometric” elements, features piezoelectric metal. The extending hood splits into two sections, allowing the vehicle’s dignitary passengers to step out into the hood and greet welcoming crowds.

Sharing Industry Knowledge
It’s clear, at least among these student designers, that the advanced and complex materials common in today’s vehicles, were nowhere to be found in this first round of concepts.

“At this point in the class, the designs of the future from the students are ‘further out there’ and typically don’t incorporate a lot of metal in their exteriors,” explained Mitch Marsh, vice president of Marsh Plating Corp. and a NASF board member.

“We’re trying to understand what the next-generation perceived auto design will be, and how our industry integrates into this development by informing the students about the range of finishing options that are currently feasible. We’re listening. We want to understand their thoughts on design and help them credibly structure their approach by providing access to top experts in the industry.”

“How they portray their vision is unique,” he continued, noting the rise in shared and autonomous vehicles. “Their impact may dictate a change in how exterior versus interior is designed. “For example, future consumers may feel less concerned about the exterior of the car as they may not even own one. Instead, we may see a shift, as noted in these concepts, to more of the interior experience. We’re here as a technical resource to sharpen their knowledge on what’s possible across the board.”

`Alexa’ as a Vehicle
Deven Khatri agrees. His “Amaz” concept is a new, premium brand extension for the on-line retailer, Amazon, bringing a seamless (interconnected) luxury to the masses. Think ‘Alexa’ as a vehicle. Khatri feels exterior ornamentation is “very important,” with brass, gold, copper and bronze trim to vehicle’s ABS plastic body “orb.” “It’s designed to provide an immersive interactive environment within the car,” he said.

“High-gloss polish or brushed metal plating give a premium feel. Trim is very important in highlighting luxury vs. function; it’s part of the story,” he said. In Khatri’s concept, the trim is fluid, transitioning into visual displays of interactive information powered by artificial intelligence.

Choi’s 2030 concept “sails through the streets of Dubai,” he explained. “This new way of luxury sets the ultimate opulent experience,” he said. “It’s designed [for the user] to relax and show off as a `supreme luxury road yacht’.” Micro metal fabrics, a wood “hood/deck,” and metal edges around ceramic extend design boundaries.

Pushing the [Design] Envelope
Zammit said the envelope is constantly being pushed in future concepts regarding their design and material influences.

“Our job [as designers] is to try to think 15-20 years ahead - to find out what’s needed and desired by the consumer and then consider how to negotiate those needs and wants with the broader interests and concerns of industry and the planet.”

Will any of these futuristic concepts be pulling into repair bays anytime soon?

“It’s going to take some time for fully autonomous vehicles to become the norm. While this shift develops we need to stay vigilant in adapting to changing needs” he said. “For the past century, vehicle identities (faces) have evolved almost primarily from the design of major functional components such as grilles and headlamps. The next generation of vehicles may rely less (if at all) on these due to continual advances in technology. Next-gen vehicles will need to establish new ‘conventions’ to convey signature identities in order to not appear antiquated or inauthentic. Exploring innovations in surface finishes offers an exciting and wholly appropriate avenue for expressing identity in an entirely new context (of the coming era) of advanced mobility.”

Want to know more about what's driving the Materials of the Future?  Check out I-CAR's, Collision Reporter magazine, The Materials Issue, available here.