How electrification and intelligence will change automotive design and styling

by Sumantra B Barooah 15 Dec 2018


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With further development of vehicle electrification and intelligence, automobiles will no longer simply be a means of transportation in the future. An automobile will become a new means to connect with the outside world.

In a session titled ‘Auto Design and Styling: How Electric Vehicles, Smart Cars, and New Mobility Concepts are Changing the Role of Design and Styling’, at the 9th Global Automotive Forum in Chongqing, Li Yalan, vice-director in Changan Automobile Design Center; Chen Qunyi, vice-president and design director of IAT Automobile Technology; and Shashikant Vaidyanathan, founder and COO, Abraxas Motors, communicated and expressed their views.

Li Yalan: Using a scenario-based cars design approach inside outside.
Li believes the automobile has experienced more than a hundred years of development and has increasingly focused on the R&D of vehicle safety and control technology. A new revolution has arrived and the automotive industry is the epicentre. New energy, intelligence, networking, lightweight and the restructuring of the shared mobility’s ecological chain have overturned consumer demand for traditional cars.

Li Yalan pointed out that consumers will pay more attention to the comfort and function of car rides. In the era of big data, ‘Aboriginal people’ will no longer be satisfied with the shape and function of cars, but also whether the cars can bring the ultimate experience of intelligent mobility.

Li Yalan: "The smart car will be more like a large-scale smartphone in the future."

In Li's view, the smart car will be more like a large-scale smartphone in the future, including all the functions of mobile phone but it’s much more than that. At the same time, it also has the mobility function that the mobile phone does not have.

With the development of intelligent technologies, the interactive experience of various electronic products has been optimised, and more and more functions have been applied to vehicle-mounted systems. Users can freely switch and select the most rapid control modes. In the future, smart technology will not only be applied to the interface of human-computer interaction, but also will penetrate into the interior and exterior design of the car, becoming an intelligent car with emotion, mobility, and temperature.

Li Yalan believes smart cars will also be able to integrate various needs of users in future, and people can stay in the mobile living space. This mobile space will not only change the way people travel but will also impact the changes in the entire lifestyle and business model. At the same time, she said car design will no longer be a simple patchwork of technique and style design but from the user's point of view, using design thinking, balancing complex functions in a scenario-based car design approach from the interior to the outside to meet the user's needs and emotional experience.

Chen Qunyi: Learn to ‘Puzzle’ in the post-car era
In Chen Qunyi’s opinion, the property of the automobile is no longer a single vehicle from point A to point B. Instead, it becomes a mobile platform that includes mobile entertainment, mobile payment, and mobile social networking.

For emerging companies in the auto industry, Chen said that they have certain technologies, but they also face many challenges. The biggest challenge is that the auto industry is not a quick-to-change industry and is in a long process of continuous learning and accumulation. At the same time, with the changes in national policies, including the opening of joint venture shares and lower tariffs which have already gradually destroyed China's protection barriers, companies will have to face the most intense competition from the whole world.

Chen Qunyi: In the 'post-car era', vehicle makers should use what they are good at and work with others.

Chen Qunyi suggested that in the ‘post-car era’, regardless of traditional companies or emerging companies, they should all play their own role in the puzzle. They should not think about themselves as big and complete enterprises but should use what they are good at and work with others.

Shashikant Vaidyanathan: Lightweight provides more freedom for vehicle design
The development trend of automobile technology and stricter fuel consumption emission regulations has become an irreversible trend of automobiles. The electrification of cars is not just about changing their energy structure. Only after the electrification of the automobile can the Internet of vehicles and automatic driving be realised. That is more likely to have a revolutionary impact on the existing automobile industry and market pattern. 

Vaidyanathan argued that the costs of new energy vehicles are increasingly comparable to those of petrol vehicles and that all these factors are driving future car design innovation and evolution. These include lightweight technology, 3D printing technology, battery technology and connected cars. In terms of weight, the use of plastic composite materials will reduce vehicle weight and reduce energy consumption.

Regarding electric cars, they can improve their battery life and realise functional integration. The car assembly will be more convenient and the cost of the assembly will be reduced. These composites are very stable and can improve the freedom of design.

Shashikant Vaidyanathan: 'OEMs will increasingly use plastic parts, which can be digitised in various areas.' 

Vaidyanathan believes that once 3D printing is put into practice, the future of car manufacturing will become more efficient. For consumers, the reduction in the size and weight of components will increase the interior decoration space and improve the range and performance of electric vehicles. For OEM manufacturers, the shape and design of cars can be innovated and other positive effects can be brought. For example, the function of the vehicle will be improved and more aesthetic enjoyment will be provided.

What will be the characteristics of the car body in the future? Manufacturers will increasingly use plastic parts, says Vaidyanathan, which can be digitised for interiors, central consoles and dashboards. The integrated innovation of lighting concept will make the body size adjusted, and the optimisation of aerodynamics will play a role in improving the performance of electric vehicles.

The biggest challenge affecting the development of electric cars globally is that consumers are generally less receptive to electric cars. The main reason why consumers don't accept electric cars is the high cost of which about 50 percent is the battery. Battery costs remain high, making the price disadvantage of electric cars hard to change. According to Vaidyanathan, the price of batteries has fallen by 8 percent a year between 2007 and 2017, making them better and cheaper.

As cars increasingly get electrified and smarter, design and styling are also set to change, perhaps significantly, in the coming years.

(This article was first published in the October 1, 2018 issue of Autocar Professional)


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