By Ty Fischer
An innovator, design expert and industry leader, Stewart Reed, Chair of the Transportation Design Department at ArtCenter, is considered one of the leading experts on automotive design trends. Reed has designed and developed more than 30 concept vehicles throughout his career and has consulted for companies including Michelin, Icon Aircraft, Herman Miller, Nissan, Hyundai, Ford and Lockheed Martin. We visited the ArtCenter campus to find out Reed’s thoughts on auto design, self-driving cars and the future of art in motion design.
Q: What are some of the trends that you see right now in automotive design?
SR: There are so many trends right now because the automobile is such a marvelous, complex product and there are new trends in almost every area of science. Materials science, manufacturing and fabrication techniques, powertrain, the list goes on. In almost every single area there are astonishing things happening. A lot of people think that by 2030 everything is going to be electric. But what’s interesting is that the best estimates are maybe 25% could be electric. So what about the other 75%? There are going to be a lot of choices still, and methods of energy production and storage.
Q: Where do you see self-driving cars in the future?
SR: I’m really excited about the premise of automation. I just think about the whole premise of automation and it being so liberating to parts of the population that don’t have access to mobility right now. I think about, for example, when my father got to where he couldn’t drive anymore. Putting my father into that position, he would continue to have access to things and activity with automation. Or people with medical issues, or the very young population. It’s really exciting and I think also, the opportunity to better utilize the complex infrastructure in urban areas; it’ll be faster, it’ll be safer.
Q: How do you see creativity and art impacting the automotive industry as a whole?
SR: Well I think human beings that craft useful objects for themselves, whether they’re planes, trains, automobiles for transportation, or whether they’re part of our habitat or even the useful objects we live with, they all need to celebrate a certain level of beauty, craft and joyfulness. Some people say it isn’t pure fine art if it’s a functional object. But I would question that. I would say a beautiful ancient harp or violin is an object that has a function, but it’s undeniably an artful object.
Q: What are some of the challenges you see facing the auto industry moving forward?
SR: I think one of the big things for what we term the auto industry as it is today, is just the extreme complexity of the whole thing. If you go all the way through from the idea, through design, engineering, to the factory environment, and then follow it through the complex dealer networks and the service environment and then carrying service parts ten years beyond, the whole thing is super complex.
So I think there’s a challenge for us as engineers and designers to think about ways to improve the whole process so that there’s more of an elegant simplicity to the way things go together. Electrification is one example. I think we’ve been able to reduce the parts count substantially with an electric drive train over other things, so that’s great. But ideally if we can leverage new manufacturing processes and new tools we can simplify things and even add more kind of choice to people at both the private ownership level and choice for alternative transportation. I see a bright future with more options, more choice.
Q: Looking to the future, what do you see on the horizon for the automotive and auto design industries?
SR: Some would say that autonomous vehicles is what we’ll all be herded into, that it’s going to be a bleak future. There are car enthusiasts that are very concerned that the joy of driving will be gone, that you won’t have a steering wheel in front of you. I disagree with that, quite honestly. I think there will continue to be choice and that the whole idea of an automobile was a freedom machine to give people choice over the stage coaches, the rail lines and the steam ships. It was “go anywhere you want to go, anytime.” So I’d like to be optimistic that that’s where the future will be. That we’ll have more choices, more mobility, more access, and more freedom. That’s what makes automotive design in particular so exciting, because it is the sum total of art, business and science all together.
The ArtCenter Hillside Campus is located at 1700 Lida Street in Pasadena. For more information visit artcenter.edu.
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