How design has transformed & still transforming the Automotive Industry

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You may have heard of many luxury car brands like Porsche, Tesla, Ferrari, RR, Aston Martin, and many more. 
There is one thing that binds the engineering marvels of these cars. 

Yes, you guessed it right. It’s the design. 

We do not deny the sheer engineering and tremendous amount of research that has gone been put together to power these beautiful machines. But, this post is all about design evolution, a little history, design v/s practicality and where we are heading now.

The first car by Carl Benz
The first car by Carl Benz. Source


Carl Benz applied for the patent for first gasoline-powered vehicle in the year 1886. Before that Nicolas-Joseph Cugnot invented steam-powered vehicle in the year 1769. 
Yes, it took 117 years for someone to introduce gasoline engine in a vehicle, the first step towards the modern era of automobiles that we are seeing today.

Earlier the automotive industry focused primarily on two things namely:

  • Movement of the vehicle and
  • Engineering

With the evolution of gasoline engines, the industry started moving towards the design and aesthetics of the cars

Cars in 1900-1930s

The new decade brought many drastic and beautiful changes to cars. While the cars of this era are mostly “open” by design, but built for comfort, little more safety, speed, and reliability in mind. These cars had a long hood, big wheels, and had high ground clearance.

Soon a new sport of “Racing” caught people’s attention. 

In the book, My Life and Work Henry Ford speaks of racing in a rather dismissive tone, as something that is not at all a good measure of automobiles in general. He describes himself as someone who raced only because in the 1890s through 1910s, one had to race because prevailing ignorance held that racing was the way to prove the worth of an automobile. But as long as this is the definition of success, his cars will be the best at the racing. 

However, we believe that racing has really improved the cars by forcing engineering to think about other contributing factors such as aerodynamics, light and strong materials, and safety.

The design is a balance between form & function. It takes both to make a beautiful car.


Evolution of sports cars

Unlike Henry Ford, Enzo Ferrari initially did not want to manufacture road cars. His interest in racing cars led the design and development of a few of the fastest cars of the era.

Enzo Ferrari Car Design
Enzo Ferrari 

Did you know that Enzo Ferrari was named as one of the “Fifty Ugliest Cars of the Past 50 Years” as Bloomberg Businessweek citing its superfluous curves and angles as too flashy, particularly the V-shaped hood, and scooped-out doors?

Yeah yeah.. beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

Ferrari and other race-focused car manufacturers like Lamborghini, and Porsche focus on making their cars light, fast, streamlined and really low. 
Whereas, manufacturers like Rolls Royce, Land Rover focus on comfort and drive-quality while keeping sports-mode features in mind. 

Design Transformation

We can list thousands of engineering and design changes of past 3 decades but lets talk about design transformation now.



Huge to Sleek

From huge and long hoods but now cars are sleek and even tyers are small making it look seamless from start to end.

1.618 factor

Every architect, designer understands the glorified “1.618” or The Golden Ratio. 
Automobiles are no more untouched of this number. To give a sense of organic beauty and how one can use the legendary number to use.

1.618 factor in car design
Aston Martin Rapide S

Design v/s engineering

Cars that are heavy on design front but are not practical, end up going nowhere What appears beautiful needs to be functional too.

Ford Edsel

Ford designers wanted to make Edsel stand out and they bet on the vertical grille. A car’s grille has a specific purpose of allowing air into the engine assembly to keep the engine cool. To keep the Edsel running, that vertical grille had to be enormous, which made the entire car look silly in the eyes of critics and consumers. Because of this issue, it was bought only for collection and hence called a collector’s car. Not practical.

Ferrari car design
Ferrari Halo

Low height and visibility issues

Majority of sports cars struggle with road visibility issues. Thus making them damage/ accident-prone.
To some reports, Ferrari’s Halo had a visibility problem even on the track.

If you see, sports car and luxury cars like Lamborgini are built with a low ground clearance which is practically difficult when you use on the roads and Indian roads especially. They look beautiful in design but practically you can’t use these vehicles for daily commuting (but hey! who uses them daily)

Car Designed not for India

Where we are heading…

Cars were considered as luxury and as the time changed it is now a mix of design and practicality. Companies focused on aerodynamics, good built quality, sleekness, fluidity, and these have become an implicit need of the customers what’s next. Now, customers want cars which not only beautiful but practically useful. They will prefer the design which is made according to their surroundings. That means big brands now should think of going local

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