The Truth About Cars » industrial design The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Sat, 19 Jul 2014 17:00:13 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » industrial design Vellum Venom Vignette: World Industrial Design Day Fri, 27 Jun 2014 11:37:40 +0000

This Sunday is World Industrial Design Day, a day when the ID Community brings awareness of this profession’s value. Though I left The College for Creative Studies with my tail between my legs, ID’s blending of business/entrepreneurship, art and science still charms me.  So let’s examine two ignition keys that owe their existence to the craft known as industrial design.

The BMW i8 is a revolutionary piece of Transportation Design. The i8′s key is no slouch in the Industrial Design department. Without rehashing what others say, it’s clear that Industrial Designers took the best attributes of the i8, the smart phone and today’s latest ignition keys to make something stunning.


Not to mention the i8′s key fob has a style that looks great in your hand and (sorta) blends into the assertive wedge forms present on the i8 console.  It’s a great piece of Industrial Design that forces you to consider how an Industrial Designer enriched your automotive hobby/career.

Take this “utility” key for example:

In some respects the Ford Pinto was an underrated piece of Engineering and Industrial Design. Sure, it needed that rubber pad to protect the gas tank from the rear axle.  But when it comes to simple, durable and honest Design, the Pinto worked.

Certainly not VW Beetle stylish nor Honda Civic enlightened, but dig this key: once cut for your ignition this baby gapped spark plugs, screwed down anything under the hood, let you crack open a beer and then fire up the beast so you can drive with a cold brew in your hand while you keep on truckin!!! 

Perhaps I got that last part wrong, so I am ready for the Best and Brightest to correct my weak Nixon Era Ford knowledge. But the Pinto utility key looks like the coolest gadget to have in your pocket in the early 1970s.  What the hell is an Apple iPhone anyway?  Sounds like gibberish talk of those nattering nabobs of negativism!

Just make sure you know which gap on the gapping tool is the right one for your engine.

Nice job integrating the Pinto logo and patriotic color scheme on a tool that elegantly and cheaply combines many things into a small hunk of metal. And that’s the heart of Industrial design: it plays a crucial role in dreaming, engineering (in theory) and producing exceptional products. The bottle opener is a bizarre feature by today’s standards, but it proves yesteryear was a simpler and stupider time.

And the Pinto/i8 keys do show how Industrial Design advanced over the decades. So to you, dear reader, Happy World Industrial Design Day!

Thank you for reading and have a fantastic weekend.

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Vellum Venom: 2013 Lincoln MKZ Thu, 05 Jun 2014 13:07:15 +0000 Car Design college was a wake-up call for this auto-obsessed kid: it festered with two-faced people. There are bastard-coated souls smiling to your face, stabbing you in the back during Portfolio Review. Or friends that pity you, being your crutch via white lies and false kindness.  Bad news, especially for a Lincoln-Mercury fanboi saddened by how the MKZ became as two-faced as the industry that spawned it.


1The Lincoln MKZ trades the sistership Ford Fusion’s wannabe Aston schnoz for a gigantic butterfly smashed on the face of today’s upright, stubby proportioned sedan. It works, as there’s a balance of soft curves and thin lines with hard bends and thick marks.

The butterfly grille is organic but peep that Chevelle SS worthy hood bulge! The bulge has a strong center backbone and “power dome” shape that shrinks as it reaches the front fascia. Very Hot Rod Lincoln.


2The grille’s thick/thin teeth add significant depth. Their harmonizing with the grille frame’s upward bend only adds to the butterfly effect.

2_1Note the bumper’s creased beak: too subtle to catch the eye, yet clashes with Lincoln’s new “point free” emblem.  This nose either needs a belt sander or the 2014 Navigator emblem.

3Aside from the plastic block off plates as the grille reaches the headlight (note how the black abruptly turns gray), this is an elegant piece of kit.

4The butterfly grille effortlessly translates and surrounds the pointy-fast headlight assembly.  It’s a dramatic change from the first MKZ, as you’d be hard pressed to mistake it for a Fusion. (yet) The lower valence’s chrome trim and fog light harmonize with the butterfly too.

4_1The headlights may look flat, but not so!

5_1Note the lighter red section below my finger: an interesting soft bend at the hood’s edge, in contrast to the power done hood. Forehead much? It’d be less flabby if the bend started with the headlight’s leading edge and swept back into the body. Then, instead of being a receding hairline, we’d see a transition between the hood-fender cut line and the central power dome.


6Too bad about the solid grill space on the lower valence. It looks cheap, yet nothing like the yards of fake texture on spindle-grilled Lexi and big mouth Audis.


7Aside from that odd forehead (it really needs to start at the headlights) the MKZ pushes the right buttons.  Everything dances to the same DJ, and the bumper’s soft curve sympathizes with the butterfly grille. And it transitions to the muscular fender haunch well.

7_1No overhang and a very European signal light; tightly constrained by the wheel arch’s flat edge.  And if Edsel Ford’s Continental was influenced by the Europeans…wink, wink!


7_2Interesting interplay between smoked and shiny surfaces!  The MKZ’s rims blends unique ideas seamlessly, in stark contrast to the rough draft originally seen on the MKS.


8Clean, restrained firewall design: good use of what should rightly be a small patch of real estate.


9And then it became all Fusion: the latest iteration of wrong-wheel drive American Luxury is a Fusion with more chrome.  Literally, thanks to the solid chrome DLO Fail between the A-pillar and the door.

11The MKZ chrome DLO FAIL looks more expensive than the Fusion, in the same way Target is classier than WalMart.


10Again, too much of a Fusion…even if it really isn’t.  If you are a badge engineer, my analysis of the Fusion will come in handy. The door skins are different, but something’s lost in translation. Perhaps it’s the BMW style handles. Or the less edgy cut lines that still retain the Fusion’s angular windows. More on those later.

The point? The “let’s avoid badge engineering” mantra that we all believe needed more money, more dedication and less modification of an existing platform to work on the MKZ.


12A fixed vent window paired with DLO fail?  Usually one replaces the other, but the MKZ needs ‘em both to “accomplish” an A-pillar with such speed. Ford’s insistence to honor Aston Martin via family sedan failed. (Aston uses the fixed window, which obviously works on that body.)

13The chrome-y Fusion mirrors work quite well.  Too bad they aren’t unique, but whatever. This isn’t the first (last?) front wheel drive Lincoln to portend the brand’s future, as this isn’t a 1988 Continental.


14Wait, is this one of them fancy flagship BMW 7 series door pulls? A pretty shameful rip off.  So kudos to Lincoln for not raiding Ford’s parts bin, ribbons of shame for raiding BMW’s warehouse instead.

15This MKZ-specific B-pillar cut line works better than the Fusion from whence it came: the door and B-pillar share a common line.

16Too bad about the C-pillar: the MKZ’s cut line is flabby on such a porky side profile. The Fusion’s extra surface tension enhances the package, instead of adding unnecessary rotund-ness.

Perhaps badge engineering ain’t such a bad thing, no?  No, it’s bad…that was a trick question, son!

17And this is where it gets screwy: remember the balance of soft (butterfly) and hard (power dome hood) elements up front? There’s a bizarre, two-faced, ending to this tale. (tail?)

18The problem stems from the razor-sharp tail lights, artificially pushing back to the quarter panel/C-pillar.  And the soft spot once reserved for a “tire hump” or faux Continental kit. It’s the same idea as the power dome hood, taken to an incorrect extreme. What was needed?

The ideal balance of soft and hard elements presented up front.  How the MKZ’s butterfly grille blends with the curves of its lower valence.  This avoids the two faces of the MKZ’s design.

18_1The rear door’s flab looks muscular from here, but the number of cut lines implies “hack job”.  That is, there’s nothing luxurious about three different seams/panels on a trunk lid.


18_3Maybe this would be awesome if the front end ditched the butterfly for something in a Robocop.


18_2Nah, Robocop can’t handle these flabby planes with voluptuous BMW door pulls. But kudos are in order for not adding DLO fail to the C-pillar, like the original, super badge engineered, Lincoln MKZ.

19This is where things get ugly. Perhaps the decklid’s extra black trim is an homage to the Continental tire hump. Perhaps the two antennas (especially the quarter panel’s fixed mast) honors the CB radios that kept the Bandit out of Smokey’s reach. Or it’s just a sloppy workaround for a moving roof panel.

Then there’s the flush mounted spoiler out back: too many parts to make a single trunk lid!

19_1The extra crease adds another harsh element to the MKZ’s contrived tail.  It’s almost an homage to the Bangle Butt 7-series of yesteryear; begging for the refined (refined-ish) butt of today’s 7-series: Vellum Venom review here.

20Here you see the rotund-ness of the lower valence, in shocking contrast to the trunk lid.  Notice how rapidly the tailpipes fade to a distant vanishing point, compared to the gentle curve of the tail light.

21The harsh crease (mentioned above) encapsulates the problem: it lacks the elegance of the power dome hood on the MKZ’s butterfly front schnoz.  TWO-FACED! It’s an edgy and lumpy border, just as looney as a Continental tire hump. At least the tire hump had some precedence, and uber presence.

22The chrome lettering, spread out like the C-O-N-T-I-N-E-N-T-A-L emblems on a 1960-80s Lincoln tire hump, works elegantly.

23As do the flat top haircut with furrowed eyebrow tail lights from this angle.


23_1But there’s nothing Kid ‘n Play about the lower portion’s voluptuousness.


24The MKZ’s harsh creases accentuate with an open moon roof.  The power top must shadow the roof’s elegant curve (lest it never seals to the body), while the quarter panel has none of that.


25Speaking of seals: the smushed rubber at the end is less than reassuring.


26Definitely some “groovy” engineering involved to “channel” that much glass that far back.


27Perhaps my “moonroof must shadow the roof’s elegant curve” comment was incorrect. The glass top isn’t beautiful when unfurled, it’s actually ungainly.


28The shiny black trim looks sleek with the roof closed.  The implication of what’s possible is quite cool: the roof will slide down these rails?

No matter the MKZ’s flaws, this is still a bad ass design feature.

29Ditto the black trunk panel, just don’t  step back to see it’s misplaced round curvature. Maybe a larger swath of deck lid needed the blackout treatment.



While Fusion has poorly finished metalwork here, the MKZ’s rubber needs much detailing to avoid the ravages of time. Totally worth owning such a huge glass roof.  Or not: skip the two faced, almost-there badge engineering and get the Fusion.

Thanks for reading, I hope you have a lovely weekend.

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Vellum Venom: Uwe Bahnsen, Car Designer, RIP Thu, 08 Aug 2013 03:51:41 +0000 photo

Never forget: people make all the difference.  This often overlooked fact in the glamorous world of automotive styling rings true for the life of Mr. Uwe Bahnsen. I froze in my tracks when I heard of his passing on Car Design News. His work at Ford and with the Industrial Design community influenced me, and every American who loved cars in the 1980s.

How ironic that Mr. Bahnsen’s passing was the week TTAC’s own Ford Sierra passed its citizenship test in Texas: so here’s a great Germanic-Texas Beer for you, Mr. Bahnsen.

Every car is designed by a team–not a person—but the kind words spoken about Uwe’s life say he was no ordinary designer.  And he was a good man: so instead of paraphrasing Wikipedia and the great work by Car Design News, let’s see what he did for us.

Bahnsen’s work with the “bathtub” Ford Taunus P3 and second generation Escort/Capri are impressive alone.  Especially the P3, a progressive–if not radical–design for the early 1960s.  But what’s the Super Bowl of a car designer’s career?  Being the VP of Design, making a paradigm-shifting sedan that sells well around the world. A vehicle that lives long enough to go from radical to mainstream over the course of a decade.

That work is the 1982 Ford Sierra. Unlike more exotic brands (Audi 100 and beyond) that went “Aero” thanks to pricey Italian design and/or expensive engineering for limited production, the Sierra was wholly affordable and completely common. A people’s car like the Model T and VW Beetle…just not to that famous of an extent.

Sierra meets the big fan…

But you catch my drift. Us Yanks only know the Sierra in Cosworth/Merkur drag, so perhaps the firsthand experience of Bahnsen’s hard work as told by Mr. John Topley says it best:

“It’s difficult for me to convey just how radical the Sierra was when it was launched. This was the car that replaced twenty years of the Ford Cortina, a favourite with both fleet and family buyers in Britain. By 1982 the Cortina was looking pretty tired. It was still a best seller but by all accounts it wasn’t a great drive and the technology was pretty agricultural. In spite of which, Britain was still buying masses of them.

By contrast, the new Sierra looked like nothing else around, aside from the even more radical Audi 100 which came out at the same time. I think the Sierra was more important though because it was a mass market rather than executive car.”

Moments in time like these are rare, how often does a design change the way a person moves?  On multiple continents, for over a decade?  This moment elevated the car design game thanks in part to Ford’s Aerospace division, the beginnings of finite element analysis, and usage of new technologies that made the Sierra’s wraparound bumpers and ergonomic dashboards so cutting-edge. It’s a most fertile ground for a designer.

While we (probably) live in the Golden Age of technology, Uwe Bahnsen’s world experienced a far more dramatic change from far less technology. Aside from the aforementioned Audi, most carmakers embraced this technology/design philosophy years later. Boo to them: Uwe and his team were on the cusp of something special…the future!

Uwe Bahnsen made the most of this opportunity, take it from the guy that owns one of his creations.  To this day, the original Ford Sierra looks more futuristic than a Toyota Prius, providing an ownership experience that satisfies the senses like a far more expensive BMW. This doesn’t happen often, especially in America.

More to the point, the Sierra is an ergonomic and aesthetic treat. I’d love to ask Mr. Bahnsen hundreds of questions about his life, but the fact remains: his contribution to the Automobile shall never be forgotten.

Thank you all for reading, I hope you have a lovely week.


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Piston Slap: Some Venom for Andrew’s Vellum? Mon, 12 Mar 2012 11:39:46 +0000


Andrew writes:

Hi Sajeev,

I always enjoy reading your nuggets of design wisdom and critique on TTAC. From your articles, its obvious you know some rather talented designers, and definitely have some interesting stories.

If you could spare a moment of your time for a TTAC reader, I’m looking for some feedback on my industrial design portfolio; I’m trying to land my first proper design job that I’ll be happy with after graduating in April of last year. I’m currently working in a somewhat related field in a job that pays well but gives me no joy.

My website is at, I’d like rather honest feedback, whether harsh or good. If you were a hiring manager a design firm, would you give me an interview? And if not, what needs to change?

Much Thanks,

Andrew Lowe

Sajeev answers:

Andrew, you a certainly a gifted designer…definitely like one of the guys I’d just watch in amazement when I was in design school.

Your portfolio is pretty impressive for someone right out of college, especially working cross-functionally with engineering students on the Moon Buggy!  I love it.  I hope every Industrial design professional would like the content on your website.  Only a real douchebag (of which there are many) will have serious problems with what is presented. Don’t let them bring you down.

My recommendation is twofold: I need your ideation sketches.  How do you sketch something? How does your sketch sell the premise of the product to your manager? To their manager?  To a potential investor?

While I never officially put my time at CCS to good use, I did use my (pathetic) drawing skills to good use in the world of the MBA Business Plan competition.  I sketched a product, wrote its key features, and showed it to my team for criticism.  Then I made a nicer one to show to our professors and those who will be critiquing our business plan.  Finally, I made a stripped down drawing with minimal text for our official PowerPoint presentation to use at the actual competitions.

I personally think this kind of experience should be mandatory in Design School.  But that would require a lot of Entrepreneurs/MBAs in the mix.  And maybe, after seeing both sides, that will never work in higher education. For shame.

My second recommendation?  Industrial designers and most artists are too damn verbose. I always thought portfolios should use more bullet pointing of key features/actions/etc of your projects to show things off as purely as your renderings. Again, that’s the MBA in me speaking from Elevator Pitch experience.  But then again, if a kid that went to CCS can do cold calling and corporate-level sales in the same decade…maybe there’s something to it.

I wish you the best of luck; you obviously have talent and know a bit about marketing and sales.  If you didn’t, you’d be like every other I.D. student: unable to read the comments posted by our Best and Brightest because of your letter to me. And if for some reason you become miserable in Industrial Design, be like me and get an MBA. I think you will enjoy learning that end of the “business.”

Send your queries to . Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry.

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Piston Slap: Automotive Design Studio Inbreeding? Wed, 22 Feb 2012 12:57:52 +0000


TTAC Commentator halftruth writes:

Hey Sajeev,

I see a lot of manufacturers using the binocular style gauge motif (see Hyundai Elantra, 2011 Avalon, Chevy Cruze for example) and I hate it! I also see a lot of carmakers using the upside down triangle motif in a lot of their steering wheel designs.  We can even throw in the obligatory fuel AND coolant gauge.. they all seem to do this same thing with little variation. That said, if we look thru history, this mimicking has always gone on.

But why? Sometimes a bad idea is just that and shouldn’t be copied: I am reminded of huge gaudy consoles that take up legroom- for an automatic.

Sajeev answers:

Many, many moons ago, I studied Industrial Design at the College for Creative Studies. I was deluded enough to think I could be the next Harley Earl/Bill Mitchell/Jack Telnack. Instead I learned a truth of the car business from the perspective of an idealistic college student.

And if you notice an undercurrent of bitterness and sarcasm in my writings, well that’s also a byproduct of my time in design school. But I digress…

Binocular style gauge clusters?  They make you feel like you’re on a motorcycle.  Which is cool, even if you don’t get it.  After all, who doesn’t want a crotch rocket over a family sedan? I guarantee you that every clinic-demographic study done by the automakers justifies this styling trend.

Upside down triangle wheels?  Actually, I am okay with this one: tillers are more than just a way to steer and save your bacon (airbag) in a head-on collision. Thanks to cruise control, audio control, climate control and SYNC-like interfaces, the wheel should be a charming piece of design to keep you interested in the technology…when parked.

My point: the car business is a lead-then-follow industry.  Someone has the balls to do something nuts, and when said loony activity makes money, everyone jumps on the bandwagon.  Cadillacs got tailfins. BMWs got Bangle-Butts, Ford made the Taurus/Sable. Chrysler produced the Minivan. Nissan put clear taillights on the Altima. Technology like SYNC gave new purpose to an old steering wheel. And people like a sedan/CUV that’s influenced by a sporty motorcycle, too.

It all brings home the bacon. As Grandmaster Flash said:

“Cause it’s all about the Money, ain’t a damn thing Funny.

You got to have a con in this land of Milk and Honey.”

Bonus!  A Piston Slap Nugget of Wisdom:

When did you realize this sad truth about car design?

I learned about copycat designs with my favorite car, a 1983 (Fox Body) Lincoln Continental that’s been in the Mehta garage since 1986.  At the time, the Hooper inspired “bustleback” coachwork from Lincoln, Cadillac and Chrysler proved that everyone had the same idea. And I am not sure if any other moment in history made the point quite this clear!

Hooper’s designs were famous for a long hood, short deck and a sweeping beltline that dramatically tapered down to the rear bumper: the 1980 Cadillac Seville was the first to see gold in that pre-war styling notion.  Chrysler was certainly the wildest with the 1981 Imperial coupe, yet I thought the 1982 Fox Continental’s incorporation of the fake tire hump and Rolls Royce style grille (both Lincoln hallmarks for decades) worked the best on the retro-British theme. Plus, the automotive experts at Motor Trend liked the Foxy Conti better than the Seville, so now I know I’m 100% right.

Who knows, maybe disco music and endless lines of coke was part of the problem in the years leading up to those three redesigns. Or not.



Send your queries to . Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry.

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