If you want to incorporate new materials into an automotive design, start talking to automakers very early in the design process, advised automotive designers at the Business of Design Week 2005 conference in Hong Kong. And think light - reducing weight will be a key requirement for the future, they said.
``From the launch of a car counting backwards about two years is the time the materials selection is frozen'' for new models, said Anthony Lo, advanced design director for General Motors Europe.
Developing a new model from scratch takes three to four years in Europe and two to three years in Japan, he said. That is too long, Lo lamented, because ``what seems to be in fashion now may not be in two to three years.''
Still, it is the reality. And designers rely on suppliers to show them the latest developments. But the actual colors and trim are not created by vendors, he said. General Motors has a color and trim group that does that.
As for what will be in fashion in the future, Lo figures green is in. Not the color, the concept. Environmental friendliness was the underlying message at the Tokyo Motor Show in October, he said.
The Business of Design Week conference, held November 19-23 in Hong Kong, included more than just automotive design. It touched on hospitality, branding, retail, and lifestyle design. Plastics figured in many of the presentations.
Ross Lovegrove, founder of Lovegrove Studio in London, looks to nature when he works, whether it is designing a water bottle or the interior of a jetliner.
``Design is the fusion of materials, technology and form,'' he said. ``The more we can study and emulate natural principles, the more we can create things with beauty and function.''
Lovegrove sees lightweight plastics as the wave of the future, both to reduce waste and oil usage. ``I look at material flow and have to scrape away volume,'' he said.
Lovegrove isn't waiting around for new materials to be presented to him. He advocates a proactive approach. ``Design has to drive the need for materials,'' he said.
What Lovegrove said he tries to understand more than anything is how to reduce weight. ``If you could get into every aspect of polymers, from virgin polymers to mixed polymers, you could put them together in intelligent ways.''
Lovegrove had especially harsh words for automotive design, which he said is going through a ``terrible period.''
``The technology has changed, but the expression is the same as 20 years ago,'' he said.
Cars are becoming more complicated, with more components. His vision? ``I see things like bubbles with carbon wheels.''
That kind of radical change wouldn't fly at Porsche, a division of Volkswagen AG. Porsche designers are charged with maintaining the Porsche tradition, said Pinky Lai, general manager for design, global customers and special projects.
``Our designers really have a hard time,'' he said. ``You are not supposed to make any revolution.''
When Porsche does consider a change, getting it approved can take years because of the rigorous testing, Lai said. To have a new color approved, for example, ``we have to have it sit in the sun in Phoenix for a year,'' he said.
Don't expect any radical changes in upcoming models, either. ``You will see just enough novelty so they can say it is new,'' Lai said.
Companies looking to turn Porsche on to new materials should eye other projects Lai is working on, such as speed boats.
``Something new is happening there, [and] it is about materials,'' said Lai. He declined to divulge details, but added, ``I rely on the industry to keep me up to date on new materials in powerboats.''