LONDON (June 19, 1:15 p.m. ET) — Two leading car designers at the Product Design + Innovation conference in London last month provided insights into the thinking at BMW and McLaren Automotive, carmakers that are leading the way in developing lightweight vehicles that rely on composite materials.
The BMW i3 electric city car will be the first in a series from the German group which will have a CFRP body structure. BMW has worked closely with SGL Automotive Carbon Fibres in the development of these materials.
At the conference, Benoit Jacob, head of design at BMWi, discussed the company's open approach to new materials. He said BMWi has looked at the possible use of plastics reinforced with natural fibers for interior trim parts, and also textiles made from recycled PET.
The BMWi design program has more freedom than traditional BMW car designs. For example, BMWi cars do not require a big hood housing a combustion engine.
Jacob said BMWi's designers are making the most of the opportunities open to them. One idea they are exploring is designing interiors that appeal to a calm style of driving.
The exterior of the cars expresses the lightweight technology, a deliberate design decision, Jacob said.
In answer to a question about whether a car can be both lightweight and premium, Jacob said: “It's not a contradiction. It depends how clever you design.”
Speaking in a different session at the conference, Frank Stephenson, design director at McLaren Automotive, questioned whether electric cars will form the future of the automotive industry. The principal quest is reducing car weight and bringing down the cost of lightweight technology, he said.
Stephenson said McLaren's design team has been looking at designs in nature to help with its work. To help the team's understanding of fish hydrodynamics, Stephenson bought a marlin in Florida and brought it back to its UK design centre to be 3D scanned.
Looking to the future, Stephenson tantalized delegates with the prospect of a color-changing chameleon car. He asked: “If you have a car that is red on Monday, why can't it be blue on Tuesday?”
The Product Design + Innovation conference was organized by Crain Communications.