Coventry Automotive Design Degree Show '13

Student design exhibitions are exciting, even more so when they’re the last stop before designing production cars that the rest of us might actually spend money on.

The Automotive Design degree show at Coventry University has thrown up more than a few prophetic creations over the last few years, and that’s hardly surprising as most graduates end up working for the big car companies, design consultancies, or attending the Royal College or Art’s Vehicle Design MA. Along with the Transport Design program - a subtly different course often focusing on civic and environmental mobility in a broader sense – this year’s show occupied a full two floors of the Maurice Foss building. The key themes for the class of 2013 were timely: address an aging human population and incorporate low carbon technology into the vehicles.

Future trends, today?

The status quo for design shows is that the final presentation is more the execution of an idea than a product in it’s own right, in this case a vehicle. Projects such as Thomas Watson’s energetic proposal for a future Tesla model, Marc Taylor's Audi e-Tron (above) and a handsome GT designed using biomimicry, by Will Lee Xiao, prove that this approach doesn’t always apply. Aesthetically, the trend was for hard, elongated forms, not dissimilar to Hyundai’s HCD-14 Concept or the Peugeot Onyx Concept unveiled last year. Photovoltaic graphene bodywork capable of powering a car and OLED (organic light emitting diodes) also featured. Audi, more than any other manufacturer, has experimented with OLED, often with kaleidoscopic results. The professors at Coventry may place an emphasis on feasibility – the area is famous for Land Rover amongst others – but these parameters are constantly being pushed, which is the point isn’t it?

One project that struck a chord was Tom Broadbent’s Emotional Longevity, which addressed the very modern culture of replacing things that don’t need replacing. It takes an enormous amount of energy to manufacture a car, so why do we replace ours every few years? An Alfa Romeo Junior GT from the seventies will always be greener than the latest Volkswagen BlueMotion, especially when that VW requires recycling – and yet more energy expenditure – a few years down the line. For Emotional Longevity wood, leather and, more fantastically, copper are the chief materials used - strong, natural materials that age and develop character.  Broadbent’s simple model belied the project’s pressing directive. 

Tom Broadbent: Learn to love your car and let it age gracefully. Natural materials offer longevitiy, character and class if given the chance.

Thomas Watson: There were more philosophical projects than this Tesla coupé but none as easy on the eye. Stays true to Franz von Holzhausen's front graphic and organic DLO.

At the other end of the scale was project car designed from the ground-up to be easily recyclable. Daniel Plenderleith’s Sustainable Ethos (below) is especially relevant against the backdrop of the UK’s widespread company car arrangements and our the industry’s current attitude of ‘build cheaply, worry about recycling later’. Panels and components wrought of a bamboo-resin composite, biodegradable plastics and recycled aluminium keep weight low and end-of-life energy waste low, too. Suicide doors add drama (and company directors queuing round the block) to this retrograde vehicle that preempts the end of the line.

Also popular were hydrogen powertrains, luxury cars for the Far East and cars that would appeal to more design conscious buyers. The last category included Michael Lastowski’s fashion-amplifying bodywork; projecting colours the driver is wearing onto the car’s exterior, but distorted by rippled surfacing. Another project by Sepehr Amirseyedi turned the supercar ethos upside down, replacing power and speed the option of personalising unusual and exotic materials.

Daniel Plenderleith: The reason cars are so difficult and energy-consuming to recycle is because we build them that way. A step change in materials construction processess is needed.

Sepehr Amirseyedi: The supercar form is there: two-seats, steep rake, big wheels. Materials are the subject of interest for buyers, however, not power.

Will Lee Xiao: Strong leading edges and supple but unwavering lines mimic biological forms. Biomimicry in design tends to yield highly efficient shapes that are fundamentally attractvie.

Michael Lastowski: Although this chameleon of a car's party-piece is absent from the model, the theory is that it augments the driver's fashion sense, colour-matching it onto the body.

Stu Crew: Unlike most projects, this is one ready to go, using a range extended drivetrain for power and biodegradable biocomposities, wood pulp fibres and even coconut shell for materials. 


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