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Regulations, expectations mean better cars

Smart solutions: Designing cars like the Ford Fusion/Mondeo for global markets presents designers with new challenges – but they say these challenges make them better at what they do.

Designers agree regulation, customer expectation makes them – and the cars – better

General News logo23 May 2012

EVER tougher regulations and increasing customer expectations make for better car designers – and the vehicles they create – according to three leading members of the Detroit vehicle design community.

Speaking at a recent Auto Press Association lunch in Detroit, Cadillac exterior design director Bob Boniface, Ford chief interior designer Mike Arbaugh and Chrysler’s head of SRT, Viper, Mopar and Motorsport design Mark Trostle provided an insight into the battle between creative spirit, satisfying regulations and pleasing the consumer.

They also shed light on challenges posed by the move by most manufacturers to develop more ‘global’ cars aimed at satisfying all the diverse markets around the world.

Mr Arbaugh described the challenge as “the difference between going to design school and learning how to style and becoming a professional designer”.

“It really challenges the designers and engineers to work with these regulations,” he said. “I think in the long run customers are getting better vehicles.”

Mr Trostle said there was reward in working around the constraints to come up with products customers want but “first and foremost make it exciting”, and suggested this was what defined him and his colleagues as designers.

“That’s what makes us all better – the challenge,” he said.

Mr Boniface agreed: “In racing, the rules that sound very restrictive sometimes make a faster car. Designing within constraints actually does make better cars.”

All three were of the opinion that if all countries could agree on a set of regulations, developing cars would become far easier and less expensive, but that cultural considerations also come into account.

80 center imageFrom top: Ford's Mike Arbaugh Cadillac's Bob Boniface Chrysler's Mark Trostle.

Speaking of the era before tight regulations or global cars, Mr Arbaugh joked, “designers had it much easier back then”.

He gave the example of the new Ford Fusion – which will be known in some markets including Europe and Australia as the Mondeo – as a car that was conceived from the outset to fulfill all world regulations and requirements.

“We had to deal with some requirements that we were not used to having to deal with because they were for other countries in the world, whether it was China or some countries in Europe,” said Mr Arbaugh.

“Right from the beginning we (had) to hit every one of the regulations, so it was an added challenge for us – but we did it.”

Mr Boniface said the difference in numberplate dimensions around the world sometimes proves troublesome, especially as the number of sensors mounted at the front of cars increased, ever-higher engine power outputs required larger air intakes and pedestrian impact regulations had to be taken into account.

“Each of those sensors has a cone that cannot be obscured by texture, by a license plate bracket or any variety of things, so the front of a car is a minefield now and there is a great big opening there to meet cooling requirements.

“We are a global company now and in every country the aspect ratio of the plate is different. Some plates are blocking the cooling opening, other plates are blocking the sensor cone, so it is remarkable cars look as different as they do.”

Mr Trostle said companies sometimes had to design different fascias for export vehicles, resulting in a “doubling up” of tasks that harmed efficiency.

The sentiment was seconded by Mr Boniface, who gave the example of GM products that sell in small numbers in certain markets requiring re-tooling.

“I don’t want to saddle all the North American cars with this baggage that they don’t need, so if we could have common regulations across countries it would be fantastic.”

Mr Arbaugh raised the subject of cultural differences with the requirement in China for large ashtrays and cigarette lighters in cars – things that have been all but eliminated from most vehicles for western markets.

“Here (in the US) we are getting away with just putting an ash cup into a vehicle in China we need a real ashtray with a lighter and enough space to put out a couple of cigarettes.

“That is something we are not even used to designing any more, it’s not on our radar in the studio where we are going to put the ashtray.

“That’s prime real estate. Where are we going to put this on the centre console that needs cupholders, a shifter, a media hub for your iPod and everything else.”

While none of the designers wished for a relaxation in safety regulations, they agreed that progress in this area makes it more difficult to satisfy mandatory fuel consumption and emissions standards due to the added weight of vehicle strengthening and safety technologies.

“It is counter-intuitive,” said Mr Arbaugh. “You want the vehicle to be light for better fuel economy so it performs better, but mass has certain limitations and the (safety authorities) want everything to be safer and they advertise towards those goals, so it is a big challenge.

“The B-pillars get bigger to deal with roll-over, the A-pillars get bigger to deal with other crash, side-impacted doors are getting thicker, so we start having a battle with engineers to develop thinner materials like ultra-high-strength steel so we can increase the size of the interior while the door panels are getting more safety features.”

Mr Boniface said that, in addition to having to accommodate physically larger people, safety requirements are increasing the size of vehicles.

“Rollover requirements and packaging airbags mean the rail that goes from the A-pillar back to the C-pillar is getting larger, so you expand the glass area, pedestrian protection requirements moves the hood up so the chair has to go up, the roof gets higher and the car is getting bigger despite the fact occupants may not be changing size.”

However, going back to the theme of designers having to be increasingly innovative, Mr Boniface described an advancement made for the Opel Ampera that reduced the weight of its wheels while improving aerodynamics.

He said a process called net forging resulted in a 17-inch alloy wheel weighing 7kg, and which then had aerodynamic inserts added.

“This wheel, the rim and the (inserts) together are lighter weight than the (Chevrolet/Holden) Volt wheel by itself so it’s a great wheel,” said Mr Boniface.

“There’s an added cost obviously because the inserts are not cheap … but there are a lot of things you can do that you wouldn’t first expect could be done.”

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