A historian and a design strategist walk into a virtual studio. . . .
By Gary S. Vasilash
If a person who was interested in a career in the auto industry did just one of the things that Karl Ludvigson has done in his time on the scene, that would be a notable accomplishment.
Ludvigson has been a:
Designer at General Motors
PR guy at GM
VP of Corporate Affairs at Fiat Motors of North America
Technical editor of Auto Age and Sports Car Illustrated
Editor-in-Chief of Car and Driver
VP of Ford of Europe
And there are more items on his resume.
In addition to which he has been deeply involved in motor sports, which has given rise to a book shelf worth of tomes on racers including Jackie Stewart, Juan Manuel Fangio, Emerson Fittipaldi and more.
He has written another shelf’s-worth on companies including Porsche and Ferrari, on specific vehicle, and even on vehicle components.
His knowledge of the auto industry is, in a word, breathtaking.
Ostensibly, Ludvigson came on this edition of “Autoline After Hours” to promote his most-recent volume, Fast Friends, in which he writes about an array of people who he had the opportunity to know. But functionally, Ludvigson shares a portion of his wealth of knowledge not only about people he has known, but about the design and development of a number of important vehicles.
Joining him on the show—in addition to “Autoline’s” John McElroy and me—is Jim Hall, a walking Wikipedia of automotive knowledge and recent GM retiree, who was working on strategic design before he departed the automaker.
This is a show where the depth of discussion of, primarily, the recent past of the auto industry is discussed, although how those developments have come to affect what is on the road today is revealed, with a particular emphasis on automotive design, which Ludvigson and Hall are particularly well-versed in.
And while this may sound as though it may be a dry recitation of what once was with a glance at what is, know that it is anything but.
BMW owns Designworks, which has a studio in Newbury Park, California. Newbury Park is not on the Pacific. But not far from it, either.
Designworks designs a variety of things, including, well, BMWs. But it has also collaborated with airlines, the North Face, and other companies for which they’re not designing cars.
The latest company: Sea Ray.
The boat producer.
Designworks collaborated with Sea on the Sundancer 370 Outboard. The Sundancer series is celebrating its 45th anniversary.
Charlie Foss, Sea Ray Design Director, said, “Working together with Designworks, we were able to produce a fresh set of design principles that pay homage to our brand’s past which indicating the future, resulting in a look that is undeniably Sea Ray. An output of the collaboration was the definition of four key design characteristics to inform Sea Ray models moving forward: sleek, confident, athletic and distinctive.”
Beyond BMW’s ownership of Designworks, there is another connection between Sea Ray and automotive.
Foss: “Automotive-inspired design is part of the Sea Ray history, dating back to collaboration with Harley Earl Associates in the early 1960s.”
Earl was the first head of the General Motors Art and Color Section, established by Alfred P. Sloan in 1928. Earl headed GM design until 1958. He turned 65. He had to retire. (He was succeeded by Bill Mitchell.) And then he established his own firm. Earl died in 1969, age 75, in West Palm Beach, Florida. Which is on the Atlantic.
Tom Liu said it had to be “instantly recognizable.” He also said that he was influenced in the exterior design of the vehicle, which he helped create, by the F-22 Raptor, which, ironically enough, is a stealth fighter, which is, by its design, not to be seen (OK, at least not by sensors).
There was also a convenience to this: Liu was talking about the design of the 2021 Ford F-150 Raptor, the third generation of the vehicle that is built to be able to perform off road and fast—desert racing, in particular, as Carl Widmann, Ford Performance chief engineer, said, “Raptor is rooted in Baja 1000 racing,” and added, “And like a trophy truck, every aspect of Raptor has been engineered to deliver precision capability when your foot is flat on the floor, way out in the middle of nowhere roaring across the desert.”
To the point of Liu and the Raptor the fighter jet and Raptor the truck that is literally engineered to catch air during some of its off-road exploits, he said that like the aircraft, the truck is “Fast, nimble and technologically advanced. It is American power and performance. It is packed with technology—and it looks menacing.”
So there are things like a heat extractor on the power dome hood and functional side vents at the top trailing edges of the front fenders that are to provide a visual nod to the air intakes on the F-22. There are shear surfaces that are stealth-like. And adding to the menace are aspects including the blacked-out grille, blacked-out taillights, massive steel front and rear bumpers, and a massive front skid plate.
It looks fit for purpose and its purpose probably isn’t making a run to the store for a gallon of milk. (Not that you couldn’t, of course.)
The F-150 Raptor is based on the F-150 that contractors and others who are not likely to do much in the way of rock crawling in. It is built on the same assembly line at the Dearborn Truck Plant in Dearborn, Michigan (or about 2,400 miles from Ensenada, where the Baja 1000 starts: there isn’t a whole lot of desert around Dearborn).
But it is an F-150 that has been built to take a whole different set of parameters in terms of what it is likely to encounter: for example, while they start with the heavy payload, fully boxed steel frame from the “regular” truck, Jack Cooper, architecture engineer for Ford Performance, said that they’ve modified and reinforced it.
A notable difference truck-wise is the chassis. There is a newly developed five-link rear suspension that features extra-long trailing arms, a Panhard rod, and 24-inch coil springs. “We couldn’t find it in the parts bin,” program manager Tony Greco says of why they had to devise a new rear suspension. The front suspension has been redesigned, as well. One of the key aspects of the suspension for a vehicle like a Raptor is wheel travel. The suspension for this third-generation vehicle is 14 inches in the front and 15 inches in the rear.
The shocks are FOX Live Valves. These internal bypass shocks feature electronic control technology that permits damping rate adjustments at a rate of 500 times per second; the shocks, which have 3.1-inch diameter anodized aluminum bodies, feature base valves that provide 1,000 pounds of damping per corner at racing speeds.
While the standard Raptor runs on 35-inch tires, it can be equipped with a package that brings it up to 37 inches, or what Ford says are the largest factory-fitted tires on a light-duty full size pickup.
Among the tech aspects of the new Raptor are:
Terrain Management System: dial in adjustments that change the steering feel, transfer case behavior, stability control, active valve exhaust, active damping, throttle mapping, shift points, and digital display. There are seven modes: Slippery, Tow/Haul, Sport, Normal, Off-Road, Baja and Rock Crawl.
Trail 1-Pedal Drive: In situations that call for two-pedal driving like crawling rocks or negotiating trying trails, this function allows throttle and brake modulation through the brake pedal. The driver gets acceleration by pushing down on the throttle and braking by lifting.
360-degree camera package: This option, in addition to providing an all-around view, provides a real-time tire track overlay for the front view, which means that the path ahead of the wheels can be seen such that a spotter may not be necessary.
The Raptor has a 3.5-liter EcoBoost V6 engine with twin turbos. While the horsepower and torque numbers aren’t released as of this writing, Ford describes it as a “high-output engine delivering torque low in the rev range where it counts,” so presumably it has the stuff to deal with the sand as well as that to skim over it. And on the subject of driving hard, it has high-power fans built into the cooling system. The compression ratio is 10.5:1.
The engine is mated to a 10-speed automatic which, in turn, is attached to a torque-on-demand transfer case.
There are standard electronic locking rear diff and an available Torson front limited-slip differential. They are fitted with 4:10 final drive ratios.
There is something that seems a bit odd about the powertrain system. There is a 36-gallon gas tank. It is recommended that it be filled with premium unleaded.
According to Duncan Aldred, vice president, Global Buick and GMC, the Buick brand has been doing an excellent job of bringing in new customers, with 72% of those opting to buy from what is now an all-crossover lineup—Enclave, Encore, Encore GX and Envision—being new to the brand.
The 2021 Envision is the launch of the second generation of the compact crossover; it is competing in what Aldred describes as “one of the industry’s most competitive segments.”
Helen Emsley, executive director, Global Buick and GMC Design, says, “The new Envision has a more athletic presence that is full of character.”
Which is sort of the thing that one would say. After all, who wants a crossover that has a couch-potato presence with an undifferentiated persona?
That said, the designers took what is become a familiar shape (“most competitive segments” means that one hell of a lot of vehicles of this type are being sold) and put in some nice character lines on the bodyside as well created a highly styled but not fussy front fascia that provides differentiation.
What’s more, Emsley points out that the new Envision is lower and wider than the model it replaces, and while that, again, is the sort of thing that is often said, she really means it.
The first generation Envision is 72.4 inches wide and 66.8 inches high. The new one is 74.1 inches wide and 64.6 inches high, which is a visible, and substantial, difference, making the new vehicle look much more planted than its predecessor.
The vehicle is being offered in three trims: Preferred, Essence and Avenir, with the latter being the most luxe of the three and the preceding two being offered with a Sport Touring package.
The Avenir variant brings 20-inch wheels that have a Pearl Nickel finish. The Sport Touring versions of the other trims have darkened 20 inch wheels. That is a telegraphing cue of the approach. (There are also grille differences, but let’s face it: the wheels are a clear statement.)
The Envision comes with one powertrain choice: a 228-hp, turbocharged I4 mated to a nine-speed automatic. There are both FWD and AWD.
On the inside, there is Buick’s first 10.2-inch-diagonal color touch screen because, well, this is a new model and it would be unthinkable to go with something smaller.
One dimension is probably more notable to people who are going to take their Envision on a road trip, which is that for the cargo space. If the second row is in use, then there’s 25.2 cubic feet behind it. If the second row seatback is folded, then there’s 52.7 cubic feet. Nicely utile.
Here’s a feature that seems most timely: an air ionizer that includes an “air quality indicator.” It is standard on Essence and Avenir and available on Preferred. Here’s guessing it will be more engaging for Envision drivers than the Buick-exclusive Reese’s Book Club app. Were this, say, January 2020, it would probably be just the opposite.
When Marc Lichte, head of Audi Design, unveiled the Audi e-tron GT concept at the 2018 LA Auto Show, he described it as “The most beautiful car I have ever drawn.”
Lichte even thinks that this vehicle—which will be unveiled in its production version on February 9—will become a new design icon for the brand, answering a question whether that is the case by saying, “Yes, without a doubt.” But he acknowledges, “A car must acquire this reputation on the road—in an overstimulated environment that creates the will to strive for orientation.”
Which presumably means: cars may look great in studios or on turntables at auto shows (remember auto shows?), but you’ve got to get them out in the real world where they exist in relation to other vehicles.
Lichte went on to day: “True design icons have something that is unmistakably clear: For example, it takes only three lines to characterize a VW Beetle or a Porsche 911. They stand for a clear attitude.”
Given that all of the brands are under the Volkswagen Group umbrella, Lichte is undoubtedly well aware of the vehicles like the Beetle and the 911, which are certainly good bars to work to equal or exceed.–gsv
“Exterior design gets them in the vehicle. Interior design keeps them there.”
That may be an old truism, but it is likely accurate.
Consider—what if you’re in the market for a new car and see something that really looks awesome. You know that you’d be proud each and every time you walk up to it in your driveway. You know that you’d be proud to have it in your driveway so your neighbors can see what incredible taste you have.
So you open the door, climb inside, get behind the wheel and—meh.
Nothing special. Maybe underwhelming.
So you figure that this may not be the best choice. After all, while you’re going to see the outside of the vehicle for a minute or two as you approach it, you’re going to be looking at—and using—what’s on the inside for hours on end.
A whole lot.
And as the transportation industry moves toward a state where there may be less ownership and increased use of ride hailing, what is going to make the most difference between using Service L and Service U may be the interior execution and amenities.
Yanfeng is a global supplier, with more than 240 branches and some 64,000 employees networked around the world. It specializes in interiors, seating, cockpit electronics, passive safety and more.
Jeff Stout leads global research into technology and mobility for Yanfeng. (To the point of the wide span of the company’s operations, he has an office in Holland, Michigan.)
One of the areas that he and his colleagues are most interested in is what electrification and automation are going to mean vis-à-vis automotive interior development.
For example, in an EV, where there is certainly a consideration when it comes to using stored energy, they are looking at improved thermal management approaches, such as using large interior surfaces—from door trim panels to headliners—as heat sources rather than relying on the blower of a conventional HVAC system.
When it comes to autonomous driving, there are a range of considerations, from monitoring driver awareness for Levels 2 and 3, to how do you assure that the interior of a vehicle is sanitized in shared vehicles so that people are willing to climb in one that someone has climbed out of. (In this case, one of the answers is UV light.)
Stout talks about these and other topics on this edition of “Autoline After Hours” with “Autoline’s” John McElroy, Pete Bigelow of Automotive News and me.
It is an hour-long, wide ranging discussion that goes from the inside of vehicles to the market at large, to an analysis and assessment of what’s happening now and what could happen in the not-too-distant future.
Kia is a company on the move, with hopes to have global sales of 2.92 million vehicles in 2021, up from the 2.61-million sales it had in 2020.
This will be bolstered by its brand transformation plan that is predicated on something called “Plan S,” a business strategy. The company is working to improve its profitability through flexible production operations in the regions it operates in.
For example, in the U.S. it produces the Telluride, Sorrento and K5 (previously known as the Optima), and in 2020, the Telluride (75,129) and Sorento (74,677) were its third and fourth overall best-selling vehicles in the market.
And there is something else that will certainly help.
Going from this logo:
Yes, that will certainly make a difference for a company whose vehicles are so design-forward.–gsv