What makes good design? "It's more than just looking pretty," says General Motors Vice Chairman Robert Lutz. "The physical appearance of a vehicle speaks volumes to the viewer about its brand, its heritage and about its real or implied characteristics."
Lutz contends that good design cannot be taught, that it's "a natural-born ability - just like the ability to play the piano. It can be enhanced through proper instruction, practice and coaching." Even then that's no guarantee excellent designers won't come up with something boring or forgetful.
A carmaker's senior leadership, he says, must set the direction. Lutz points to Chrysler's success at designing appealing vehicles in the last decade.
"The best example of that is the Chrysler design community from the time of the god-awful boxy Imperials, Fifth Avenues and LeBarons with the padded vinyl roofs and the opera windows," Lutz says.
"We went from those to the LH cars with essentially the same design team. What changed was what senior management was asking for. You can't expect anything more out of the designers than what the direction of management gives them, because they can't operate in a vacuum."
Though Lutz concedes he is not a designer, he talks the talk. At the AutoWeek Design Forum in Detroit in January, Lutz summarized four traits of great automotive design.