FRANKFURT -- Sometimes car designers whisper among themselves: "It's a shame we have to put people inside cars."
A few expressed that sentiment last month at the Frankfurt auto show as they looked over the displays and thought about styling trends and the factors that affect their work. Designers are dealing with a host of real-world concerns as they are being called upon more than ever to create new brand identities.
Increasingly, government safety regulations impinge on their whimsy, restricting swoop, curvature, rake and line. And conflicting rules of different countries or continents make "global design" that much more challenging.
But stylists are making the best of new technology in an effort to adapt to regulations and give their brands a design identity.
Julian Thomson, Jaguar Cars' advanced design director, says unbelted-occupant and pedestrian-protection regulations have a big impact on creativity.
"You can see who has good rapport between design and engineering in the final design," Thomson said at the auto show here. "It's not like we have engineering conferences saying, "You can't do this.' But it's not a clean sheet."
Some automakers smoothly incorporate new regulations into their designs; others do it more awkwardly.
"It will be no different than when the 5-mph bumpers were required" in the 1970s, Thomson says.
"At first we had those hideous, gigantic rubber bumpers. But with the second generation, people got used to it and designers were more ready for it."