Tougher emissions and fuel economy standards will harm vehicle styling, says Walter de' Silva, Volkswagen Group's global design boss.
The need to optimize aerodynamics will come at the expense of aesthetics, he says. In fact, de' Silva, 63, told Automotive News Europe Editor Luca Ciferri that a wave of vehicles with overly complex exterior shapes is already on the way.
Q: Should simplicity rule car design?
A: Absolutely. Complexity is going out of fashion. Young people want simpler, more intuitive things. I fear stricter emission rules may permit a resurgence of decoration and graphics [such as unneeded lines and extra chrome inserts] that is not aesthetically pleasing.
Why is that?
To cut emissions you have to reduce the vehicle's weight and drag coefficient. While there are multiple ways, such as using different materials, to reduce weight, aerodynamics is not an art. It is a science. A wind tunnel does not care about brand image. It just measures the model's aerodynamic performance.
So could the auto industry become like the aerospace industry, with supercomputers creating a perfect aerodynamic shape and the only differentiation coming from graphics and color?
Yes. Look at the third generations of the Toyota Prius and the Honda Insight.
A key element when creating both models was to achieve an extremely low drag coefficient. Their proportions and their side views are almost identical. The only way to distinguish one from the other is with graphic elements.
There are similar limitations when designing heavy trucks. There's little differentiation. Will this happen to mass-market passenger cars?
There is a risk of this happening to volume models if drag coefficient becomes the king governing any new project. We see this with heavy trucks: Aerodynamics dictates the shape of the cabin exterior.
Designers can only influence the exterior graphics and color. True creativity is relegated to the interior.
How soon before this trend takes hold?
By the end of the decade the first clear signs will become more evident and then become dominant in the next decade.