Michelle Christensen is on one incredible ride.
Just 34, the designer is fresh off her highest profile project yet -- heading exterior styling for the Acura NSX supercar unveiled at the Detroit auto show in January. The 500+ hp midengine rocket received accolades for its sleek, head-turning look, with bold side air intakes and a distinctive gap between the rear window and a "floating" C pillar.
Honda clearly thinks it has a winner in Christensen, because she has already moved on to several other Acura assignments and is heading one advanced research project.
"It's pretty out there," she laughed. "I think it's pretty much top secret."
Christensen grew up in San Jose, Calif., playing basketball, sketching ideas for prom dresses and helping her father restore classic cars in the garage. At De Anza College, a community college in nearby Cupertino, she started sketching cars. That led her to the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena.
There she met two important influences on her career. One was another design student, Jason Wilbur, now her husband. "We're always bouncing ideas off of each other," Christensen said. "He always questions everything and gets me to really think."
The other was Dave Marek, an Art Center instructor who also happens to be global creative director for Acura design. Marek hired both Christensen and Wilbur right out of school in 2005.
Christensen proved herself right away when a concept she developed was selected to become the Acura ZDX crossover. Her work eventually caught the eye of General Motors, and she was hired away in 2010, but just 11 months later she was back at Honda, speeding ahead on the NSX project.
As for the future, Christensen thinks auto design may be heading for a turning point. The past decade has seen cars arrive with more and more curve, creases and contours. "I'd like to see it simplified and become more functional," she said. "Maybe less overstyling."
-- Neal E. Boudette