The Royal College of Art’s prestigious post-graduate Vehicle Design course opens it doors to the public on Wednesday, with an exhibition of the student final projects.
For over four decades the RCA has been the breeding ground for many of the world’s leading car designers and the annual graduation exhibition never fails to be a pointer to the new directions the car industry could take over the next two decades. Indeed, many of the ideas on display give direct hints at some of the medium-term intentions of the global car makers.
If this year’s show is anything to go by, the industry is concerned with inner city transport, downsizing both luxury and supercars and designing cars for the peculiar demands of the Russian market.
Two of this year’s four female graduates have designed sporting off-road coupes for the booming Russian market. Inna Schadikin’s and Marianna Merenmies’ proposals both aim to provide interior luxury will external protection because of the challenging and sometimes hostile nature of Russia’s environment. Intriguingly, Schadikin’s project - which uses Russian Birch wood as the rugged exterior protection for the luxurious cabin - was sponsored by Land Rover, which clearly has eyes on that developing market.
Merenmies is an ex-VW designer whose own proposal for the VW Up was one of the four final models from which the company bosses selected for production.
The trend towards down-sized luxury city cars was expressed by two projects. Goran Ozbult’s Lexus IE was sponsored by Toyota’s Nice design studio and explores the idea of a future Lexus that is just 3.8m long, but with a hugely hollowed-out interior.
Henryk Strojwasiewicz’s ‘Little Black Car’ takes inspiration from Chanel’s ‘Little Black Dress’ and takes the idea of an ultra-compact Audi rendered as a super-chic saloon, rather than standard-issue hatchback.
Both the downsized supercar projects were in answer to briefs set by manufacturers themselves. McLaren’s ‘Autopure’ project - which asked for a ‘small car that encapsulates the brand’ - was won by Teeavit Hanharutavian and his MP4-S one-seater. He says it takes McLaren’s ethos of ‘everything for a reason’ to create an ‘ultra lightweight, efficient’ carbon-tub, one seater. McLaren was also the sponsor of Peter Wilkin’s Provere electric city car, which is designed to combine with identical vehicles to form a rolling wagon train.
Also on display is the RCA’s entry into Ferrari 2011 World Design competition to imagine a future design direction for the brand. A joint effort by Henry Cloke and Haitao Qi, it is designed to be powered by a V6 engine-generator, powering up electric motors on all four wheels.
Five students looked at new ways of forming and shaping skin panels - something that makers such as Mercedes are currently very interested in. Jan Rosenthal (Lexus LF-Zero) and Kyungeun Ko (Bentley concept) both used flat sheet materials cleverly bent and machined to form exteriors. The body of Teeavit Hanharutavian’s open wheeled track car was shaped by constructing 3D images of the sound of a passing F1 car. Paul Nichol’s Tripod imagined a re-configurable vehicle that can shape-shift and combine with other similar models to create housing for workers in distant areas.
Chi Min Hwang’s ultra-minimalist inner city Honda is used transparent body and floor panels, electric drive and is intended to weight just 600kg with one passenger on board.
The RCA Vehicle Design exhibition is open from 20 June to 1 July in Kensington Gore, London.