Britain is a country of inventors — creative geniuses who have designed popular products that have captured the public imagination.
Trouble is, there’s plenty of evidence to suggest that not enough of this creativity is being applied to the car industry. We can use economics to prop up car sales on a temporary basis and keep production flowing, but not forever. What we need is an army of lateral-thinking engineers and designers pushing the barriers of what’s possible. We need a fresh perspective. Nothing is sacred.
We all know about the work of engineers such as Sir James Dyson in revolutionising the design of household appliances, but what would they do if they were given the opportunity to rework a modern car? Autocar went to meet three well-known inventors who do not work in the mainstream automotive industry to ask them for ideas on improving the cars of today. And just to make sure that they were starting from a suitably high level, we took a new, Car of the Year-winning Vauxhall Insignia and Toyota Avensis Tourer with us.
Sir James Dyson
Dyson is famous for his revolutionary bagless vacuum cleaners, but he actually studied furniture and interior design before turning to engineering. Before vacuum cleaners, Dyson invented a wheelbarrow with a ball-shaped wheel, and it was while looking at the filter in the factory’s paint shop that he had the idea for the cyclone-effect cleaner.
Dyson sits in a glass-walled room that gives him a view of the vast open-plan office in his company’s R&D centre in Malmesbury. It’s a minimalist and very tidy space, apart from a small glass table containing a pile of bearings, bolts and other bits of workings. And a selection of model cars. No surprise that there are several Citroën DSs among them. Neither am I surprised to see a few JCBs. Like me, Dyson is a fan of JCB's design, and especially of its controls.
In Dyson’s car park, we have a new Toyota Avensis Tourer. So, Sir James, what do you think of this typical family car and how can things be done better?
“The dashboard is a jumble of switches and buttons,” he says. “Everything looks the same and there seems to be no particular order. Yes, you would eventually learn your way around, but it should be more instinctive.” Perhaps by following JCB’s example of using brighter colours for important controls or the aviation industry’s use of colour-coding? “Yes, exactly. The heater controls could be colour-coded in, say, red. Everything to do with audio in another colour, and so on.”
It’s a foul day on our visit and Dyson starts peering at the windscreen wipers. “The trouble with wipers is that they brush the muck back and forth across the screen. Eventually it causes scratches in the glass.