The emotive issue of automotive design

As China takes over the market for automobiles, will the car 'face' of the future look very different?

While we wouldn’t normally subject you to 'car people talking about car things' we can honestly say that we found the video below fascinating, mainly for the fact that it highlights something that hadn’t quite occurred to us about the decidedly emotive issue of automotive design. In it the Wall Street Journal's automotive critic Dan Neil talks to Peter Horbury, global design director of Geely Holding Group, about Chinese culture, arts and their future impact on car design.

It’s all fairly interesting stuff but the bit we think will really appeal to Phaidon readers is when they talk about the future of car design now that it’s effectively being, ahem, driven by China. That country currently builds and buys around 30 million cars a year - it's fair to say the centre of gravity has pretty much shifted. 

Now, one of the big issues in car design is the physiognomy of animal and human face. As Horbury says “The face of the car is important because the face will tell everybody the character of the car. You can’t design a miserable looking car, nobody will buy it.”

Horbury recalls a conversation with film director John Lasseter shortly before the release of the movie Cars. “I said where are the eyes? And we agreed they're the windscreen because that’s what you look through. Then the hood is the nose and the grill is the mouth. The headlamps are redundant. But in China the headlamps are the eyes so the windscreen is redundant - so then there’s a complete difference in the proportions of the car.”

Which is presumably where the interesting bit starts. As Horbury points out, animals play a huge role in Chinese life and this too will inevitably impact on the ‘faces’ of cars designed in that country. How we impose our own 'schema' on the cars of the future and what that schema is will become a whole lot more interesting. Will Europeans and Americans buy into the design aesthetic of Chinese cars in the way they did Swedish furniture in the 50s? Let us know what you think in the comments box below.