This article is authored by Prof. A. Balasubramaniam, Dean, Institute of Design, JK Lakshmipat University, and originally published in the Business World magazine.
One is fast, furious, and everything else a millionaire desires. The other is economical, practical, adequately stylish and satisfies various needs of middle-class Indians
Automobile launches all across the world inspire awe in people. They mark new beginnings that Hermann Hesse, so eloquently talks about. There is anticipation, excitement, thrill and awe. They get even more amplified in the design community. Latest launches get discussed threadbare, their background stories get highlighted and there is an overall sense of joy and longing to own the new cars.
One such event was the unveiling of the Bugati Chiron. Bugati is from the Volkswagen group and is famous for its fast cars. The car is named after racing legend Louis Chiron, who at the age of 56 was the oldest Formula 1 racing driver, when he participated in 1955.
The Chiron, which replaces the Veyron (2005), was launched at the Geneva Motor Show this week. It is being touted as the “world’s fastest supercar”. It breaks all records set by it’s predecessor. The new car will have 1500 bhp, some 300 bhp more than the Veyron. The car’s speed is apparently capped at 420 km per hour, although the vehicle is capable of higher speed.
The car’s aesthetics is jaw-dropping and delightful. The adrenalin-pumping speed of the car is aptly represented in its form. The two-toned body, the sabre rear lights, the horse-shoe grill and the integrated brake-cooling ducts are all features that justify the $2.7 million price tag. The manufacturers are going to make only 500 of these, by a meticulous and crafty production process. Apparently, it takes two whole days just to polish the car to perfection.
The car, however, caught my attention for some very different reasons. In a television interview, the chief designer of the car, Achim Anscheidt spoke eloquently about focusing on function and not on form. All the form lines are a result of an intense exercise in making the car functionally superior and technically sound. So, the car has not been ‘styled’ for the sake of styling. Its beautiful form is the result of a functional resolution, whether it is the horse-shoe shaped front-grill or the air-scoops on the side or the two-toning of the body. It’s a beautiful example of what he refers to as “ form follows performance”. So, here is a car-maker that focuses on creating the most powerful car and chooses to take the function-performance-technology route to create the most appealing form and delights the buyer.
Last week also saw another car launch closer home. It was the re-launch of the Tata Motors Zica as Tiago, the newest car in the Indian horizon that is making ripples, if not waves. The name change and the re-launch were necessitated after the Zica virus spread world over. Tatas were understandably uncomfortable about its car that shared its name with a virus.
The Tiago has aggressive styling too, but caters to a much different market. It has styling cues that is new for Tata cars. The car looks zippy with crease lines on the side that reflect the concept of speed. Contoured seats, central console at the dashboard are all features that help the car position itself as a stylish model. Its chief designer, Pratap Bose, manages to create an aura of practicality that is good a selling proposition for any Indian car. Boot space, door details, dashboard, trims, have all been designed for the school-dropping, value-shopping, tuition class-hopping, middle-class parents.
Bose is the quintessential Indian design professional. He is a rock-star amongst the Indian design fraternity. I was happy to hear his presentation at the recently concluded Pune Design Festival, where he spoke about working with constraints on automobile projects in India and abroad. He is a typical Indian professional: creative, hard-working and designs for delight.
It is unfair to compare the Bugati Chiron with Tata’s Tiago, although they both meet mobility needs. For the price of one Chiron, you can buy about 400 Tiagos. While a Chiron will satisfy one customer with generous buying power, the Tiago can bring delight to four hundred families in India.
That’s the power of design in India.
While Pratap Bose is equally capable of designing high-speed power mongers, he is bending backwards to accommodate the aspirations of middle-class Indians and give them a lot to cheer about. It makes his job that much tougher. It is not easy being an automobile designer in India. You start by making fancy sketches like the Chiron. But soon, are inundated by challenges and constraints. Constraints like price, material, space, and brand jostle for attention when he is figuring out lines, curves and trims. While figuring out the interior and the door details, the cup-holders have to be replaced with one-litre water bottles.
User comfort is paramount. Elderly parents or grand parents are expected to be equally at ease in the given space as the school-going child carrying backpacks and science projects. Bad roads are a given, so the cars are meant to rough it out without complaining. Road space is becoming a premium, so all styling elements will have to be scratch-resistant. Aesthetics will have to be appealing across different user groups, religious groups, age and demographic groups. Tax constraints dictate size considerations and wheel-base dimensions in India.
In this process, the bhp takes a back seat. Delight is not in speedy rides in India, but in safety. Delight is in finding your street on the car’s GPS. Delight is finding a place for the additional colleague in the car, who wants you to ‘kindly adjust’. Delight is in seeing your car survive harsh summers and torrential monsoon rains. Delight is in finding the space big enough to park your car.
Indian designers work on this delight all the time, even though they could be seen as styling the shape and the contours of a car. Design in India comes with a lot more responsibility. What one does, affects millions of lives. The urge to contour new shapes is over-taken by the urge to be responsible. Form follows performance, even here; although it takes on a whole new meaning when applied to car design in India. Cost constraints, road constraints, tax constraints, space constraints are all a given, even when you are trying to design a brand new car.
That’s the job description for car designers in India.
Therein lies a tale.