Sunday, May 1, 2011

2011 Jaguar XJ - A Bold Move

An ad at the back of the back of the recent issue of 'The Atlantic', read “The 2011 XJ, The stunning result of taking a very different road”.  There was this rear three quarter photo of the new 2011 XJ. Wow! What a departure from its predecessor! The tag line made absolute sense.

At the launch of 2008 XJ, the Ford Motor Company’s Press Release read, “…The flagship of the Jaguar range benefits from visual changes….An all-new, distinctive design for the XJ’s front gives the 2008 model an unmistakably purposeful appearance, a look complemented by the new side power vents, lower body sills and a subtle rear aero spoiler….and so on”. The 2008 XJ looked not too different from its predecessor. Other than few "purposeful" tweaks to the front fascia, the 2008 XJ had the same stance, same wheelbase, same silhouette etc. as the previous generation XJ. Do not get me wrong, I liked that signature styling. With each model year, the styling progressively evolved. However, the design language at the core remained the same.


However, the 2011 XJ took a real leap, a Jag leap. The silhouette is "swoopy". You rarely see a fastback luxury sedan. Aaron Robinson calls it a "cab-rearward design" in the Car and Driver’s review. Yes, the C-pillar looks stretched far into the deck. This is a significant change to XJ’s silhouette – moving away from a long, slender deck line, which btw closely resembled the silhouette of jaguar (metaphor), to, a high belt line, fastback design with a very short deck line. I think this increases the visual mass towards the rear of the car, at least in the side view. May be that was the styling intent. 

I am interested in finding out the impact of such fresh, new styling direction on the brand equity of established brands, in this case, a Jaguar. 

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Re-badging Continues...

Back in the spring of 2006, I had made critical comments on the announcement of the Saturn PreVue Concept. At that time Saturn was a struggling brand and GM had decide to make "Saturn" as the "Opel of America" by re-badging Opel as Saturn. Now, 5 years later, unfortunately, we do not have Saturn but we do have the "Opel of America", this time around as a "Buick". Yes, GM continues to resort to its old tactics and this time it has re-badged Opel Insignia as Buick Regal. It will be interesting to watch what will this do to Buick.

On April 15, 2006 at 5:47 pm aasheesh said:
Saturn PreVue Concept

Mr Lutz,
PreVue is indeed a well styled “concept.” Very European, neh! Yes, it is. If you have been keeping track of the auto shows it is not difficult to place this one. The Saturn PreVue is nothing but a re-badge Opel Antara concept displayed at the Frankfurt Auto show. Why? Why?

Why GM does not want give up on old habit of “Badge Engineering”. Unfortunately, GM’s marketing strategies have not evolved over the years. Time and again GM resorts to this old tactics. And I think that is one important reason why your efforts are not appreciated by customer and GM’s market share continues to drop.

Why can’t you get Opel Antara to the US? Or why can’t you wrap a new skin with more American styling cue onto Antara to sell it as PreVue in the US. I should not have to remind you that internet has change the way information flows across the globe. So re-badging will not help in building brands. Instead, it will only liquidate the brand equity of those brands. You don’t see a Mercedes, BMW and likes resorting to re-badging tactics. Isn’t this an important fact why these brands continue to leverage from their brand equity?

GM needs to build strong brands and NOT number of brands.

Use the link include below to view the original blog posting -

Monday, September 6, 2010

Leveraging Formal Identity

There is now clear evidence of the use of formal design language in the American cars. I am saying that ‘cause it is has gone beyond the grilles, badges and the ornamentations. Ford Motor Company has made few attempts in the recent past. And they (Ford) have done good job in some cases. We will look at all their attempts in the following post.

Btw, when I say formal design language, I mean that certain visual design elements are repeated on different models of the same brand. Note that the scale and proportion of the design element does get altered to fit the form. From the marketing perspective, it helps in building brands. If well conceived, I think it does. European car maker, particularly, the Germans, use it more often than others. Apart from brand building it sometime help customers connect the siblings. I would call this as a “consequence”. This is not a “Branding” lesson but branding is going to get important in this ever growing crowded car market with so many companies pumping in so many different vehicles.

Let’s look at the Ford’s attempts.

In the first example below, we are comparing the Escape and Focus. Here you will see the bumper fascia treatment in the tow vehicles is similar with the character line that forms the intersection of the front fascia surface and the natural extension (curvature) of the front fender surface. Also notice the fog light cutout. It also shares the bead-like detail around the fog light opening.

Although, the two vehicles do share these design elements, these will in no way assist in building a brand. This is because the visual design cues are not applied to the most visible or favorable areas of the vehicles. For example, the front grille fascias are completely different; there is nothing in common on the body side; and even the hood surfaces are different. So why would someone repeat the design elements. To me it seems that there was a direction to develop formal design language which in the course of the design process just fell through. Btw, you do see a similar fascia treatment on the rear bumper fascia of the Focus (image below). This is an example where a design element is repeated on the same product. It is done to enhance the integration of the form. Now that’s a different discussion.

In the next example below, we are looking at the new Explorer and the Taurus. Here you will see there are more visual design elements that are shared by the two vehicles. There is the grille fascia, the body side design including how the ground effect molded appliqué wraps around the vehicle body. Personally, I am a big fan of ground effects and I like the treatment on these Ford vehicles. It does lots of good things to the form. For example, it integrates the sheet metal surfaces with the wheels by visually balancing the wheel well position with respect to the wheel and thereby managing the wheel well gaps to give a tauter, sportier look to the vehicle. In the images below you will see similarities in the body side and grille fascia designs. You will also notice that the scale and proportion of the design elements are altered to suite the form. For example, in case of the design elements on body side along the side doors, the size and distance between the character lines near the belt line and rocker vary to suite the form. This is a natural evolution of the design element as it gets reused in the design process.

From the two examples discussed here the overall benefit of repeating the design elements (say, for brand building) will be greater in case of Explorer - Taurus case.

Finally, the challenge to the design community is to balance the reuse of the design elements such that they continue to appear fresh and augment the form they are applied to.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Can designers patent signature formal cues?

I was browsing the latest issue of MT (Mar 2009). After the usual stops at ‘angus’, ‘trend’, ‘arthur’ and ‘frank’ I came across an article on the all new hybrid from Honda – the 2009 FCX Clarity. Whilst the article gives a good overview of this cost conscious offering from Honda, I quickly got interested in the form of this new hybrid. I have always wondered why most hybrids or electrics are styled the way they are – I mean, funkier. Because I doubt if these funkier forms in anyway communicate the underpinning technology to the consumer. And even if it does, is the consumer upbeat about it!? Of course, there are companies (including, Honda) that have hybrid offerings which simply look like the regular IC engine cars. I quickly got to the MT website to see pictures of the FCX Clarity. As I was browsing the photo gallery I saw a feature on the A- pillar that caught my attention. Right where the A-pillar surfaces meet the fender, there is a feature which reminds you of the bas-relief like feature on the ’08 CTS at the same spot. I remember MT quoting the CTS designer way back then - "My head still has the dents in it from the clubbing I got from the manufacturing guys," laughs exterior designer John Manoogian. "They told me it would defy the laws of physics to try and stamp that thing." Indeed that was a brave stand for a designer, especially in GM.

Though at a concept level the feature in FCX Clarity resembles the one in CTS, the surface treatment in the two cars is recognizably different. FCX has more crown (curvature) to the surfaces on A-pillar and the fender. It does not have the ornamentation as you see in CTS. The overall form and stance of these two cars are very different as are there perceived market spaces.
Nevertheless, my point is if any credit should be given to the designer who innovate a form character?! Is it possible to file patents for
freeform surface shapes?

Any thoughts…

Friday, November 28, 2008

Small is beautiful?!! 

What’s with the styling of small cars in the US? Why it seems challenging to design attractive looking small cars by the American designers for the American consumers? Why do the bigger cars look better? 

Until the higher oil prices hit the shores of the US, we were all happily singing the “Big is Better” mantra that was conveniently imbibed in our minds, thanks to the oil and auto industries. The sky rocketing price of oil has forced the consumers and the manufacturers to think small and efficient. As a result we have seen a surge of small and midsize cars in the in the US auto market. The change in the market place was so rapid that the auto industry struggled to replace the “Gas Guzzling” heavy weights with “Relatively Environment Friendly” alternatives. It seemed like an overnight change for the auto manufacturer who did not see this coming. This is apparent from the cars they have put in the market place. As a designer and a consumer, I am completely disappointed with the designs of the car models offered by most of the auto manufacturers in US market. Let’s see why? 

Styling wise, the key to any car design is its proportions. Yes, proportion of height to length to width of a car; proportion of the green house to the belt line to the body side; proportions of the wheel base to the front and the rear overhangs; proportion of the wheel diameter (size) to the wheel well opening; proportion of the wheel size to the body side of the car; position and design of cut lines and so on so forth. Once the automotive designers have conceived the best proportions the given platform and the Oscar study, they start to sculpt the skin, the surfaces of the cars, both the exterior as well as the interior. It all starts witsculpting scaled down clay models. Eventually a full scale clay model is sculpted to dot the i's and cross the t's. Although, this is the typical process followed across the auto industry for all segments, it is disappointing see that the small cars lack in their styling. I guess more time is spent on stuffing gadgetry and cup holder as opposed to developing a more proportionate form. 

To ascertain my point, let’s look at the exteriors of few cars currently sold in the US. Amongst these are cars offered by two manufacturers known for designing stylish cars and setting newer styling trends. I am referring to Chrysler and Nissan. Yet they could come up with terrible looking cars. Hmm!

Chrysler Sebring:

Nissan Versa:

Ford Focus:

Carefully looking at the above images one can see that none of the above cars have a totally integrated form. Each element of the form is making a loud statement, trying to get your attention. Yeah! Look at me. That goes to say a lot about the coordination within the design team. 

To be continued