The Myspace of Car Design

Firstly check this out…


A Ferrari Modulo Pininfarina from 1970 – a pinnacle of the art – absolutely beautiful bit of paleo-futurism which makes me think of Clockwork Orange for some reason.


It makes me feel all futuristic and nostalgic at the same time.

Still. That was yesterday.

A while back I went on gushingly about Local Motors – a car-manufacturer that’s adopted the Threadless Approach, and got punters to design their own cars… a couple of days ago, Eric Hunting (who’s a genius) from the Open-Manufacturing group had this to say about it:

Normally I would jump at this topic, but after looking at this site
I’m afraid I couldn’t do it without my rage getting out of control.
I’m unfortunately afflicted with an Eero Saarinen sort of aesthetic
sensibility. Unnecessary design and decoration tends to piss me off
and cause me to start trance-channeling James Lileks.

The premise is great. The idea of crowdsourcing designs and then
producing them through localized manufacture is very significant. I
really-really-really want to like this project. But their
implementation of this concept….

The first thing that leapt into my mind upon going to this web site
was; “what’s with all these Batmobiles, Hot Wheels cars, George Barris
mutants, and Syd Mead rip-offs?” And then I realized, this is what
they are getting as design submissions from, mostly American
apparently, design students and car enthusiasts. And what’s their
first car going into development? A luxury dune buggy? Do they really
think that is going to have any kind of cultural impact? The fatal
flaw in their concept seems to be the nature of the crowd they’re
crowdsourcing design from. Student car designers today are not
educated in the technology of automobile fabrication. It seems they
may not be getting any engineering education whatsoever anymore. They
are trained in fuzzy aesthetic philosophy (the sort of moronic design
theory that says every car should have a ‘nice face’…) and using
computer graphics programs to render glassy-looking pictures that
generate a ‘wow factor’. These are then thrown at engineering teams
that pick out whatever looks remotely feasible to build with some
hacking for the sake of reality adjustment. So there’s been this
growing tendency in car design toward nothing more than Hot Wheels
novelty cars featuring a lot of SciFi nonsense. No one seems to know
the meaning of the word ‘practical’ anymore. When you crowdsource
designs from this community of industrial illiterates and CARtoons
buffs you get a lot of beautifully rendered gobbldigook that is mostly
infeasible to even prototype, let alone ever function as practical
vehicles. This is why I can’t go to car shows anymore. Contemporary
car design just makes me want to go Shonen Bat on everybody.

Using competitions as reality filters, the founders of this venture
cherry-pick the most feasible designs to prototype. But they seem to
be from the ‘blobject’ school of auto engineering that says cars are
disposable sculptural artifacts where everything beyond the engine
block is ‘decor’ that’s OK to custom-fabricate no matter how wasteful
that may be -otherwise that Speedbuggy/Knightrider mashup Rally
Fighter would have never been taken seriously. I doubt you could even
get a serious functional automobile through their selection process.
(I actually saw one real prospect stuck in their portfolio gallery
that apparently didn’t pass muster -probably because it looked too
sensible to be cool) This dooms them to forever produce futuristic
equivalents of the bloody Plymouth Superbird (the mullet of
automobiles and utter epitome of everything that was ever wrong with
car design…) rather than the next world class vehicle like the VW
Bug. They will learn the hard way that this simply cannot work in a
local production model unless you are resigned to producing the
automotive equivalent of customized expensive designer toys -which
means you’re back to the same model as Ferrari. Detroit gets away with
treating cars as especially wasteful blobjects because of the
ridiculous scale of production. But until 3D printers can generate a
whole car chassis on demand, practical cost-effective local production
demands you treat cars as platforms based on a very small assortment
of standardized chassis (motherboards…) that maximize potential
functionality and are supported by a global industrial ecology of
competitive parts makers. A $50,000 car is absolutely culturally
irrelevant except as some kind of silly objet d’art. So all we really
have here is a kind of upper-class art-car club. I can feel it in my
very bones -if this company lasts 5 years they WILL cover a car in
Swarovski crystals…

Someone needs to tell these folks that making toys is for elves…

Which made me fall about laughing. He’s completely right and I was completely wrong – I hope he doesn’t mind me re-printing this. I did ask but he didn’t reply, so I fall back on my defecto behaviour which is somewhere between asking permission and asking forgiveness.

So there you go kids. You hadn’t figured on that had you? That crowd-sourced design IS actually going to make the world look like MySpace rather than Ikea.

The future’s so bright I have to wear shades.

Still… Phoooaaarrr…


AND it’s got bench-seats in the front so your supermodel girlfriend can drape herself all over you and interfere with your driving causing you to ding it on something that looks like this


while you’re trying to find the exit to the Walmart carpark.

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  1. […] I’ve gone on about Local Motors before… once raving uncontrollably about what a great idea it is, once raving uncontrollably about what a terrible idea it is. […]