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Panel: Electrification, regulation changing car design

Michael Martinez
The Detroit News

Royal Oak — Electrification and stringent safety regulations are posing new challenges and opportunities for vehicle design, a panel of top designers said Thursday.

Design directors at Ford Motor Co., Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and General Motors Co. touched on a number of topics, including their biggest challenges, at the “Designed for Speed” panel held by WWJ-AM (950) Thursday morning at Duggan’s Irish Pub.

“Regulations around safety and fuel economy, no matter what type of vehicle, play a huge, huge piece in designing any car,” said Mark Trostle, head of Dodge and SRT design for FCA North America. “There’s so much criteria that goes into designing a car. We look at that as an opportunity to create fresh ideas and how to work around those restraints to create something new.”

The government has mandated automakers increase the average fuel economy of their fleets to 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025, and that’s forcing car companies to experiment with lightweight materials and alternative powertrains, including electric.

Craig Metros, Ford’s exterior design director of the Americas, said electrification will play the biggest role going forward. Metros was the design director for the highly popular Ford GT supercar.

“In the studios, it’s really changing the proportion and architecture of the car,” he said. “It’s providing some great visual opportunities we haven’t really seen up to now.”

Ford last year said it would invest $4.5 billion in electrified powertrains through the end of the decade, and will add 13 new electrified vehicles by 2020. GM is also betting heavily on EVs, and later this year will introduce the 200-mile range Bolt EV.

“From a packaging standpoint, it does pose some new input for us; now you have batteries you have to package, and how do you do that efficiently without taking away luggage space and things like that,” Trostle said. “When you’re given these blocks to design around, you come with creative ways to wrap them. I think it helps create new looks.”

Automakers are also light-weighting new cars as much as possible to help meet those fuel economy mandates, and Metros said that helped in the creation of Ford’s unique-looking GT.

The new, slimmed-down V-6 EcoBoost engine let the team remove the rear fuselage from the rear fender and create flying buttresses, a design they had not used before in previous GTs. And the carbon fiber body helped them keep the car light and aerodynamic.

“We could have never done that car if we did traditional stamping or aluminum,” Metros said.

The three panelists mostly focused on muscle cars and said they often get design ideas from events, such as Saturday’s Woodward Dream Cruise, and speaking directly with fans.

“There’s an intrinsic involvement with the customer directly, so you don’t have to have these artificial clinics,” said Tom Peters, director of exterior design, GM performance car studio. “It’s real world.”

mmartinez@detroitnews.com

(313) 222-2401

Twitter: @MikeMartinez_DN