Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Rock & Roll

I'd like to show you the GMC Granite concept. This is sort of a landmark, in a way, because being a truck manufacturer, this will actually be GMC's first "car." Clearly, it's more of a "crossover" than a "car," but still something very new for them:

Click for larger view.
In charge of this project was Frank Saucedo, head of Advanced Design at GMC. That his name is easy to find is interesting in itself, considering that automobile design would seem to be a branch of the field particularly elusive to fame or glory, especially compared to something like Fashion, which is lousy with house-hold names.

They're calling this "Industrial Chic":

I suppose that's accurate enough, although it's actually an extremely vague description in the universe of vehicle design. I'm tempted to wonder if that doesn't pretty well describe every inspired design of a truck or sports car. Still, that's the way I would describe this: inspired. I'm especially into the Z-shaped line carved in and out of the profile. It gives the Granite a great stance and seems to allude to movement and speed, but with a sharpness and power. The front end is terribly bold but has such distinct character.

I really love the lines of the back end, too:

There's something about the junctions of truncated curving volumes that's decidedly pleasing and hip.

While the trickling down of design elements from concept vehicles to regular production is fairly easy to track, interiors seem strangely disconnected from the process. They always seem to look like this at the beginning:

Bold color combinations, usually including white or some shockingly obscure pale color, overly sculptural spaceship seats. The instrument panels seem to vacillate between big, chunky knobs and wheels and smoothed-over, almost imperceptible swaths of pads and screens.

In the end, our car interiors never really look like this. Certainly if someone in 1948 were shown a typical car interior from today, they'd be dumbfounded. But from about the mid-'70s onward, there hasn't really been any significant difference, stylistically speaking, at least not the way concept cars would have us expect. What we get, instead, are bland, monotone, most often neutral (if not ugly) colors. Having not looked too closely, I couldn't tell you one seat from another, if taken from their respective vehicles. Dashboards tend to be cluttered, sloppy, and lacking in any kind of stylistic cohesion. I understand that controls must be intuitive and easy to find while the driver concentrates on the road, but is it really that difficult to reconcile ergonomics, usability, beauty, and style?

What exactly are the designers of car interiors doing? Their ideas aren't making it into any usable product, for the most part. What happens to all these design elements? Do they specifically result from the predominantly temporary, showcase contingencies of creating a one-off concept model? Does the production machine send them into limbo like a random sock lost to the dryer? Or do they become modified out of recognizable existence by safety concerns or cost-effectiveness? Would such an interior scare off all but the urban 20-something-year-old demographic?

If that's the case, then why has the design of vehicle exteriors seen a progressive evolution? One might be tempted to wonder if the design of the outside and inside of our vehicles are two completely different animals. The exterior, the public face one projects to the world at large, while the interior we require to be more personal, comfortable, intimate. In other words, I might shave, get dressed up in a suit and tie, and go to a party, but at home I just want to put on my sweatpants and sit on the couch watching a DVD. It's possible, I suppose, that car consumers want a futuristic party on the outside, the impression they want to give others on the road. But on the inside, they don't really want to be in a space ship. They just want their living room.

©2010, Ryan Witte

No comments: