The automotive industry may be going through the most rapid and revolutionary changes its ever seen at this very moment. The rise of electrification is in full swing, whether you like it or not, and with it comes widespread transformation to infrastructure and the vehicles themselves, especially their design. Electric powertrains allow for radically different packaging opportunities from internal combustion vehicles, so designers have significantly more freedom in their work. And two of the biggest names in the car design world, Ralph Gilles and Mark Trostle, took to Facebook Live to talk about the state of car design and the 2021 Stellantis Drive for Design contest. Here are the highlights.
Starting with the contest, Drive for Design has been a longtime tradition at FCA, now Stellantis. The contest has aspiring automotive designers send in their sketches of whatever the year’s theme is. This year, they’re asking high school students grades 10-12 to sketch their idea of an electrified Jeep of the future. The winner will receive a Wacom MobileStudio Pro 16, a portfolio review and design day with Mark Trostle and Ralph Gilles, and a scholarship for a four week program at Detroit’s College for Creative Studies auto design program.
The rest of the livestream was a Q&A with Ralph Gilles and Mark Trostle, and provided some interesting industry insight. The pair were asked how automotive design will change with electrification, and they said the packaging freedoms are the biggest opportunity.
“Electric motors and batteries tend to live a little lower in the vehicle,” said Gilles, “so you don’t need a grille anymore, you can put a frunk in, you can play around with the wheel position.”
Gilles was also asked about how technology is impacting automotive design, and he said they are becoming increasingly intertwined. Gilles said in the case of the 2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee L, the Human Machine Interface (HMI) crew was working with the interior design team from the beginning of the development process.
Trostle spoke about finding a balance between a classic look and a modern car design, and he said it’s great, but only when used in a very contemporary way. He said the Jeep Wrangler, Dodge Challenger and Porsche 911 are his favorite examples of this.
“I think it’s important to understand the history of your brand and continue to use those design cues as you evolve them,” said Trostle. “It’s part of what give an automotive brand its identity, and I think [Stellantis] does a good job of keeping some purity in our brands.”
Ralph Gilles was also asked how automakers will continue to have a “face” in their vehicles with the absence of a functional grille on electric vehicles, a real point of contention for automakers with grilles as a signature design element. Gilles said it’s something he thinks about a lot.
Essentially, he said technology is allowing future grilles to shape shift and be the idea of a grille, rather than an actual airflow system. Headlights are another interesting point.
“LED headlamp technology has gotten so interesting now that we are talking about headlights that are 15, 20 mm tall that gives us a lot more freedom,” said Gilles. Mark Trostle added they have entire design teams working on signature headlight and DRL designs.