You might like the look of your new mustang or BMW, but these designs could be changing as aerodynamics become the hottest trend in vehicle design. Fuel efficiency and aerodynamics are the main goals of new car designs in the next few years. Keep reading to learn more about how these two goals are changing the shapes of the cars we love.
Four years from now, vehicles emerging from the world’s design studios will be more aerodynamic — and more sculpted.
Extreme design will be out of favor. You’ll see fewer bumps and bulges and asymmetrical shapes, the kinds of things that kept popping up in the past decade.
Glitzy, blinged-out headlights may disappear, too, but in general front ends will be more distinctive and more expressive of the brand. Wheels could be smaller, and downsized engines may allow for shorter overhangs and longer wheelbases.
But above all, designers toiling away today are driven by the need to smooth the progress of air flow over the body surface. Yes, aerodynamics is once again dictating design, though not in the way it did 30 years ago, in the era of jelly bean cars.
We’re not guessing here; that’s the view of several designers who discussed styling elements that will be prominent on vehicles in 2016 and beyond.
Of course, each brand will take its own approach, but general themes will emerge. They always do.
“First of all, we reverse the wedge,” says Gorden Wagener, Mercedes-Benz’s design chief. “We are coming out of a generation that is very wedge-shaped and developed in the late ’90s.”
Also, he says, today’s soft curves will be replaced with sculpted lines that have a defined surge or crest.
At Mercedes, Wagener says: “We will go more into a drop shape, with the dropping line on the side of the car. That becomes more of our signature.”
“Everybody’s looking for their version of more sculpted, contoured body surfaces,” says Derek Jenkins, Mazda’s North American design boss. “That’s an area where we’re really focused — trying to break away from some of the traditional body creases and lines that every car has had for the last whatever number of years.”
Jenkins says Mazda’s new design philosophy, called kodo (Japanese for “soul of motion”), is “breaking away from the traditional body construction, typical fender lines, hood lines.
“You’re going to see a lot more adventurous explorations of how companies are going to do the shoulder of the car, the fenders, the sculpting of the car.”
Karim Habib, head of BMW design, says the German brand’s body design philosophy is changing.
“We try to break out a surface by pulling lines in and out and by puffing up the volume or flattening it to sculpt it,” he says.
The goal: To create a shape that looks lightweight.
The effort to improve fuel economy will be visible on the cars and trucks of 2016. Look for changes to front ends in the quest for better aerodynamics, says J Mays, Ford’s global design chief.
“You’re going to see the introduction of movable grille apertures that close, but you’re also going to eventually see slightly smaller grille openings,” he says.
Front ends will become “more identifiable with the brand,” but not necessarily as large as those on Audis, Mays says.
But, says Tom Kearns, chief designer of Kia Motors America, don’t expect superslick shapes created for the sake of aerodynamics alone.
He says designing for aero largely consists of trial and error in the wind tunnel, tweaking the position of, say, the side mirrors, or the height of a rear deck lid, to shave a little off a car’s drag coefficient.
“The whole aero thing, it’s kind of like a black art,” he says. “There are a few fundamentals we know that will help aerodynamics, but once you get past those things, you have to experiment.”
General Motors design chief Ed Welburn says all vehicles won’t have that homogenous shape last seen in the 1980s.
He says fuel economy will have a “huge influence” on design but a positive one.
“How design can affect that is in the efficiency of the design, in its size and in the aerodynamics of the vehicle,” Welburn says.
For instance, he says, the hard edges on the front of Cadillacs haven’t hurt vehicle aerodynamics.
“We’ve been able to do very low-drag designs and retain the hard edges on Cadillacs,” Welburn says. “The hard edges on the rear are a huge advantage.
“The proportions may change a bit. The tails may get longer. I think we’d look at the overall height of the vehicle. If you can bring it down, reducing the overall frontal area, that would help.”
Of course, those elements would require big changes in vehicle architectures.
“You’ve got to get the hood down lower — if you can do that, you can bring the occupant down,” Welburn says. “Then the roof can come down, but it all has to work in harmony. It takes great collaboration between design and engineering.”
New powertrain technology will have an influence. Mazda’s Jenkins says downsized engines and transmissions may let designers create vehicles with smaller front and rear overhangs with longer wheelbases.
He says the Tesla Model S is an example.
“The batteries are all in the floor. The car has a very small front overhang; its hood is low to the ground because of the small engine, so they’re getting a very, very contemporary expression for a sedan and very dynamic overall proportions because of those technologies.”
Of course, design is ever the moving target. What will we see on the new cars debuting in the fall of 2016? Inside the studios, that’s already old news. What they are really thinking about is 2020.
You can learn more by reading AutoNews.