It is quite something to be invited to a big car brand like Opel to understand how a car is designed. After Henk initially went to the holy ground in Rüsselsheim to experience how a concept car is conceived at the headquarters of Opel, literally, I was allowed two experiments in the process of refinement. Concept cars are more important than most people realize, because they are not only an expression of new design principles, they always carry a vision for the future of the maker. You do not realize from the outside to what extent the whole identity of a fire like Opel is poured into such a car, so there is a lot at stake.
The designers there were clear: a concept car is the line for the future and whether you look at it right away or not, in that phase choices are made that can continue for years to come. Opel’s values have been in flux for the last couple of years, partly due to the acquisition of PSA. What is Opel really? Decent? German? But what else? For Opel itself, words such as accessible and exciting are also important for the future, so it’s time for a fresh look at what Opel actually stands for.
New Germanness there in
The ‘New Germanness’ philosophy is an important one for the car brand. They have German values like technical innovation, reliability and quality, but they have to share them with other brands. That’s why Opel wants to be warmer, “from cold to cool”, as they told it themselves. The Germany of today is more than the clichés and as a people they are now open and ‘menschlich’ and all that you have to see in the design of such a concept car.
That journalists got the chance to put their own vision of that concept car (or yes, to tell designers who have such a good pen that they can turn words into beautiful lines and cars) is unique. The basis was the Opel GT (and rightly so – what a great thing is that!) And on the second visit it turned out that Henk was not the only one who had the idea to link that spectacular design to an SUV. Almost all journalists, in collaboration with the designers, had designed a car that could carry the name SUV. It was nice to see (and hear) how everyone had come up with about the same conclusion through another way. Of course it also helps that everyone had at least one aspect of the design in common: Opel’s new Vizor, the ‘cross’ of the lights, the vertical line from the grille to the hood with the Opel logo at the center.
From 3D to 2D and back
It showed once again that people who design cars can look so much deeper into a car than we ever dreamed. They must also. After a short sketch demo in which we sketched the rough lines of the new concept live (sorry, we were not allowed to take pictures!) We were taken to the digital lab where the designers do their work. Sketching is important, because there is often a kind of feeling in it (let’s call it ‘Das Gewisse Etwas’ in this context) but in the end a beautiful design is not worth anything if the dimensions are not right. If the engine does not fit in, your very best front is worth nothing.
Therefore, all kinds of 3D software that is used in other industries (such as Maya, Alias and VRED) is used to determine certain aspects of the design. The development of a car often starts as a 3D model, is then sketched, after which the insights of the sketch are translated back into the model and then it is repeated a few times, until both the feeling and the details are correct. If you go in there for a moment, you will be dazzled by the details you need to pay attention to. Splitlines are a good example of this. You do not really think about it, but the gaps between the different ‘plates’ that make up a car have an impact on how the line of the car will look like. That was also a point of discussion for the concept, because the Visor is not only at the front, but also comes back. Then too many splitlines at the back are a distraction and that is of course not the intention.
Experience the inside
While few people see the inside of a concept car, every detail is also watched and no bends are cut off. Everything has to be able to work, and preferably better than it does now. This is of course more difficult to view than the outside in the design phase. The solution? A VR test station. In it you can literally sit down in a design as a designer and you can literally see if the size of the font for the speedometer is not too small. You know if you can touch all the buttons on the dashboard from your position with your hands.
You can test whether a certain design direction also works if you are looking at it – and that works. The interior where we were also allowed to sit ‘in’ was an example of what the designers called a ‘detox’. That comes down to a futuristic and minimalist design that is as clear as possible, without chilling on it. It is an interesting experience to be able to undergo a design live and it also makes a lot more impression than a drawing, because you can see that the line that is drawn on the outside is also held on the inside.
Also behind the wheel is the design ‘m in the details, like a camera that looks where your head is in the room and on the basis of that information the chair can be positioned higher (or lower). Because, for example, that chair also moves obliquely, it is possible to also help the last five percent of the population who could never see well with a good view of the road. We could already see that the doors flared to two sides, so at least we already know about the new concept.
What’s in a name?
Our day as aspiring designers ended with another aspect of a car that is always talked about: the name. Sometimes there is more talk about the name of a car than about the design, so it is crucial that you choose the right one. What ‘the right’ is, however, is not so easy. As an exercise, we were all allowed to throw names into the group on the basis of a number of criteria such as previous series and the ‘brand values’. Our entries: ‘Zero’, ‘Ambassador’ and ‘Future X’ (my contract with Opel as name giver is still not inside, crazy enough).
After the sign was full, it turned out that thinking of something is just step one. With a name you have to check if you can legally claim the name, you have to look at what the connotations are for a certain name (“we have had to take crazy names because they have been scammed somewhere”) and of course there is always market research that gives an indication of what people feel for a name. So name after name fell off, until in the end only a handful of names remained that could become. We did not want to tell whether we were close as a group, but it was amusing.
The revelation is approaching
We quickly know how the concept is going to be called, and more importantly we will finally see what the new ambassador of Opel’s New Germanness will look like. It is certain that it will be a futuristic (and indeed electric) car, but to what extent Opel is going to write a new chapter for itself based on the design philosophy of the concept, we only see when the car is shown in full glory. The omens are good in any case.