LONDON -- Student design projects typically involve long hours in studios, but for Craig Morrison and Florian Seidl the work started with a 15-day tour of India.
The field trip was research for their team's assignment in a contest sponsored by GE Plastics for young vehicle designers at the Royal College of Art here. Morrison and Seidl were among
20 first-year car-design graduate students GE challenged to develop vehicles using advanced plastics.
Traveling through Mumbai, Bangalore and the Goa province shaped their team's ultimate designs, the students said.
"We don't pretend to know a great deal about India, but it's a bit more real now," Seidl said.
Added Morrison: "I can know facts from studying but that doesn't tell me how it smells."
Impressed by the energy and ingenuity of Indian workers and more aware of the income of developing countries, Seidl, Morrison and teammate Chanwie Park sought simplicity.
Park designed a molded plastic chassis powered by a natural-gas engine through in-hub electric motors. Morrison and Seidl designed a van and pickup to fit on the chassis.
"The designs are simple, inexpensive and easy for buyers to complete with local materials," Park said.
The six teams of students were assigned specific tasks ranging from exploring design and manufacturing characteristics of plastic to designing vehicles for Generation Y, China and India, to inventing socially acceptable SUVs.
For students, it was the first whole-vehicle design opportunity of a two-year graduate program. For GE, it was a chance to show future designers how to work in plastic.
In thanking GE, Christopher Frayling, rector of the 800-student Royal College of Art, cited Humphrey Bogart's closing line in the movie Casablanca. Frayling called the cooperation "the start of a beautiful friendship."
GE chose the post-graduate school because of its reputation for training top automotive designers. But the designs were "a tonic" to executives who had briefed them, said Gregory Adams, vice president automotive for GE Plastics.
"These are young, restless minds not trapped by convention," he said.
And the students certainly picked up on plastics technology being developed:
- One-piece molded plastic wheels, tires and spokes that flex enough to replace suspensions on low-end vehicles.
- Polycarbonate glazing that is half the weight of glass and can carry design lines into window areas.
- Plastics that change color when exposed to heat, pressure or electricity.
Ten judges picked two team winners: the China group of Ehsan Maghad-dampour, Jamie Tompkins and Filip Krnja for designing a moped, a taxi and a high-privacy luxury car for different buyer groups, and a materials team. Flavien Dachet, Yuko Kanemura, Daniel Sjoholm and Ana Zadnik explored how to use plastics in new ways.