Independent design houses will continue to struggle win projects from automakers because of big changes in the field, Nissan-Infiniti Senior Vice President of Design Shiro Nakamura said.
“There were dominating trends in the past, but now design is not driven by trends, design is driven by brands. That means there are fewer opportunities to go to outside companies to design for you,” Nakamura told Automotive News Europe in a phone interview.
For more than a decade, independent styling firms -– especially in Italy -– have found it more difficult to win enough work with established brands to survive. That forced companies such as Italy's Bertone, Italdesign Giugiaro, Pininfarina, Torino Design and the I.DE.A Institute to turn their attention toward fast-growing Chinese and Indian brands such as Geely Automobile, Chery Automobile and Tata Motors.
The new chairman at the I.DE.A Institute, Steffen Goerig, says that his company, which for the last two years generated half of its revenues from Fiat, wants to build business with automakers in India and China.
That is were the work will be for independent firms in the future, thinks Nakamura, who said that most automakers in Europe, the United States, Japan and Korea will do their design work in-house.
“If you go outside the company to design it is not easy to establish your own brand,” Nakamura said.
Another reason for reduced need for outside help is that automakers started to open design studios thousands of miles away from their headquarters.
“We utilize our strong outside design studios [in California and London],” Nakamura said. “It is becoming an internal design competition. That means less opportunity for outside companies.”
Sam Livingstone, director of UK-based consultancy Car Design Research, sees cost as another reason the auto giants want to do more design work in-house.
He also said that today's successful independent design houses are small, low-profile firms that focus more on design and less on engineering. Livingstone, whose clients include Audi, Hyundai and SAIC Motor Corp., added that these design houses specialize in filling small development cycle gaps and providing competition to the internal design team.