Volkswagen Group design boss Walter de Silva has been waging a 15-year battle against vehicles with unnecessary exterior graphics. His campaign started at VW Group subsidiary Audi and now includes the German automaker's entire range of brands. His most recent works – the VW Up minicar and the seventh-generation Golf – display the kind of design purity de Silva covets, even if some critics say the cars look boring.
De Silva's push for purity could face its biggest challenge yet: tougher global CO2 emission rules. He says exterior designs are being altered to achieve optimal aerodynamics and better fuel efficiency at the expense of pleasing aesthetics. A wave of vehicles with complex, cluttered designs could start to arrive before the end of the decade, de Silva told Automotive News Europe Editor Luca Ciferri.
Should simplicity rule car design?
Absolutely. It was true in the past and it is even more evident now. Complexity is progressively going out of fashion. Young people want simpler, more intuitive things. While my view on simplicity won’t change, I fear stricter emission rules may permit a resurgence of decoration and graphics that are not aesthetically pleasing.
Why do you fear this?
To cut emissions you have to reduce the vehicle’s weight and drag coefficient. While there are multiple ways, such as using different materials, to reduce weight, aerodynamics is not an art, it is a science. A wind tunnel does not care about brand image or family feeling, it just measures the model’s aerodynamic performance, its drag coefficient.
Are automakers at risk of becoming like the aviation industry where computers create a perfect aerodynamic shape and the only differentiation comes from graphics and color?
Yes. Look to the third generations of the Toyota Prius and Honda Insight. A key element when creating both models was to achieve an extremely low drag coefficient. Their proportions and their side views are almost identical. The only way to distinguish one from the other is with graphic elements.