Test The Limits

Bad Design is Such a Drag

By Steve Remondi

June 24 2014

  Recently, Volkswagen's design boss, Walter De Silva, talked about some of the unfortunate choices that fuel economy requirements impose on design in an interview with Automotive News Europe. De Silva's states flatly that aerodynamics "is a science not an art," something we spent decades proving in PowerFLOW. He also points out that a wind tunnel "does not care about brand image" and that wind tunnel tests will lead to "common design language" (meaning boring design) as drag becomes the dominant attribute for vehicle design. De' Silva makes his point by highlighting the Toyota Prius and Honda Insight as identical solutions to this drag challenge: you can only tell them apart with graphic elements. In our work at Exa on various new vehicle design programs we can empathize with this pull towards typical engineering solutions to reduce a vehicle's drag and the Prius and Insight are good examples of this sort of engineering handbook solutions. De Silva is right if the tension between design and engineering tilts dramatically in favor of engineering. However, this is not the only way. Clearly engineering and aerodynamics has to gain more influence on vehicle design as he notes. But creative, innovative and emotional designs still exist in the potential solution set. You just have to work much harder to find them and this requires having the proper environment between engineering and design to enable this. Witness the Tesla Model S as an example that enhances the Tesla brand image while beating both the Prius and Insight with a lower drag. We find on projects that we are working on, we have to demand that our aerodynamics engineers understand the critical design elements of the new vehicle and then find modified designs that preserve these elements while improving the drag. A proper environment is one in which we deliver a full digital simulation environment so that design and engineering can create and analyze every day. We also provide a complete photorealistic environment as the communication language in which designers and engineers can collaborate. Thus, we still believe in a future where car designers have more to contribute than colors and graphics – but this will only happen if the development process changes to meet these rising challenges. It's not easy but we think the advantage will go to those that do.