When it comes to automotive trends, discussions always seem to point to autonomous vehicles or electric cars, which although impressive, obscure the design revolution taking the automotive world by storm. However, for a moment forget about automotive autonomy, there’s another biggie occurring right now – modern design revolution. In the last few years, we’ve seen the aerodynamics take the main stage again, with the sleek wind sweeping design of the BMW i8 wetting out appetites for alternatives to the traditional bodies we’ve become accustomed to.
The innovation of modern car design trends is being driven by the desire to stand out amongst the competition, as well as increasing fuel efficiency. As the engineering prowess of automakers edges closer to parity, more and more customers are looking to style to differentiate between modern cars. After all, it’s all well and good having an electric car, but if it doesn’t look the part, many consumers won’t want to fork out the money for a clunky piece of scrap metal.
Today, manufacturers are bringing their A-game, with lightweight body materials, refined aerodynamics, and cosmetic LED technology. More than ever before, contours and sexy body designs are shaping the way consumers buy, and modern car designers are determined to capitalize on it. As more technology comes out in future we can only expect that car designs will become more and more extreme to stand out from the crowd.
Lightweight Body Materials: Carbon Fiber
One of the most pressing concerns driving modern car design trends is being eco-friendly and cutting down on unnecessary fuel consumption. Automakers in Europe are subject to stringent EU regulations and legislation that encourages manufacturers to reduce their carbon footprints. The interference of EU has driven companies to start using lightweight body materials, rather than renewable energy sources to cut down on their fuel consumption.
Lightweight body materials like carbon fiber are not only strong, but they’re lighter than steel bodies. Stylistically, lighter body materials have become the go-to for automakers looking to keep their models looking sleek, whilst boosting their fuel-economy. The great thing about carbon fiber is it can be molded as needed, with commercial grade carbon fibers that offer a modulus of 230 GPA (three times more than E-glass fibers).
Carbon Fiber is a Mass Production Nightmare
Although lightweight body materials do have their advantages, they’re also a mass production nightmare. Materials like carbon fiber are incredibly expensive to mass-produce, which makes the impractical in terms of cutting costs. Steel may be heavy, but it’s much less expensive to mass-produce compared to other lightweight materials. Steel can be melted down and molded with ease, where as composite materials need to be taken from organic polymers and woven together. Unless carbon fiber starts to grow on trees it’s going to be confined to more expensive models.
Despite the trials and tribulations of mass-producing lightweight materials, the automobile industry hasn’t given up trying to make the mass production process more affordable. Part of the drive is due to the pressure from world governments to cut fuel expenditure. In the United States, rules require carmakers to improve the average fuel efficiency of their vehicles from 27.5 miles per gallon in 2012 to 54.5 mpg by 2025. If manufacturers conquer the mass-production process of these alternative materials we can expect to see a flock of new models emerging with carbon fiber bodies (Possibly at a fraction of the price).
A New Face of Car Aerodynamics
As part of the pursuit for both efficiency and style, redefining car aerodynamics has remained one of the core modern design trends. Consumers want slicker futuristic designs, that perform well and turn heads. High quality crafted contours have helped to cut down on air resistance whilst creating that futuristic vibe. Nina Tortosa, an aero dynamicist at General Motors discusses in great detail the importance of aerodynamics to the performance of future cars.
As a member of the team behind the Chevrolet Volt Tortosa suggests “For the Volt the change in weight had a smaller impact than a change in drag”. Rather than opting to cut the weight, the Volt team made it the number one priority to make sure the car moved well (Rather than cutting the weight of the body). Rather than forking out thousands for trendy body materials it was much more cost effective to change the structure of the body.
Distinct Auto Body Design
The increase in emphasis on aerodynamics has been well documented, and it’s no surprise: crafted designs look good. As consumers we’re drawn to cars with striking and distinct designs. As a spokesman of Mazda North America notes, “Everybody’s looking for their version of more sculpted contoured body surfaces” expressing that Mazda has been “trying to break away from some of the traditional body creases and lines that every car has had for the last whatever number of years”.
When we’re out on the street, the aerodynamic design of a car is one of the first things we see. Models with a high quality body and smooth aerodynamic shaping get people’s attention. In future, we can only expect that body designs become not only more aerodynamically efficient, but garish and jaw-dropping as well.
LED and OLED Technology
LED technology is becoming one of the most common ways to exert a bit of personality and color into new models. The great thing about LEDs is that they are very efficient and fuel economic, but crucially, they add character. It’s not uncommon to see newer models with chromed lighting technology snuck in behind transparent glass, or LED lighting cutting piercing through the interior on an overcast day. High quality LED lights can complete that impression of quality created by the rest of the vehicle.
As LED technology has become more popular, we’ve started to see more Organic LEDs (OLEDS). OLEDS are flexible lights that can be shaped in line with vehicle specifications. Particularly savvy designers may add in uniformly lit panels to help differentiate their models from the competition. The incentive to apply OLED’s is due in part to the growth in sophistication of LED technology in recent years, raising new design possibilities for eager designers to use.
Generally speaking, OLED is mostly used in signal, taillights and interior lighting. On signal lights, OLED pierces through most weather conditions with style. As LED technology continues to be snuck in to liven up cars in future, we can expect to see more and more warm, light textures and surfaces that cultivate a futuristic vibe. Nothing quite says ‘future’ like a gorgeous cockpit accompanied with tasteful neon lighting.
The Future is in the Eye of the Beholder
Though the future of the automotive industry is uncertain, the trend of style before substance will continue to take root for the foreseeable future. Companies will prioritize stylistic features in their cars in order to stand out from other models on the market. Rather than pushing practicality, we can expect a phase of emphasizing novelty design features.
Of course manufacturers will remain committed to quality performance, but aesthetics will reach a stage of prominence. As we go further into the future, manufacturers will release ever more sophisticated aerodynamic designs to show off their artistic prowess, before cutting the weight of the body to increase their fuel-efficiency. As an extra touch, we’ll see more and more LED technology to bring some vivid color both inside and outside of our vehicles.