Volvo’s Genius

Montreal-born Simon Lamarre is Volvo’s Chief Studio Designer in Gothenburg, Sweden. I recently asked him about the future of design in the automobile industry.

What is good design?

SL: It should convey an emotional connection without you having to explain. The more you have to talk about a design, the less successful the design is. The stronger the design, the less you have to explain it. If people don’t get it on the spot, you should rethink the design.

How challenging is it to innovate in your industry and why?

SL: The car industry is conservative and is moving fast at a slow pace. There’s so much money in product development, no car can afford to fail. It makes the manufacturers very conservative. Compare it to shoes, for instance. Nike and Reebok can go crazy in their design and weather a flop. In the auto industry, there’s less room for wild and crazy ideas. Which makes it very interesting and frustrating.

What are the future megatrends in car design?

SL: Economy and ecology.

Up till recently the focus was on bigger and better cars. And luxury… Now we’re going into a more ‘rational’ period. Cars will be more tailored for certain uses. You’ll see people going for smaller cars.

A lot of today’s fashions, like a big SUV in your city driveway, are going to disappear. You’ll still have big cars with big engines, but people will get them if they need it for work. I think people will go towards more clever choices, more down to earth.

Will these trends differ between Europe and North America?

The biggest difference is in environmental awareness and gas prices. Over here (in Europe) there’s always been awareness to gas consumption. Because of the taxes. Gas costs twice as much here as America and Canada.

Otherwise, people in cities – doesn’t matter what city you’re from – there’s surprisingly little difference. Everything’s flavoured differently, but city drivers have the same issues around the world.

Ecology matters to you and your customers. What sort of materials will you be designing with in the future?

SL: You’ll still have the classics. The luxurious cars will still have the leather. But you’ll see lots of new materials. Plastics, vegetable fibres, wood fibres. All kinds of new materials. It’s exciting. Design will have a lot more surprise in the future. It’ll be a lot more playful – look at the FIAT 500 – lots of new materials. You’ve already seen that a lot with the small cars, like Minis and SmartCars, but it’ll come with the big cars too.

Maybe you’ll see porcelyn and glass in the interiors, rather than the traditional wood, leather and plastic. Volvo used crystal from the dark woods of the middle of Sweden for a show car. But for every show car, there’s a touch reality.

Image courtesy of Paul D. Cocker.

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