What is Automotive Design and Engineering and Why is it so Important in Todays Wold?


Aaron Lucas

Ashlyn C Williams



What is Automotive Design and Engineering?

The art of designing a car or a truck is nothing short of a miracle.  In this piece I am looking at personal motor vehicles, those that are made with both form and function in mind.  This, to some people, is a very daunting task.  The amount of perfection that people demand in today’s market is almost unfair but somehow all of the engineers and designers can keep up.  People want a vehicle that can reach at least one hundred and thirty miles an hour, zero wind noise, twenty five miles to the gallon minimum, and a sleek attractive body to top it all off.  All the engineers and designers are the people with the amazing minds that create these amazing pieces of art.  What they do is what I want in this piece.  (Fujimoto, 3-24)

            To understand the reason for this paper, you need to know a little bit more about me.  I know this is unconventional but it’s the only way that this paper will make any sense as to why some one would ever want to investigate such a vast field.  Also, why stick to convention if you really want to live.  I am a first year mechanical engineering student at UNC Charlotte.  After I get my bachelors degree in mechanical engineering I hope to get masters in business administration.  With all this work I hope to become the head of automotive design for any car company.  (GM Announces, par.1)

            There is a distinct difference between designers and engineers.  The designers are the people that draw the fancy little pictures of what everyone wants a car to be; big wheels, big engines, and radical lines that could never be made on mass scale for consumer consumption (with today’s technology).  The engineers are the people that take that design and make it doable.  In short the designers are Van Gogh and engineers are Leonardo De Vinci.  Meaning that even though what the designers create is beautiful and simply amazing it has no real purpose and can’t be produced or even function on a custom scale.  Engineers make beautiful things that work like so many of Leonardo De Vinci’s inventions.  (Bob Boniface, par.7)

            There are many aspects of designing a vehicle and designers do play a major part in some of them, mainly in the ascetic aspects of it.  Two of the areas that they have the most say in are the exterior and interior of the car.  But both have to fit the engineer’s numbers for tolerances and so forth.  With the Exterior there are three things that have to be heavily considered besides the obvious safety of passengers and pedestrians and that is aerodynamics, ergonomics, and styling.  Aerodynamics is a highly refined science that vies for position with the other key vehicle design considerations, styling and ergonomics.  (Fujimoto, 223-230)

Early aerodynamics started as more of an art then a science.  Fish were one of the first things to really inspire an aero dynamic design. This is also were the “teardrop” approach evolved from.  But most of the early developments were based on trial and error.  Today there are definite basic principals that every designer and engineer follow to create an aerodynamically efficient vehicle.  Some of the basics are that the underbody should be as smooth as possible.  There should be no sharp angles and the front windscreen should be raked as much as possible.  The front end should start at a low stagnation line and curve up in a continuous line.  That is just a taste of the basic principals but the general idea is to make everything line and contour flow as best it can.  The more interruptions the more drag so if things like door handles and mirrors can flow better or even disappear then designers will jump on it.  (Car Design Online, Aerodynamics, par.1-2)

The interior, unlike aerodynamics, has relatively few things to be held back by.  An interior number one has to fit inside the body of the car and safely hold the passengers in their seats with seat belts and in case of a crash airbags to further protect them.  After that budget and ergonomics are the biggest things that a designer has to worry about.  With an endless list of materials to choose from all with different properties this is one of the biggest factors in designing an interior.  Also one needs to consider how many people can comfortably be sat in the space given.  But ergonomics is not to be forgotten.  People vary dramatically in size and proportion around the world.  And standardizing the production process is the biggest factor of keeping the cost of cars down.  So the main parts of the passenger’s arrangement are adjustable, today more than ever.  Today’s seats can adjust in at least 6 different ways and the streering wheels are no longer just tilting but telescoping as well.  This is were the wheel doesn’t just go up and down like it has but can move in and out to allow the steering wheel to be set to your specific wants.  But things like the gauges and stereo controls are not adjustable in production cars.  In some concept cars they are experimenting with adjustable gauges that would adjust with your height that would be read by a sensor near the sun visor. (Car Design Online, Ergonomics, par. 2-3)

For Engineers there job in creating this vehicle are all the parts that one can’t see but are crucial for the car to work, things such as the engine and transmission.  The engine of the car is an infinitely complex piece of engineering.  Today’s cars, normally, use one of three engines, piston with gas, piston with diesel, or the rotary engine.  The two piston engines are almost exactly the same except for how they combust their fuel.  Gas engines use spark plugs while diesel engines use pure pressure to cause spontaneous combustion.  Though some will use glow plugs (heating element) to help the process along.  Both of these engines have many moving parts that have to work in perfect unison for it to do what it has to do.  Things like springs, belts and pumps can break at any time.  That’s where the rotary motor comes in.  Also known as the Wankel engine after its creator Felix Wankel.  It has an oval like housing with a rounded triangle or epitrochoid shape inside it that rotates around the oval.  It has vastly less moving parts and so is both smaller and lighter.  But it has its disadvantages as well.  While it is more reliable in the short run it wears out much faster then a piston engine and is not as efficient as a piston engine.  So the largest automobile use for this type of engine is for racing but the automobile maker Mazda still has a major investment in personal vehicles with rotary engines.  (Fujimoto, 85-88)

Another unseen component that plays a major part in a vehicles success is the chaise and suspension.  For both there are acceptable variations depending on the application.  The differences for both are directly related.  The Stiffer either the suspension or chaise is the better the vehicle will handle but the worse the ride of the car will feel.  This is because vibrations travel through solids much better then non-solids.  When you have a softer suspension and chaise then the ride will be very comfortable but the body of the car will roll and this shifting weight will throw the handling of the car right out the window.  All of these things are variables that an engineer has to consider when working with the designer to make a great vehicle.  (Fujimoto, 99-105)

To get in this industry where perfection is demanded is not an easy task either.  For the engineers there is a lot of school time involved.  Some have compared getting an engineering degree to pre med for doctors.  With the countless amount of math classes that one has to take just to get his bachelors.  The natural talent that is needed to become an engineer is usually apparent.  Though it is not needed it is usually only those that posses it that make it through all the schooling to a great job.  Most engineers are at least good at math but one of the dead give a ways is the undying need to know how things work.  And to get up to the higher levels of the corporate engineer, like any other job not much helps more then having some good connections.  (GM Announces, par. 2)

With designers it takes a bit less schooling but a lot more natural talent.  The drawings that they have to do for their original design are phenomenal and are almost identical to the end product and have to be.  One example is Bob Boniface he started off his career as an accountant with a Bachelor of Arts degree in psychology and economics from Vanderbilt.  But drew cars in the evenings.  He was eventually talked back into going back to school to College of Creative Studies in Detroit, Michigan and graduated with a bachelor of fine arts. He started at Daimler Chrysler but is now with GM working with Chevrolet concept vehicles.  (Bob Bonifice, par. 1-5)

Another successful designer that I would like to mention, to get an idea of what it takes to become a designer, is Bryan Nesbitt.  His father took him to the campus of the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California when he was 12 because he said that he could see his talent.  After studying architecture and industrial design at Georgia Institute of Technology he went to the school that his father took him to and graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in industrial design.  He also interned at Daimler Chrysler and was later hired by them in 1994 and designed them the PT Cruiser.  In April 2001 he joined General Motors as Chief Designer for Chevrolet. In January 2002, he was appointed Executive Director, Design, Body-Frame Integral Architectures, for all of GM’s North American Brands.  Then in February 2004 was named Executive director of GM Europe Design.  Which means that he is responsible for all Opel, Saab, and Vauxhall design activities.  So as you can see it takes some schooling but a lot of talent.  (Bryan Nesbit, par. 1-10)

When personal motor vehicles first came along back with Henry Ford and others the only way to plan out the design was to draw it out.  There have been many innovations since then.  Some low tech and others mind bogglingly high tech.  One thing that a lot of designers do today well before production is make clay models.  There are several stages to producing a clay model.  First, the scale of the model is determined by using drawings and sketches.  They then make a rig based on these dimensions and they will scale it to be either smaller then the actual size or to the exact actual size of the vehicle.  They put the clay on the form that is part of the rig, a foam core to reduce the amount of the expensive and heavy clay that they have to use.  When it comes to shaping it there used to be only one way to go about it.  That was by hand, manually carving out the model using system of 10-lines. These are the reference points that they use to transfer from the drawings to the model.  From there the designers can either strictly follow their drawings or use templates or they can begin to experiment and develop the form freely.  That’s the beauty of using clay; it can always be reworked and adjusted in tangible form.  (Car Design Online, Modeling, par. 1-3)

In today’s technological world laboring over the clay for weeks is unnecessary.  With today’s technology most of the designing can be done on computers with CAD.  CAD stands for ‘Computer Aided Design.’  These designs done on the computer can give you automatic measurements and can be sent to machines that can recreate them with no manual work.  This technology has even brought clay modeling forward.  Instead of the designers having to carve the entire clay model them selves taking weeks a machine can give the rough out line and then designers can come back and prefect it and change it all they want.  And with the giant leaps with materials they don’t even have to use clay any more to make large three-dimensional models.  After the designers are happy with what the have done in CAD and have made any changes to a clay model and then put that new information into the computer they can make a machine mill down a block of high density foam into a exact replica of the vehicle.  (Car Design Online, Modeling, par. 4)

The Future of design most defiantly lies in computers.  The things we see in the movies are not that far off.  For those who have seen the new movie “Iron man” (2008) when you see him using holograms to make his suit and move it around before he produced it that is a example of were the industry could be in a couple years (Paramount Pictures).  If we ever do reach that point then we may not need to use materials at all before production.  But it’s going to be hard to replace the ability to truly feel what you are working on (Car Design Online, Modeling, par. 4-5).

All of these major tasks have to be completed before a vehicle can even be considered for production.  The way that this paper was worded might have let on that there are only a few people that work on a vehicle at a time but in reality there are full teams of engineers and designers that all have to work one vehicle.  And even with these large teams creating an entirely new vehicle can take years.  And to become one of these few it takes much more then just schooling or talent, it takes determination and patience.  As it does to create one of these works of art.  (Car Body Design, Manufacturing Processes, par. 1-3)

The true importance of this has come painfully apparent over the last couple of months.  The big three of Detroit, General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler, are begging congress to bail them out of their swift fall from being a big as they once were.  This is a perfect example of the free market system; the company with the better product started small but found its way on top of the former big dogs.  I am of course talking about the two big boys from Japan, Toyota and Honda who are now on top of all of Detroit’s big three.  (Fitzgibbons, Patrick, par. 1-2)

There are some very distinct reasons for this.  One of the biggest ones is the rise in energy costs.  The Japanese cars more often then not are more efficient on gas then the American cars.  Also Japan was the first to really capitalize on the Hybrid cars, leaving America to play catch up with their well-established models.  Another big factor was the sub-par quality that was produced back in the 80’s.  The Japanese cars would last a good ten years if you kept the general maintenance up but American cars were falling apart left and right.  (Webster, Larry, par. 2, 5)

That is where I thought that the designers and engineers should have stepped in and made sure that the products that these companies were putting out were any good.  Because now, even though the quality of these cars has stepped up they still carry around the label that their cars are low quality, “Perception trails reality.”  (Webster, Larry, par. 5) For years the Japanese have been making a better product and now the big three are paying for it.  And now they are going to have to do something big to come back to the status that they used to hold, if they can at all.  (Fitzgibbons, Patrick, par. 35)

Aaron Lucas

Ashlyn C Williams



Work Cited Page

·      Fujimoto, Takahiro. The Evolution of a Manufacturing System at Toyota. Oxford, NY: Oxford University Press, 1999.

·      “Bob Boniface.” Car Body Design: Automotive Design & Engineering, 24 September 2008. <http://www.carbodydesign.com/archive/2008/09/24-bob-boniface>

·      “Bryan Nesbit.” Car Body Design: Automotive Design & Engineering, 6 March 2007. <http://www.carbodydesign.com/designers/bryan-nesbitt/>

·      “GM Announces Design Executive Appointments.” Car Body Design: Automotive Design & Engineering, 2 May 2007. <http://www.carbodydesign.com/archive/2007/05/02-gm-new-design-organization/>

·      Car Design Online: Dedicated to Automotive Design Information, 23 October 2008. <http://www.cardesignonline.com/>

·      Fitzgibbons, Patrick.  “U.S. auto execs plead for Congress to fund bailout.” Reuters, 18 Nov. 2008 <http://www.reuters.com/article/politicsNews/idUSTRE4AD08120081118?pageNumber=2&virtualBrandChannel=0&sp=true>

·      Webster, Larry.  “GM in Crisis-5 Reasons Why America’s Largest Car Company Teeters on the Edge.”  Popular Mechanics, 18 Nov. 2008 <http://www.popularmechanics.com/automotive/new_cars/4292379.html>


Source by Aaron Lucas