A few of us in creative leadership at frog design got talking about the future of the automobile. As an industry going though massive change, a category we work in and an object designers love to obsess over, there is a lot to talk about. What began as a conversation turned into a POV we shared out on designmind this week. Words by Chief Creative Officer, Mark Rolston, sketch by me, based on Mark's insanely modded 240z... click to see the full POV.
The car is 125 years old. Today, automakers are busy imagining what the next generation of cars will be. What's different this time is the sheer number of technical, ecological, and social changes at play. It's not hard to imagine that future cars may be very different than anything we've seen before. But our roads will be populated not only by these new vehicles, but also by an increasingly deep history of older cars. In other words, the car of the future will also be the car of the past.
The premise is simple: Today's car manufacturers are working hard to build more ecologically sound cars, but despite their best intentions, the reality is that every new car made has a negative ecological impact far greater from its manufacturing process than from its use and eventual destruction. People are already keeping their cars longer, not merely for economical reasons, but because modern cars are made to last longer, and the aftermarket has become incredibly sophisticated. And like architecture, older cars can be more beautiful, unique, and personal than a new, mass-manufactured example.
This isn't a model that benefits the car manufacturers, but they don't need to be left out. New cars are becoming more modular. This serves their own manufacturing efficiencies, but in turn, it also creates an incredible aftermarket opportunity. Automotive manufacturers, working along with the aftermarket can be part of the lifecycle of a car--not for four years, but for 50 or more. The classic Chevy V8 and the newer LS motor are fantastic examples. Their designs have been in service for decades. They can be dropped into just about any car, and mated to more than 100 transmission variations. There are literally thousands of aftermarket upgrades for this engine. Such standardized components are the DNA of a future where a car can be enjoyed for a lifetime. Like our homes, it becomes a personal expression of ourselves.
My 1972 Pickup, like any new pickup, is about 4000 pounds of steel. That's 4000 pounds that didn't need to get sourced and manufactured once more. I have upgraded the interior, engine, suspension, and brakes to modern standards. I can drive that pickup for another 50 years. Like a beautiful, restored old house, it can be admired for its classic design and enjoyed as a singular personal expression. That truck is the only one of its kind.
And as newer technologies and materials come into use, our old cars can be upgraded once more. Neil Young's Lincvolt project is a beautiful example of repurposing an old 1959 Lincoln into a modern zero emissions vehicle. While this is an extreme example, it shows just how much opportunity there is.
Not everyone wants to keep a car forever. Not all cars even deserve to last. We will have a world full of new cars, and hopefully, many more older cars sharing the road. Architecture provides us a good reference for this idea--our cities are neither uniformly new nor old. Nobody visits Rome to see the new buildings. We keep our old buildings: the ones we love or need. The others are destroyed to make room for new ones. The old buildings become new over and over in a continuous cycle of upgrades and restorations. The city of the future is built inside, around, on top of, and under the city of today. The buildings within it are lived in, and they develop a patina that reflects their longer life. Those buildings are inevitably more beautiful and meaningful to us. The same is happening with our cars.
-- Mark Rolston
Illustration by Michael DiTullo