Have you ever thought how cars, in this day and age, look pretty much the same even though they were made by different car manufacturers?
Car designs, like any other modern technology, are based on a set of guidelines or rules that can make them effective in their own field. On the aesthetic side, tastes always vary across national cultures. However, as cars are sold globally and are designed by globally influenced people, these cultural tastes are often purposely discarded in the design process. Not only that, but there are also constraints that are forced by economics and other manufacturing process limitations.
Still, all these factors change over time, occasionally shifting more radically than the usual trend. However, cultural aesthetic taste is by far the slowest of these to evolve, thus, making these vehicles more timeless and consistent. As you may have noticed, most cars, even across eras, look very much alike as a result of these principles.
Whatever shape or form, cars have to adhere to laws and type approval regulations. As such, these guidelines give certain constraints, but they still leave room for a large amount of artistic expression. Now, if you’re wondering what the basics behind car design are, you’ve come to the right place.
The first principle of car designing is to study the art of curvature. Studies have shown that having all possible edges of a car instead have the proper curvature is not only pleasing to the eye, but also more aerodynamic. No matter how subtle, every single surface on any car is curved.
To keep design and manufacturing simple, cars tend to concentrate curvature in one direction, and most cars are designed to curve horizontal to the ground. 21st century car design is certainly changing this simplicity though, with many new vehicles – such as BMW’s groundbreaking designs – showing complex interactions of differing curvatures.
Car Shape Plan
In general, the car shape plan is where art meets science. A shape plan is generally the top view of a car. Aerodynamics is the main reason for considering the overall curvature of the car, along with styling issues involved in hiding front or rear overhangs. The main area for curvature in the plan view is the glasshouse, the top half of the vehicle shape, where the windows are. The glass on cars is only ever single curvature. This is due to the lens effect of double curvature glass.
There are also some regulations governing the windscreen angle, which must never be less than 30 degrees from horizontal. Plan view curvature can vary a lot on the bodywork of cars, with larger cars often showing much more shape than smaller ones. Large front and rear overhangs (overhang is literally how much the bodywork hangs over the front or rear axle line) are hidden by rounding the corners of the car in plain view.
The general shape of cars is also important in terms of quality and longevity of cars, because of aerodynamic calculations and even stress and strain variables affecting the general life span of the car’s body materials. This is one of the reasons why people can still buy quality Japan used cars even when they are very old: Toyota and other big companies out there have mastered the idea of merging science and art to form the best looking and most survivable car designs.
When you look at the side view of cars, you’ll notice how the wedges (that inclined part that kind of tapers the upper portion of the car from the lower and more bulky part of it) aid both the design and the aerodynamic principles that it follows. Here, you can see how the main shoulder line of the car is horizontal, with a slight angle to the upper part of the bodywork. This slight angle is known as wedge, and not only does this define most of the aesthetic differences in cars, it also gives a lot more benefit to vehicles in terms of aerodynamic efficiency.
Wheels also have arch lips, which are almost always present to finish the edge of the metal panel neatly. Some cars have large wheel arch shapes. Traditionally, these blend into the body smoothly, but a more modern trend is to emphasize the joint like that of European cars such as Opel Astra and Ford Focus.
Packaging is one of the trickiest parts of vehicle design: this is simply the way that a designer must fit all the components that make up a car in accordance with specified dimensions. Not only that, designers should also consider how people could fit in. In terms of the car engineering, the largest and most important objects to be packaged are the occupants, and the engine. These two components completely dictate the overall dimensions and proportions of every car.
Vehicles involve some of the most complicated packaging problems of any manufactured product. There are so many components, and endless safety considerations to integrate. In the most basic terms, this means that certain parts of the car should be put within a certain distance of each other. Modern technology means that engines and other components are getting smaller, creating more space for occupants through innovative solutions such as the Mercedes A-Class series, but traditionally, there are still only four main ways of packaging a vehicle:
- The position of the driver and glasshouse dictate the position of the doors.
- All the cars have front mounted radiators, which need an aperture to feed air into them, but additional venting is usually needed around the engine.
- This results in apertures in varying positions, so it is important to always consider the internal architecture of the vehicle.
- It should be clear that the number of seats in a vehicle have a major effect on the size and shape of the vehicle. For example, the diagram of a front wheel drive car could present a different silhouette if only 2 seats were considered. Also a mid-engine vehicle can sometimes have a radiator mounted beside the engine. This removes the need for an aperture at the front for the radiator, and increases the size of the apertures along the side of the car like the Lamborghini Diablo.
Car ergonomics for passengers should also be considered. The general definition of ergonomics is that it is a scientific discipline that uses principles of biotechnology and engineering to make products more comfortable for workers and consumers. However, ergonomics isn’t just about design: It also factors in how people use things. In the context of a car, for example, it means that it considers anything from the placement of a radio dial to how a person sits in a passenger seat.
Aside from ensuring comfort and ease of use, ergonomic design has a role to play in safety in the event of an accident. Lack of ergonomics, as a result, can bring about a lot of issues of health and safety for passenger. For example, many headrests aren’t designed in an ergonomic manner at all. They don’t actually work with the rider and support his or her head and neck, so they don’t provide adequate support in the event of a crash.
A study by the U.S. Insurance Institute for Highway Safety showed that most car headrests didn’t protect well against whiplash. The institute tested 70 seat and head restraints for whiplash protection and just eight received “good” ratings, while 30 restraints were rated “poor”. Some restraints couldn’t be tested at all because they were incompatible with tall passengers.