Autocar interviews Gerry McGovern

Gerry McGovern is the chief designer of the Range Rover Velar, which in the opinion of yours truly is the most beautiful SUV in production today. His interview with Autocar offers some fascinating insights into the design process:

“Some people still think our job is to apply styling to an existing set of hard points. It was like that back in 2004, when I came back to Land Rover after my time with Lincoln in the US. Go away and make it look good, they’d say. But if you’re forced to do it that way, the horse has already bolted. Hard points define volumes and proportions, and together they’re the number one requisite for a great-looking vehicle. Get them wrong and it’ll never look any good, however good your details and surfaces. That’s why designers need to be involved in these decisions.” Everything changed, says McGovern, with Tata’s acquisition of Jaguar and Land Rover for £1.3 billion in 2008. “There was lots of mumbling, both in Europe and India, about Tata buying us. Everyone asked the same question: what do they know? But then Mr [Ratan] Tata arrived and asked the killer question: why does design report to engineering? He’d trained as an architect, he loved cars and knew exactly what our job entailed. I won’t interfere, he told us, and no on else will. It’s your destiny and you control it.”

There's still a common misconception that design simply relates to how a car 'looks' on the inside and out. Design is a lot more thorough than that. It focuses on how a user interacts with their car. Everything from their reaction to the styling when they see the car at a first glance, to how they operate the air-conditioning controls, or to the feel of interior materials, are all interactive experiences that need to be designed. Design is a very holistic concept, and for a vehicle to have great design, close collaboration with engineers that will put the designer's vision on the road is key.  

Mazda and Toyota to collaborate on electric vehicle development

Hans Greimel, writing for Automotive News:

"Toyota will take a 5 percent stake in Mazda, while Mazda reciprocates with a token 0.25 percent stake in Toyota, the car manufacturers said in a joint statement Friday.

Toyota and Mazda said they will also collaborate in developing electrified vehicles and connected car technologies. They will also step up supplying vehicles to each other.

In electric vehicles, Toyota is being positioned as working on the battery-side of electric vehicles, while Mazda works on the overall architecture. The two companies will jointly develop the hardware and software sides of electric vehicles but produce them separately, Toyota Executive Vice President Shigeki Terashi said at a joint press conference in Tokyo.

In connected cars, Toyota and Mazda will cooperate on vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure communications, seen as a key toward self-driving and advanced safety systems."

This appears to be a beneficial move for both parties.

For Mazda, it represents a cost-efficient and potentially time saving strategy to jump on the electric and autonomous vehicle bandwagon, by leveraging Toyota's greater resources and battery expertise, whilst retaining control of overall design and vehicle development.

Toyota, in turn, can make use of Mazda's product development and engineering expertise that has been responsible for the famed handling qualities of its SkyActiv architecture. This partnership is sure to also complement Toyota's existing collaboration with BMW on battery development and lightweight materials.  

The New York Times editorial on electric vehicles

The New York Times wrote the following in response to the UK committing to ending sales of new petrol and diesel vehicles by 2040:

"Much depends, too, on where the electricity comes from. If it comes from coal-fired plants, there could be a net increase in the greenhouse gases that are warming the planet; if from natural gas plants, a modest net decrease; if from carbon-free sources like wind and solar power, a huge net benefit. President Trump’s antagonism to the Paris climate accord and his affinity for fossil fuels demonstrate the difficulty of making this shift; and despite Volvo’s exciting announcement that it will make only electric or hybrid cars as of 2019, many manufacturers may well resist abandoning the engines they have spent the past century perfecting."

This paragraph makes an important point that often doesn't receive enough attention in the current fanfare around electric vehicles. If the electricity used to power cars is from a non-renewable source, then greenhouse gas emissions are simply being shifted up the electricity supply chain rather than being reduced. A holistic overhaul of the world's electricity supply chain, that ensures power is sourced from renewable energy, is needed. Electric vehicles are ultimately only one component of this modernisation.