Australia, the hidden gem of the automotive industry


© General Motors

There has been much pessimism concerning the Australian automotive industry in recent times, with the closure of the manufacturing base across all three big brands, the gloom seems to be well founded.

However, this blow to the community has overshadowed the strong contribution that Australian design makes to the car industry every year, reflected recently at the 2015 Detroit Auto Show.

The contribution of Australians to the global pool of car designers is satisfyingly high compared to other more populous nations in the world, indicating Australian design is as vibrant and innovative as ever.

The Detroit Auto Show is at the very heart of the ‘old’ centre of the Motor industry, with the first show dating back to 1907. It is now one of the largest of its kind and importantly the first of the year, positioning itself as the show that sets the agenda for the industry each year.

Therefore how gratifying it is to discover, that behind the most prestigious car launches at the show are Australian design studios, designers leading largely from here in Victoria. 

Both Ford and General Motors have launched new cars designed at Campbellfield and Port Melbourne respectively.

The new Ford GT, a highly prized iteration of a classic Ford muscle sports car, was led in its design by Todd Willing, Head of Design at Fords studio. The car won the “EyesOn Design Award” for best production vehicle. 

Frank Rudolph Chief Designer at General Motors Holden penned the Chevrolet Bolt EV an erstwhile North American car conceived and executed in Melbourne As was the Buick Avenir named by USA Today as “the most beautiful car of the show”. These are examples of a sometimes-overused term, but in this case rightly describe these vehicles as cutting edge design.

Both Todd Willing and Frank Rudolph are graduates of the Bachelor of Industrial Design at Monash University, Faculty of Art, Design and Architecture (MADA). The program has produced top-flight design talent for over twenty-five years now.

Design graduates from Monash University have been taken all over the globe to major design studios, but what is gratifying is just how many car designers stay in Australia, or are coming back from overseas appointments to be engaged in studios in Australia. These designers offer a broader set of skills and advancing automotive design talent.

To be in this position is testament to the stewardship of the studios through difficult times, and the high quality industry ready education at MADA that enabled educators to have the right alignment with employers in industry. 

The Australian design studios indicate that they are adept at designing with constraint, not over detailing their vehicles with bells and whistles but taking a subtle and inventive approach. They integrate the technological sophistication required of today’s cars with elegance in both form and usability.

This Australian approach to automotive design is characterised by a skill set that is more versatile then many counterparts in other parts of the world. Adept at dealing with both large and small cars and the challenges of the Australian ‘condition’ of both hot summers and the tyranny of distant journeys and the toll this places on the car.

The success and recognition of the work of the Australian studios from both Ford and General Motors, while not forgetting that Toyota too runs a vibrant design studio in Melbourne, is indicative of a new found confidence in the emerging design and intellectual economy, that no longer needs to be located above the factory floor.

With the continued investment into our design education and the growth of our talent pool, studios will continue to provide world beating and competitive design solutions to answer some of societies toughest mobility problems.

Mr Selby Coxon is the Acting Head, Department of Design at MADA, Monash University.