The influence of the ArtCenter College of Design in Pasadena, California on the automotive industry is legendary. Its annual Car Classic event, where alumni show their designs and classic cars, is a who’s who of the car design world where graduates lead discussions and car fanatics ogle at the designs.

This year, Tesla designer Franz von Holzhausen, showed the next generation Tesla Roadster and Jay Leno stopped by. There is a dynamic synergy between the alumni and the students at the college. Auto Futures talked to some of this December’s graduating class from the department of transportation to learn what influences them and also their view of the future of automobile design.

Jacob Cobos from Austin, Texas finds inspiration from Horacio Pagani who started sweeping the floors at Lamborghini and eventually became a designer and now runs his own supercar company. He also likes the futurist designs of Syd Mead an ArtCenter graduate who designed cars for Blade Runner, Tron and Elysium as well as concept cars for GM in the 1960s and 1970s. 

“Mead is a futurist, I haven’ see seen anybody reach his high level concepts,” says Cobos.

Cobos also likes the designs of Giorgetto Giugiaro who designed the DeLorean DMC-1. Cobos says these designers created timeless designs that inspire.

“I think car design will shift away from low-technology into more of an age of experience,”said Cobos. He, like many of the ArtCenter students, believes that autonomous cars are generations away. A concept he designed is a one-seater that is controlled via a brain implant. The driver sits forward like a motorcycle to see the road easier and balance the weight of the car.

Kevin Smit, from Lake Placid, Florida is influenced by Harley Earl the first GM vehicle stylist in the 1900s, who invented the automotive styling business and designed the 1928 Buick Wide Job. He also likes revolutionary Peter Schreyer who designed the Audi TT concept because it was the first design to integrate the bumpers fully into its shape.

“I think the cars of future will be more consumer driven, more practical. I think sports utility vehicles and compact utility vehicles are here to stay,” says Smit. He sees a big split in the future between high-end luxury designs that will be very expensive consumer cars. He says full-autonomy is well beyond his lifetime.

© ArtCenter College of Design/Chris Hatcher

Ioannis Prevas, from Baltimore, Maryland was highly influenced by the yellow and blue 1962 Ferrari 250 GTO, the orange 1995 McLaren GTR and the Bugatti Type 57SC. 

“I’ve always been drawn to the hypercars. I got into to this because I want to design supercars,” says Prevas. “If you put your heart and soul into it you can make it happen,”

Prevas is working on a concept Ferrari, he calls the 2027 Teatro of the future with turbine electric power, which could allow speeds up to 270 miles per hour or with a 2200 horsepower engine for his thesis. He was inspired by Ken Okuyama, who used to run Pininfarina and is now designing the Ferrari Enzo. Recently, Prevas was an intern for Okuyama designing a superbike.

Prevas doesn’t see autonomous cars for a really long time, noting that it’s not the autonomous technology that is the problem, because people are unpredictable. However autonomy will allow for more design options, “In the future cars will be rolling sculptures on wheels,” predicts Prevas.

Ivan Manrique from Watsonville, California was inspired from when he was a teenager when he met ArtCenter alum Darren Jenkins who was designing Mazda. Jenkins is known for his unique surfacing. Manrique was not only inspired by Jenkins designs but also Jenkins’ personality and willingness to help. 

Manrique is amazed at what Jenkins did creating the whole system for the Lucid Air, how he executed the entire process from design to directing the whole process. 

“They came up with an answer for electric cars that differs from Tesla – it’s not overwhelming, it’s elegant,” says Manrique who notes the way the platform is built it gave the designers room to explore different options that makes the Lucid Air unique. 

Manrique sees that in the future of cars there will be a Renaissance, an opportunity to put life back into car designs. 

For Manrique’s thesis he has designed a one-seater future vehicle with four wheels and new surfacing and when it’s parked it’s a piece of art. He uses the example in the city of Madrid, Spain that banned cars from the city limits. 

“I think that eventually, we have to move to a different package for cars,” adds Manrique who thinks that most one-seater cars are not appealing and off-putting. 

Monica Yun Jung Hong from Toronto, Canada says that although her favorite designers are always changing she likes what Peter Schreyer did at Kia, “He elevated the brand in North America and re-framed it as a youthful brand.” She was honored when Schreyer visited ArtCenter to critique her work that was one of the highlights of her time at ArtCenter.

“It’s an exciting time to be in automotive because we have the tech to do what we want to do,” says Hong. “It’s important to think outside of the box and think as a user thinks as cars become autonomous.”

Hong believes it is also important to create a car experience: “With Tesla, it is about the whole experience.”

“We need more females in the automotive industry and more women designing cars,” says Hong who adds that women influence car-buying decisions and she always encourages female students.

Hong interned at Volkswagen, Honda and Jeep and wished there were more women working there. She also participated in a graduate class sponsored by Uber, Uber Elevate with vertical take-off and landing transport (VTOL) in which she collaborated with multiple team members which she called “a huge learning experience.”

Lex Liu from Nanjing, China came to ArtCenter College after learning to sketch vehicles with ArtCenter graduate Yang Cai who now designs for Peugeot.

Liu’s influences include the 2014 Peugeot Onyx concept and the Lexus Sedan concept shown at the Shanghai Motor Show. His thesis explores how transportation will evolve in the far-off future, in 2300. He designed a bubble wrap-like mesh of interlaced Taoism meditation spheres,where people can sit and meditate while moving. The spheres are all transparent with just a bit of copper and the nanotechnology allows the transparent exterior doors to open and close.

“When we are students, it’s our time to push the limits” concludes Liu.