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Brazilian students develop soapbox racers for Volkswagen

Wed, 18 Dec 2013 00:00:00 -0800

Brazilian design students have competed for year-long internships at Volkswagen's Brazilian design studio by designing – and racing – soapbox cars.

Established 15 years ago by Volkswagen South America design director Luiz Veiga, the Volkswagen Design Talent Contest refreshed its format for 2013 by challenging students to develop a prototype for a gravity-powered soapbox racer instead of asking for sketch and render-based proposals. According to Veiga, Volkswagen was looking for someone "capable of working away from the desk and able to create design solutions, assess and build them".

Despite the challenging brief, over 100 students signed up. 30 were then selected to advance into the second stage, which included interviews and tests at the carmaker's design studio, before 10 of the best designs in the ‘Shape' category and five in ‘Color and Trim' advanced into the final. Here, the prototypes were showcased in a ‘concours of elegance' and also took part in a race.

Volkswagen also presented a number of designs, with Veiga himself designing a Beetle-inspired soapbox. Three students finishing their internships – Joao Ruben, Luiz Antonelli and Karmann-Ghia design contest finalist Chrystian Roos – designed others. Antonelli's soapbox interpreted the latest Volkswagen design language as clearly as Veiga's Beetle soapbox.

The color and trim for all cars was the responsibility of the department's intern, Daniela Hiranaka, as were the outfits of the drivers and crewmembers.

"Managing the design and working inside teams are extra challenges which designers must be prepared to face", explained Wolfsburg-based Volkswagen South America studio design manager Gerson Barone. "How to engage teamwork, to cope with budgets, deadlines, and be creative at the same time is what is expected from a complete designer."

To participate in the race, they formed their own racing teams and looked for sponsors and technical support to help develop their prototypes.

Despite being a student competition, a lot of the work was done by outside companies. Some found the backing to develop their ideas with small design companies, suppliers and service providers for local industry. Ícon Design, for example, built Guilherme Rocha's Aero, while runner-up Raquel Villani's RX prototype was built in Amoritz.

The contest's transformation also reflects the evolution of design education within Brazil. In the contest's early years, internships were the only training students could experience in the car design industry. Now, not only can the students find better support at schools, but there are also various courses from institutions such as the IED, which has a branch in Sao Paulo.

Rapid prototyping labs have also increased the sophistication of the designs. The Sao Paulo State University of Bauru's lab – run by the Royal College of Art's Osmar Rodrigues – produced three of the 14 finalists' projects: William Bevilacqua's Hill Runner in the Shape category; and Nina Madueno and Cassio Ivo Oliveira – in Color and Trim.

Oliveira's Alf soapbox impressed with its three big vacuum-formed pieces and space frame, inspired by 1950s Volkswagen aesthetics, with their round, two-tone shell bodies.

The same thing could be said about Matheus da Mata's Gravi1, which took third place and earned him an internship. His sketching skills in the second stage in particular had impressed Veiga.

But it was Cassio Borge Oliveira's design – the overall winner – that best embodied the carmaker's design language. Veiga told Car Design News, "Cassio Borge united the essence of the soapbox and the Volkswagen character." Inspired by 1960s Volkswagen, he has previous experience in soapbox races, especially with the Volkswagen Kombi. 

The crowd gathered to watch the soapboxes presented in the ‘concours of elegance' around hot dog and popcorn stands. In a world where designers are increasingly involved with the media and performing large-scale presentations, it's understandable why Volkswagen might want to see how the future generation of designers might communicate their ideas.

After the presentations came race time, and with the race counting for 20 percent of the total points, it was taken extremely seriously.

Graduating intern Luiz Antonelli came in first, meaning when Milene Kazama finished as runner-up she took home the silver trophy she and also secured the Color and Trim internship. Her 5R soapbox highlighted sustainable design, turning it inside out by using textiles for the car's body.

Not even a minor accident could deny Raquel Villani third place and an internship. Veiga said her RX soapbox had "maybe the most advanced shape in the contest". It showcased a biomorphic approach to shape, with its fenders designed to resemble a runner at the start of a race.

Addressing the students Veiga said, "a designer must be as strong as an athlete. One must be able to digest fast the frustrations and rebuild himself to be creative and joyful again". He added the contest "showed how versatile and excited about car design the Brazilian students are".

In a country where design culture is growing and the industry is booming, it's heartening to see there's a new, enthusiastic and talented generation of students in place for the future.


By Artur Grisanti Mausbach