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Autoweek Design Forum returns with style

Thu, 12 Jan 2012

Creating striking products for a new generation of consumers was a hot topic at the Autoweek Design Forum, which returned on Thursday with an A-list panel of designers from the car world and a man credited with the proliferation of the Apple iPod.

Heady company, and it resulted in interesting speeches and debates about design, technology and marketing--and making it all work together.

The annual event is held at the College for Creative Studies A. Alfred Taubman Center for Design Education in Detroit, a historic art deco building that once housed the General Motors design studios.

Enthusiasts traditionally flock to the event sandwiched between press days and public days of the Detroit auto show to discuss the latest in car design. This year, however, a non-car designer took center stage, as Nest Labs founder and CEO Tony Fadell captivated the crowd with his take on technology. His firm created an energy-efficient thermostat that can be programmed to a customized schedule.

Cool, right? Except it's probably overshadowed by his previous role as senior vice president of Apple's iPod division, where he reported to Steve Jobs and is credited with developing the first 18 generations of the iPod.

Fadell spoke of the need to better integrate electronics with cars, making them smoother and easier to use.

“The electronics are an incredibly weak spot inside the car,” he said.

But don't confuse Fadell for a Silicon Valley outsider who views autos as appliances. The University of Michigan graduate has a Ford GT, and his daily driver is a 2001 Audi Allroad with a six-speed manual.

His suggestion is simple: Separate the world of electronics into two areas--things that help the car move and perform, which should be handled by expert automakers, and entertainment, which could be outsourced to companies that specialize in that area.

“I think these two need to be divorced from each other,” Fadell said.

Naturally, the sheetmetal was also top-of-mind at the event, and Lincoln's Max Wolff discussed ways his brand is working to revitalize its styling, as evidenced by the production-intent MKZ concept on display at the auto show.

“Our design must differentiate us,” said Wolff, who joined Lincoln from Cadillac about a year ago.

His former employer was also represented as Cadillac's Clay Dean explained ways the brand, and General Motors as a company, is trying to understand the millennial generation.

Peter Schreyer, Kia's chief designer, spoke of the emotional connection between people and cars, and Peter Horbury of Geely Group gave a humorous take on the state of design at Volvo.

By Greg Migliore