Exterior design: maintaining a sporty look while adding design maturity From design image to reality: revealing the design know-how
Nakai : While working on the clay model, we already knew we wanted increased road presence, a low center of gravity, and a powerful-looking rear view. But, seeing the purposeful rear view of so many European cars day after day certainly had an emboldening effect. Every day we would add volume, so much so that, once back in Japan, we started having second thoughts. In the end, we somehow convinced ourselves that, if we had thought it was right while in Europe, then it must be right for Europe.
Sawai : I think we took the right decision.
Nakai : From a graphical point of view, the front of the car also contributes to the wide and low appearance. Although positioning the headlights and grille on a single line to increase the feeling of breadth is a design technique already seen in the previous model, in the new model, the line moves down toward the lower central air intake within the bumper to visually add to the feeling of a low center of gravity. The headlight units also extend further to the sides for a visually wider look.
Nakai : We have thus called on a number of design techniques, but above all, what we wanted to emphasize is the stance, no, the aura of the car as a whole.
Nakai : Yes, aura. Stance conveys the image of stability coming from a wide tread. What we wanted to give the New Civic was a certain presence, a certain all round aura. Whether one looks at the car from the front, the side, the rear or, for that matter, even from above is not important because there are no clearly defined front, side or rear building blocks like in a usual design. What is important is the atmosphere radiating from the surface treatment, starting at the front, flowing around into the front fender before running along the surface on the side of the body and smoothly blend into the relief of the rear fender and from there on to the rear in a flowing, homogenous, yet dynamic design.
Making the car look wide and low is only a design technique to an end. The real message we want to convey is that of a "Clean, Dynamic" design.
Sawai : The one element which was not liked in the previous model's exterior is the design of the rear lights. During our market research, people asked us why it needed to protrude so much from the body line, while others said they preferred a simpler design.
Nishimoto : The idea had been to use the added surface to improve aerodynamics. The one-motion exterior design theme probably makes the rear lights all the more conspicuous. For any other designer, poor market feedback would be enough to give up on the idea, even if the intent and purpose was correct. But, apparently not for Mr. Toriyama here, who not only did not give up on the idea, but made the rear light design protrude even further out (laugh).
Toriyama : Yes, market feedback was poor, but after explaining that it helped improve aerodynamics, people were convinced. This made me think that we actually needed to make the design more obviously aerodynamic, thus the significantly scaled-up—rather than the expected scaled down—proposal.
Sawai : When we showed the sketch to Mr. Kariya, the Large Project Leader in charge of the entire development team, he simply said: "Hmm, interesting!" So we decided to "make it happen."
Toriyama : Initially, the rear lights were not made to thrust out so much. But, the other designers kept on pushing, saying that, since we were going with the idea, we might as well go all the way. So much so that at one point, the rear lights had moved away from the body all together to effectively become a full-scale spoiler-like affair with an air hole on either side.
Nakai : To our defense, I must say that the improvement in aerodynamic performance was quite astounding. Test results literally jumped the moment we opened makeshift holes using a drill we had quietly brought into the wind tunnel.
Sawai : You should have seen the side-to-side grins they had on their face that day! The light maker also joined in the effort, but the idea went down in flames during internal report meetings. I will never forget one member of the board mumbling during one such meeting that, for the first time in his career, he had been shown something he quite simply could not make any sense of, let alone understand (laugh).
Nakai : Everybody, and I mean everybody, thought the rear lights looked funny, so much so that there was no way we could get a proper evaluation of the overall design at all. In the end, we just had to plug these holes. But, we were intent on preserving the sporty look and the aerodynamic performance they had allowed us to achieve. We started by adding a concave surface treatment extending from the rear pillar to the rear lights to emphasize the broad shoulder look. On the aerodynamic side, we worked on improving the airflow around the rear lights to recover the advantage we lost when plugging the air holes in the rear light-cum-spoiler design. We used so-called "wax sheets" of 3mm thickness, trying one, then two, and finally three lines at a variety of angles from horizontal to vertical. In the end, three vertical lines located on either sides gave the best results. This is how the three shark fin-like vertical lines on the outer sides of the rear lights came to be.
Sawai : I have to confess I was shocked when we were told our proposal was beyond comprehension. But, the end result is a very distinctive, if slightly more integrated design. During internal presentations, many said the rear of the car looked really great.
Toriyama : For us designers, negative comments are often the opportunity to think again and come up with new ideas to turn the problem around.
Sawai : This resilience in the face of adversity is what makes us what we are.
-I really would have liked to see what this spoiler-like rear light design with air holes and all really looked like.
Sawai : It is interesting to note that similar spoiler-like rear light designs are now starting to appear on a number of advanced concept show models. As research on design and aerodynamics continues, who is to say we are not going to see this kind of idea in a production model sometime in the future. Maybe sooner than later… .