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What’s Behind a Car’s Design

Mark Trostle car design

Mark Trostle wants the cars he draws to give you goosebumps.

And he knows how to do it. The head of Dodge and SRT design at Fiat Chrysler Automobiles has created some of the prettiest performance cars in history during his 25-year career.

Yet the design chief behind the fifth generation Dodge Viper and the 840-horsepower Dodge Challenger SRT Demon says looks aren’t everything in automotive design.

Cars today have more safety features and ambitious goals for fuel economy, speed and more. Designers must find creative ways to wrap the frame of the vehicle in something beautiful while giving engineers optimal performance. Here are some more factors designers must consider.

Who will buy it?

Different buyers have different needs. For instance, trunk space probably isn’t that important to the driver of a $250,000 sports car. Designers and marketers identify who is likely to buy the car early in the design process.

How safe is it?

There are reasons why most cars and trucks have similar shapes, glass windshields and four wheels, AAA’s Car Doctor John Paul said. Most have to do with complying with federal safety regulations and passing crash tests. Four wheels also give drivers more control than two wheels without the hassle of caring for six or more (dually trucks excluded).

RELATED STORY: What Kind of Car Should I Buy? 

Is it aerodynamic?

Little tweaks to the shape of a vehicle can have a huge impact on its speed, handling and fuel economy. Engineers will often test the aerodynamics of an automobile, or a scale model of it, in a wind tunnel. Modifications can be made based on the results. (Fun fact: Some automakers use scale models to see what a car would look like in a customer’s driveway.)

Does it respect the brand’s heritage?

Sometimes design elements become synonymous with a vehicle. Take the Jeep brand’s iconic seven-slot grille. Buyers expect it on every new Jeep and scrapping it for something new would no doubt inspire a firestorm.

What’s your favorite car design of all time? Is there a styling or feature you dislike in new cars? Share your thoughts in the comments section below. 


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