Friday, April 5, 2013

Rolls-Royce Design Director On Why America Can't Make Cool Cars

"There’s a sense of effortless grace and elegance, but at the same time something more contemporary and daring."
Giles Taylor, Director of Design

Rolls-Royce Design Director On Why America Can't Make Cool Cars
by Hannah Elliott

Yesterday at the New York Auto Show I spoke with Giles Taylor, the design director of Rolls-Royce Motor Cars. We discussed a lot of things, including the design direction of Rolls over the next decade and why American manufacturers haven’t been able to produce an iconic new model in years.

Here’s what he had to say.

Hannah Elliott: I have seen very few cars in recent decades come from the United States that are competitive on design with cars from Europe and Asia. Why do you think that is? Is it lack of money? Is it lack of brain power? Basically I’m asking why can’t the United States make cars that look cool?

Giles Taylor: I know what you’re saying. I think there’s a pedigree and a heritage of European design which goes back to not only Rolls-Royce and Bentley but let’s say Jaguar as well where there was a fusion of engineering: The first companies were generally small, so the actual teams were smaller, and what you’ll find is that the design team worked closely with the engineering team to get proportions–A-pillar to front wheel–and the overall integrity of the proportions and the stance of the car was a more naturally attractive proposition.

"Ghost is seductively simple yet incredibly advanced."
Andreas Thurner, Exterior Designer

If I go to some of the American brands, you may find that there’s some models for cool design but ultimately the proportions are awkward because they base it off a Mazda platform because Ford owns Mazda. Or in terms of actually giving them bang for the buck globally they’re going to put [the new design on existing platforms] at Mercury, Lincoln, Ford or even in the past Jaguar. And I spent 14 years at Jaguar suffering from that.

It’s no disrespect to the design chiefs in charge of those brands. It’s just the economics that each of those big companies represents. You can have the coolest body style but ultimately there’s something lacking, and I think maybe you find that some of the domestic products suffer from that.

Hannah Elliott: Tell me about the purpose of the Wraith, and how it fits into the Rolls lineup from a design perspective.

Giles Taylor: We’re hoping that a younger demographic will want this car. The Ferrari drivers, the Maserati drivers who have the money will suddenly consider Rolls-Royce as a relevant brand for contemporary design.

Innovation comes with our design approach but we need to have a fusion with heritage. I’ve been with brands in the past where they’re only too quick to try and blur the heritage, but we have a wonderful heritage. We have to carry that on rather than deny it.

Hannah Elliott: And there’s a fine balance between embracing the heritage and staying relevant.

Giles Taylor: In this sort of climate of austerity globally we have to reach out by way of our new designs in a socially acceptable way. We don’t want to say, ‘We are Rolls-Royce, therefore you’ll like my watch and you’ll like my bank account.’ We have to put the elegance to the point – it’s primary.

"Phantom embodies a timeless elegance."
 Giles Taylor, Director of Design
Hannah Elliott: Is it more acceptable now to own a Rolls-Royce now than it was during the initial years of the recession in 2009 and 2010?

Giles Taylor: I think there’s a permission to own luxury brands, and not only for Rolls-Royce. But we shouldn’t ever by way of design overplay the symbolism of the purchase by just [saying], ‘I’m rich.’
Rolls-Royce stands for the best motorcars in the world. Ultimately you’ll judge that brand significance based on the iconic grill motif and the Spirit of Ecstasy, but it shouldn’t be the reason for purchase. The reason for purchase from a design point of view has to be the beauty and the elegance of the car, so we are moving our design language to a more sociably out-reaching emotional expressive level to say, ‘Come in to Rolls-Royce’ rather than to say, ‘We are Rolls-Royce, admire us from a distance.’

My role as design director is to move into a more socially acceptable – it’s almost a negative statement because it sort of makes out that we’ve got a problem, which we don’t – but in terms of purely where Rolls-Royce design needs to go we need a more expressive, more connecting design language to bring a younger person to the brand. — Forbes

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