Car ownership used to be a more involving experience. Weekends were spent working on oily bits, installing and tuning bigger carbies, decoking cylinder heads, bolting on lowering kits and wider wheels. And occasionally repairing and respraying the car at home with highly toxic automotive paint.

Now, if the owner does lift the bonnet they're met with a label warning that tampering with the engine could result in electrocution, or death! So the hapless owner facing a blinking warning light has little alternative than to pay a technician to fix the problem.

Design should always remain a key part of the automotive product development process, as it has been since consumers found a voice in the

The three remaining design studios face signifi cant challenges to remain viable

selection of the car they were shelling out good money to own and be seen in.

A key strength of any designer today is a thorough understanding of the packaging required to integrate the visible, emotional surfaces with the functional components and interior space to achieve an appealing package.

Sounds basic, but without it the design can be an aesthetic, functional and commercial failure.

Recently we’ve been treated to a display of Australian design creativity courtesy of Warrack Leach and Todd Willing. Leach’s Buick Avenir and Willing’s next-gen Ford GT took centre stage at this year’s Detroit motor show and were widely acclaimed. In fact the Avenir took out the gong for ‘Best Concept Vehicle 2015’. They were reported widely (and positively) here in Oz and, given the local manufacturing industry’s forthcoming demise, were a bright light in an otherwise large and gloomy room.

Behind the glamour and floodlights of Cobo Behind the glamour and floodlights of Cobo Hall, the reality is that the remaining design studios of Holden, Ford and Toyota, without manufacturing and the complex infrastructure supporting it, have to manage significant business challenges to remain viable in this quickly changing global automotive environment.

Realistically, the bricks, mortar and the high-tech tools concealed behind design studio security doors at Port Melbourne and Broadmeadows are not on their own enough to guarantee future vehicle design and prototyping projects from Detroit or Nagoya. The capability of Australian talent has been and will continue to be our key intellectual strength and competitive advantage over emerging markets such as China and India.

Given the emotion-charged and negative press regarding the closure of local manufacturing, a sustained effort by car company executives and university educators will be required to attract young Australians to explore the often exciting and frenetic activities in local design and engineering offices, but who are wary of longerterm employment security.

The need for collaboration between industry, universities and governments has never been more critical, to ensure local talent is groomed for a career that will maintain the relevance and unique capabilities of Australian design to distant parent head offices.

Currently, secondary and tertiary design students have limited opportunities to showcase their creative talent. The opportunity to enter a local studio and join a globally capable design team will ensure that creative and technical skills, gained after a century of education and mentoring, to world class standards, are not lost.

Once gone, they will never return.

Now retired from full-time design management, Paul Beranger started as an automotive designer at Holden 45 years ago. He has led local design teams at Nissan, Millard Design and Toyota.

Competition blow

THE Victorian Automobile Chamber of Commerce last month announced it will no longer sponsor the young designer competition it has conducted for many years.

It was supported by Ford, Holden and Toyota, with awards including secondment into a local design studio and overseas scholarships. Local studio heads Richard Ferlazzo, Todd Willing and Nic Hogios reviewed the entries, met and questioned the short-listed students, then presented the awards at a gala night.

Given the parlous state of the local manufacturers, there is little likelihood they will step up, even though their design studios will remain.

It’s a pity because the competition was a unique opportunity for aspiring designers to network with local studio staff and learn about the realities of this exciting career.