Q. and A. with Patrick le Quement, EyesOn Design honoree

On Friday, June 19, EyesOn Design will present its 2015 Lifetime Design Achievement Award to Patrick le Quement, the former head of design for Renault and creator of the popular Megane II and Twingo. Before joining Renault, he designed for Volkswagen, Audi and Ford Europe.

A native of France, Le Quement retired in 2009 from the auto industry after more than four decades. He is now a consultant in industrial and strategic design and the co-founder of the Sustainable Design School in France.

Between 200 and 300 cars will be shown at the annual EyesOn Design auto exhibition Sunday, June 21, at the Edsel and Eleanor Ford House in Grosse Pointe Shores.  Active and retired exterior and interior designers from automotive and supplier companies serve as judges.

Le Quement said that the intent of his designs has been to please and delight – to deliver beyond customer expectations. He has chosen to lead rather than follow. Below he shares principles that have guided his career and how he views present automotive design directions and challenges.

What are the most distinguishing features of your philosophy of automotive design?

As a designer I’ve always abided by the following principle : “A strong concept whenever possible, distinctive styling in all cases.” My design approach has not relied upon listening to what the customer says he wants but, rather to watch him constantly to better understand him and attempt to deliver beyond his immediate expectations.

One of the most intense moments in my career was to listen and hear customers saying about one of our newly designed products : “Look, they even thought of that!”

 How has your approach to design developed over the years, for example, moving from angular exteriors with airy cabins to sleeker, low-profile exteriors with a loss of interior space?

Angular origami type of surface treatment or more fluid and voluptuous forms are but the different expressions of style which are affected by fashion and fashionistas, time and environment. Real innovation is to precede rather than continuously follow others, accepting nevertheless that the market is the final judge.

As for more upright or lower profiled cars, the world market is offered a vast choice, but today they are being progressively overrun by one type of vehicle, SUVs, which are tall and too tall for some. They offer a command post position to the driver and his/her passengers.

 If you could name a particular era of automotive design that influenced you, what would that be and why?

I have always been inspired by those great individuals who moved from building planes to cars; that happened just after the First World War. Of all, the one who has influenced me the most has been Gabriel Voisin. I am fascinated by his architectural approach, his search for intelligent solutions, his quest for excellence, and his understanding that weight is the worst enemy of performance.

 Which are some of your favorite cars from the last century? What do they have in common?

The 1953 Studebaker Starliner.

The 1953 Studebaker Starliner.

In the pre-war period, most Alfa Romeos designed by Touring. The 1948 Citroën 2cv for the intelligence of its engineering solution. Raymond Loewy’s 1953 Studebaker Starliner – so far ahead of its time; Sir Alec Issigonis’s Mini, it was a giant step forward in miniaturization. The 1963 Ferrari GT Lusso’s perfect proportions. The 1962 Facel Vega II which married, in the most elegant manner, American influence and French finesse.

The 1965 Mustang Fastback for its remarkable physiognomy, its affordability and excitement at every bend in the road. The 1992 diminutive package wonder Renault Twingo, “La voiture du bonheur,” as I named it (the car of happiness).

What they all have in common is a strong concept associated with visual excitement, break-your-neck proportions (by following them go by!) that made your heart beat accelerate.

 Your thoughts on North American design versus European design? Versus Asian design?

There is sadly less and less specificity in terms of design the world over, few are the cars that tell you their nationality.

We have entered a clannish world of look-alike and, in any case, we are all driving SUVs. However, not all is lost… there will be a next chapter, there has always been a next chapter which turns out to be extraordinarily creative.

Which type of vehicle did you find the most challenging to design and why, for example, a family van or standard sedan?

I found all types of cars challenging from a design standpoint but the most formidable were not those that contained constraints. As Charles Eames used to say : “Constraints are the designer’s best friends.” Indeed, they sharpen your creative inner self to overcome such difficulties and it thus become an itching challenge.

No, the most difficult were those projects thought up by lazy-thinking gray men and women … No names supplied here but the list is long.

Where do you see automotive design in general going in the next decade?

Automotive design is waiting for the Next Big Thing, the next big challenge: it’s just around the corner. In the meantime it has become for some a little lazy hazy time, designing the next product whilst looking at the rearview mirror. The breakthrough will appear but the impulse may come from non-automotive operators.

The future will be fantastic. Let us always remind ourselves that we also want our children and the children of our children and beyond to continue living on our beautiful planet. We must be more and more active to push through zero emission vehicles and assure a really sustainable future.

And then there is this figure which haunts me regularly: 11 billion. We are currently 7 billion human beings on this wondrous planet, but at the end of this century we will be 11 billion. Think of it. Are we preparing for it or are we more into a “pass the sauce” frame of mind?