Ever since the early automakers discovered they could improve curb appeal by bending a piece of sheet metal or introducing a new color, design has served as a critical differentiator between automotive makes and models.
While the old saw suggests that “beauty is in the eyes of the beholder,” some automotive designs just seem to be more distinctive, elegant and timeless. But to sort out which are the best designs making their debut at this year’s North American International Auto Show a panel of nearly two dozen top automotive stylists wound up debating the finer points so intensely their auto show news conference had to be pushed back by nearly an hour.
In the end, the group finally selected the new 2013 Ford Fusion as the best design among production cars, with the Lexus LF-LC taking top honors in the concept category in this year’s Eyes on Design awards for Design Excellence.
Armed with the latest iPad2, the judges included such industry leaders as Chrysler design chief Ralph Gilles, Volkswagen Group’s top stylist Walter de Silva, newly appointed Hyundai chief stylist Chris Chapman and former General Motors Design Director Wayne Cherry.
They debated the fine points of dozens of different vehicles being shown for the first time on the floor of Cobo Center, often focusing on the most subtle curve of a door stamping or the angle of a headlamp.
As they narrowed down their selection, six finalists emerged. In the Production Category:
- The new BMW 3-Series, which the judges described as “pure BMW,” praising the subtle revisions to the marque’s trademark double-kidney grille;
- The Cadillac ATS, which they said showed a “very clear evolution” of the Cadillac Art & Science design theme; and
- The Fusion, which “exceeded expectations” and “looked more expensive than it is.”
In the Concept Category:
- The Chevrolet Tru 140S which “looked like what every car should be”;
- The Lincoln MKZ, which was called “very elegant”; and
- The Lexus LF-LC, which was hailed for its “great surface development.”
Called to the stage to collect the trophy for the Fusion, Ford designer Moray Callum – himself one of the judges — joked that, “Somebody said it (Fusion) was effortless design. It was a bit more effort than that.”
The 2013 Fusion will hit showrooms by autumn and ramps up Ford’s focus on regaining command of the midsize sedan market. Analysts including Rebecca Lindland, of IHS Automotive, are suggesting Ford has a good shot at surpassing such long-time segment leaders as the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord.
As for the LF-LC, the concept is intended to suggest what a replacement for the maker’s aging and slow-selling SC430 might look like.
Called to the stage to collect the Eyes on Design Concept Car award, Kevin Hunter, president of Toyota’s CALTY Design center, near Los Angeles, called the project, “a designer’s dream,” adding that it “signifies a new direction for us as a brand,” Lexus officials declaring a goal of putting more passion into their products.
The Eyes on Design Awards are an adjunct of the Eyes on Design concours, held every summer at the Edsel and Eleanor Ford House, in Grosse Pointe, which celebrates the broad subject of design while raising funds for the Detroit Institute of Opthalmology.