Proton Design Competition 2015

Another year, another Proton Design Competition – the 2015 edition brings with it a new theme and a number of changes to the regulations. To help make sense of all the rule changes for this year and to help budding designers make the most of this opportunity, we spoke to Proton’s chief designer Azlan Othman to flesh out the listed rules and provide pointers to those wishing to submit.

The competition theme is different for 2015 – last year, participants were required to design a city car for the year 2020, whereas this year it’s a concept car for the Malaysian family. Does this mean that the cars will have a closer to production look, or can it be as wild as possible?

This year, we’re going to push the boundaries a bit. We used the term “concept car” because we wanted the entries to be a bit more wild, a bit more inventive. Once you set a timeframe, like we did last year, people will start to hold back. Which was great for a first try, but this year we said, “let’s show something really special.” But the contestants will be guided by other things as well.

As the theme suggests, the entries also need to be family cars, we presume.

Everyone likes sports cars – they’re easy to design because you’re really only thinking of one or two occupants, you can burn as much fuel as you want and you can go really crazy with exotic materials and processes.

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So despite the fact that we’re giving a 20-year timeframe on the technology, we also wanted to pull them back a bit and get a little more real. Malaysians do have a good sense of family in our culture, so I think it would be a bit more relevant to the general public.

What is the criteria that the judges will be basing their scores on for the entries this year?

In terms of criteria, the first is authenticity, second is aesthetics and finally, the concept behind it. You will realise that presentation is missing – that was the fourth criteria last year. This year, we feel that we don’t need to put marks for that; it should be a given, especially since we’re allowing professionals also.

By authenticity, we mean that the design has to be original, innovative in its own way, breaking as many boundaries as you want – the more original it is, the more we put value into the design. Aesthetics-wise, the idea has to be presentable and acceptable by the masses; the last thing you’d want would be a matchbox on wheels. There has to be some effort, that’s why we rate aesthetics quite highly.

Lastly it’s how you elaborate on the concept – designers need to know the meaning of the design, otherwise it’s just a drawing. The concept is important because it elaborates further and more deeply into how the designer thinks in conceptualising the design.

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This year, Proton is introducing a new requirement for submissions, which is the vehicle packaging diagram. How are the participants going to go about producing this diagram – it can’t just be guesswork, can it?

Packaging will be very important, because it pulls things back down to earth. The main guiding points would be the powertrain that you’re going to use and the mannequin [representing the occupants] – usually we use a 95th percentile male [186.5 cm].

So, it shouldn’t just be drawn from the air; there should be some effort to look into anthropomorphic and ergonomic data which is readily available, and those who are in the profession should know where to look for them.

When designing a car, which is defined first – the interior space, or the exterior dimensions?

First and foremost, it’s all about the packaging, usually involving the chassis, the engine and the interior. Only then can you think about developing the exterior of the vehicle. So it’s basically inside out. The engine is obviously the most critical part, because it’s of a given size and there are so many hard points that you have to follow. The luggage space depends on the silhouette, you can still play around a bit.

But above and beyond everything are the regulatory requirements. Before you even design a car, you have to debate on where you want to export the car, and you have to know what are the emissions and safety requirements of the region that you want to penetrate. That will set the tone for many of the things that will affect the design further down the road.

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How about form versus function?

That’s the age-old debate isn’t it? There’s no real winner in that respect. It largely depends on the purpose of the vehicle. Sometimes function is more important, like in utility or commercial vehicles. Then you have sports cars which are the other way around. It’s a case by case basis.

Despite what people read in the news or periodicals, I don’t think it can purely be style. I think the only way something can be purely style is fine art. That’s design for design’s sake, because you’re doing it for yourself. For industrial design, the nature of the job itself is about collaboration, consensus and, ultimately, the business. It’s about making money. If you do it only for design’s sake, it’s totally different.

How do you define how much interior and boot space is necessary?

Most importantly it’s what our competition are offering. So we benchmark the others first, analysing the cabin space of each and every one of them, as well as their equipment levels and so on. Then we see whether we should make it bigger, or maybe even smaller – why not?

Boot space for Proton is one of the most important parts – our main market is the domestic market, so we need to have something that would appeal to the Malaysian people and the balik kampung culture. But Interior packaging always takes precedence; boot space is secondary to that, because it’s a problem if the occupants are not comfortable, and you might even compromise on safety, and we can never do that.

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Contrary to popular belief, adding a bigger boot doesn’t always mean extending the rear end. It’s about how well you can play around with the interior packaging, because what defines the walls of the boot is also the angle of the seat back. On some European cars, for example, the wheelbase is extended as far as possible so they have a very nice silhouette, but what seems like a very small boot is actually quite cavernous.

How did the packaging of the Iriz come about? Looking at the side profile, it has a long front overhang, but a very short rear overhang. What were the regulations, space requirements and hard points that defined how the car looked?

For the Iriz, it was a very unique situation whereby the defining factor was the engine. Then came the regulatory requirements of the market that we wanted to export the car to, which set the overall length of the vehicle. In India, for example, to be able to get the tax incentives of a small car, the car needs to be four metres or less. That’s why it has such unique proportions.

Safety is everywhere and is every bit entwined in the design process from A to Z. Pedestrian regulations are becoming more and more important day-by-day, and it’s actually affecting the way we do design. There are little bits like the bumper, which will impact the pedestrian first – these have features built into it to assist in making sure that a person hit will not go under the car.

To achieve a five-star rating, the bonnet has to be designed in such a way that when a person falls onto it, they would roll off in a way that there would be minimal impact on the head, and that if the head does impact it, the radius is large enough that it doesn’t act like a wedge and crack the skull. That defines the features that you are allowed to put on the bonnet of the car.

Aerodynamics is also increasingly affecting the way we do our work, and there are subtle parts of the car that we had to massage to achieve certain aerodynamic targets. Once you set a drag coefficient target, you have to compromise everything just to get that, because these days fuel efficiency is so important.

What about the interior space? What kind of design changes did you make to the Iriz to make sure the cabin was as spacious as was required?

We maximised the wheelbase as much as we could without making the car too long, but there was also a conscious decision to firstly make sure that the car was spacious vertically; hence when you get in it, there’s a lot of headroom.

Secondly it’s our one and only car which has a rear that is wider than the front, by about 20 mm on each side. Aside from providing better stability when driving the car, it also gives additional couple distance for the rear occupants.

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Was the Iriz platform built for other variants or bodystyles? How was it designed to accommodate the different requirements of each model?

I think almost all platforms in this day and age are designed with different bodystyles in mind. In a way, it’s just a question of extending or cutting the existing platform.

The Iriz platform is actually ready for electrification, and we already have an EV running around. How did we do it so fast? It’s because thought was already put into accommodating the batteries very easily in the underfloor. You need to create a well which has to be deep enough to accommodate the battery size you need to achieve the range that you want.

For the Iriz, we had an ambitious target of around 300 km. With that in mind, we worked with our battery supplier and we knew exactly how much depth we needed, and we incorporated it into the structure. That’s actually another reason why the car is tall, probably taller than what we would’ve desired.