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Aston Martin

Henrik Fisker on Aston Martin, Ford, and general Automotive Design: Part 3 of 3
By Andrew Gardner; photos by author
Jan 15, 2005, 22:45 PST
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Henrik wih his fabulous B9 Volante design, at Detroit in 2004. He is eagerly awaiting his pesonal Volante.



MSC: Tell us about some favorites - a design of yours, whether that be a car that made it to production or a design that never made it past clay or even the sketch pad, and a favorite design of someone else's.


HF: I have to say the AMV8 - or the V8 Vantage, that's what they're calling it - is probably my favorite design, when it comes up. But it's not quite out yet, and I have to say the BMW Z8, even though it was a sort of spiritual successor to the 507 - and I still find myself really looking at that car when it drives by - and I think we were able to create a car that is really going to be timeless. And I think one of the unique things about that car is that every little detail works on the car. And there's a lot of details, there's a lot of stuff on it. But as a whole, it just all came together perfectly. And that had a lot to do with the engineers who worked on the project, but really I felt that was such a complete car, and it didn't need any extremities to work. It's very pure; it's not extremely wide or extremely low; it doesn't have any extreme, but it is a beautifully sculpted car, and I like it a lot myself. I found that successful, and that is from my era, my time. Even today I don't think I would change anything on it.


                And then the V8 Vantage, that's the second one I would say. What I really like about that is that it's a modern, futuristic car for a brand that has a lot of heritage. It really shows you can do a modernistic car, taking the cues from the history and delivering the heritage, but still do it modernly and do it successfully. That's what I feel, at least, that the car is. Those are my two favorite, at least for me.


                In terms of other designs, I've always liked the Jaguar E-Type. When I see specifically a convertible - and I know a lot of people like the first, but I like the series 3; I don't like all the bumpers but I like the fact that the track was a bit wider on the V12, on the last one, they just put little wheel-well flares and put the track out just a bit, and I thought that looked slightly better. The proportion of that car is just absolutely gorgeous. I know there were little mistakes on it, but that was just that time. But I think that's a beautiful car.




A great combination: an interview with Henrik Fisker and a noisy lunch a El Torito



                And, we don't have it in America, but the European Alfa 156 four door: I think there's a car that was an amazing achievement, because if you actually take the skin off that car, it's a really boring four door Fiat package. It's a front wheel drive car, there's nothing dramatic in the proportions, but they really achieved a good looking, good proportioned car, where a lot of designers would have looked at it and said: "eh, I don't think that's gonna work." The car was not that good, so I think that's a major achievement. And I think that brought back the brand, I think, and they also put some really good cues into this car.


MSC: Do you think it was the detail the graphics - or the tweaking of the lines?


HF: I think it was even more proportion. They tweaked it, for example, by the way the put the C-pillar on the car. Normally, in a sports sedan, you want a fast C-pillar - look at the Audi's, the BMW's and the Mercedes; they always try to do a fast C-pillar. But this, even though it's a sports sedan, and they made it look sporty, they made a very stiff C-pillar, and they tweaked the proportions to make it look very good. [Alfa designers] gave it a really high belt line, they put just enough sculpture on the side, and then of course there were the front and rear graphics, which I think work extremely well - they really say Alfa, they were unique, and they were was there, it works, it came together. And then there was that little detail with just that one door handle up in the rear C-pillar; it was just a nice little detail that was really fresh. It was not overdone. it was just enough.          




               I think one of the tricks for me, personally, to make a timeless and beautiful design is - and it's very difficult - to keep things simple, and to rather take things out of the design than adding to the design. It is very difficult, especially today, because everybody is looking for "wow" effect. It is an easier fix to add details and funny things on the car to get the "wow" effect, but I don't think it'll last as long. I think you'll get tired of it after a few years. Whereas I think the truly timeless cars are where everything does what it needs to in the design, you don't feel like anything was added on. It's very difficult to walk that fine line. You still want people to "wow!" but you have to stay away from putting too much makeup on.


MSC: Do you have a favorite designer or a favorite era?


HF: I always think [my favorite era] is the next era coming up. I like, every year, to look at the new car, as far as what's coming out. I like, once in a while, to look at older cars, but I wouldn't say I get all my inspiration from there. I think it is interesting to go back and look, and if I have to go back and look at older cars, I guess the late 50's and 60's are probably the best era.


                But I really like to see the new cars coming out. I think that's inspiring to see that somebody's trying something new. I think the big battle in the future is going to be fought around proportion, because again I think that is where in the car companies, the easiest way out is just by making the next car with more interior space, and do it the way we've always done it. You know, put the engine where we've always done it, put the wheels where we've always done it...but if you actually look back at history, and you see how proportion actually did change quite a lot: you look at the 20's and 30's, you look at the 40's and 50's, then you look at the 70's; and really, the last twenty years we've been stuck, when you think how much cars used to change.



Photo courtesy Aston Martin




                So I think that'll be the new battle ground, and somebody will come along and do something more dramatic. And I mean dramatic in the sense of beauty. There are some fundamentals in beauty that you cannot get away from, even if you try. You can try to convince somebody that a minivan is beautiful, but it's not, it never will be. It just won't be. And we can talk all night about it, but it won't be beautiful.*


                And once we realize that and move on, we know that a long hood, big wheels, low car, wide stance - well, it's beautiful, that's just the way it is. You can discuss it all day long, but that's just the facts. Once you start realizing that, and you start extracting elements from that, you may be creating a new proportion which still has beauty in it, but still gives you some of the other things you want. That will be the challenge. And I'm not gonna tell you how to do that because then I give it away to all the competitors.


MSC: You have talked a lot about Aston Martin design already, and gave us some good framework with which to view design when we discussed the GR-1 this past August. But could you give us a few highlights of what you think is the essence of Aston Martin design?


HF: I think the essence of Aston Martin design for me is sculpture, and I think it's also the grille. The grille has developed with the V8 Vantage to a point where it really, really is super unique, and it is really Aston Martin. It is really hard to put a lot on one thing, but it is really the sculpture and the stance of the car. And then it is the purity and the simplicity of the form, at the end of the day, because it is really pure and simple; it is just pure and beautiful sculpture.


MSC: Now to your duties in Irvine. Please tell us how much time you spend doing your own drawings, if any, versus how much you are directing (as implies your title) the younger designers; and what do you keep in mind when approaching the design of each brand represented at the California Advanced Design Studio.


HF: I have the Director role there where obviously I oversee the young designers and I guide them and direct them on select sketches, and ask for some changes here and there. I think what we're really looking for out here [in Irvine] and within Ford generally is to make sure we separate the brands and make sure we come up with a clear philosophy for each brand. Our here, we are the advanced studio, so we are supposed to deliver some future concepts, future ideas. We are also trying to have some impact on the immediate future, like with the Aviator that we showed, or the Zephyr, even though the main ideas for these cars actually came from Detroit. We give an impact to how we can tweak these and make them look even better.


                But I think our main goal here, now, in the future, is to deliver future concepts and not only design but real concepts where maybe there's a different way to look at proportion and package. That can be with how people are actually fitted into the car, or how we use the space inside the car, or how the space is perceived inside the car. I think that will be a positive changing factor, because I think we have gotten used to how instrument panels should look, and how everything should be proportioned, and maybe if we change those proportions in the future, you will feel that the environment inside the car is different.


                And that is something that we do actually a lot in housing. Depending on how much glass you have, depending on how tall the ceiling is, depending on how the room is done, it all gives you a different feeling of the space. That is something we don't do to much in cars. We have kinda just said, "well, the car has four seats, the instrument panel is at this height, the dials are here, this is there..." And, of course, a lot of this is regulation, but I believe we can do something with the proportion, and the space feel. More than that I don't want to say, because I dno't want to give away some of the stuff we are doing. But obviously we are thinking about that. That is very important.


MSC: Will we see evolutions of the Aviator, any advancement with the concept, or see it going into production?


HF: Yeah, you will see some more of that.


MSC: When you approach American design - you are not a native of Denmark, not the U.S., correct?


HF: Yes


MSC: Do you study popular culture, or American car culture - you said when you watch TV, you pay special attention to what cars which people are driving.


HF: Even just living here - what is studying culture? I think it's immersing yourself into the culture. And I think any designer today needs to understand more than one culture, because you are designing for the world. And even if you design for a brand that is only sold in America, you are still designing for multicultural people, because America is made up of people of different cultures. So you have to understand different cultures, but you also have to understand the environment of the cultures - you need to at least have been there. But you also need to understand the background of the brands. So for me,. living here and understanding how people live, and obviously interacting - I am interacting with people from Detroit, people from here, who have been a long time with the company and the brand, and of course that's helpful. So I think [the cultural education] just comes naturally [from living in it]. But I always come back to the point that there's a universal sense of what's good quality, beauty and a couple of other key factors - you can never really go wrong with good taste, beauty, and quality. Sure, there are people that don't fit into that picture, but there's more people who do fit into it.


                Those are the kinds of things that I look into, where I say that I want to use my sense of what's right, and that's why I was hired, to give you that opinion. Maybe it's not always "is that American, is that not American?" I think it's hard to say I think American design is whatever we make it to be. I don't want to go back and say, "well that used to be American design." I hope that what we're going to come out with in the future is American design. And we decide that, because we're the professionals, and we're making, we're delivering it. We had better do something that people like.


MSC: Were you influenced by being at DesignWorks, and spreading out into industrial products?


HF: I think that being at DesignWorks and spending a bit of time doing other products, I was definitely influenced in terms of detailing - what goes into a product, because you are spending a lot more time doing little detail - and I learned a lot about the execution and how products are made, which is very different from cars.


                Do I have the same passion for those products? I don't think you caen have the same passion. Passion to cars is something unique. It's the most expensive product we'll ever buy. And for most of us, it's the most expensive irrational product we'll ever buy. Let's face it: anybody can move from A to B in any $12,000 car. But today, 80% of people are not buying a twelve thousand dollar car, they're buying anything over that, which, in this point there's emotions involved. That is what I think makes cars so unique. And that's why, I love cars.


                But it is very hard to love stereo design, or telephone design, or something else; I don't love that. I think it's very interesting and I like it, but I don't love it. I think it was interesting, and I can learn a lot from it, and I like design, I like all design - I always look at how things are made. And I always think I could have done that different. I look at this salt shaker <picks up salt shaker>, and I think "I could have done this better; it looks old, I would have sleeked it out." Whatever I look at, I think about that. But cars, I could not imagine life without cars. I could imagine life without this salt shaker here.


MSC: Last question. Talk about goals versus freedom. Considering your own goals, and those goals of any above you for those brands outside of Aston Martin: do you have the creative freedom to reach those goals?


HF: At Aston Martin I have all the freedom I could want. I am the design director, it is pure and simple.


                At Ford, it is different because it is such a huge organization. We are delivering cars which have such a huge span and have such a different customer base. So you have to be honest and say, it is probably impossible for one person to understand everything how millions of customers spend, from 16-year-olds to 100-year-olds, and all the different social levels. At Aston Martin, it is easier to say, "that couple of thousand people that is in that social level there..." You meet enough of them, and you start to understand really what they are about. So you can say, ya, one person can understand that. But within Ford, because it's such a span, you need input from many different people. So you cannot talk necessarily about freedom; you can talk about how necessary it is to interact with many different people to get their input, to get their research and their knowledge, and together you make products for these individual groups of people, with all this knowledge in place.


                The thing you really have to do within Ford is, you have to understand how to extract the right knowledge, how to take what you need, and make the best possible products. And then you can convince the right people within the company that that should be the product. In Aston Martin, that is just one guy - Ulrich Bez. Within Ford, there are many people to convince. It is a completely different task, there's no doubt about it. But it might also be as necessary a task. You cannot say "I would like to do it the Aston Martin way," because that's not realistic. You couldn't do all the different Fords for all the different people because there's no way one person could understand all these nuances.



                That's enough to start a book, but we at MSC hope you have enjoyed this opportunity to get more than the usual 5 or 15 quick minutes worth of insight from one of the industry's top designers. We all have things to think about, for the future, for Ford and Aston Martin, and for all cars' design. Thank you. Mr. Fisker, for sharing with us your perspective on design, and opening our eyes to the way designers make cars. We look forward to more fantastic products from you in the near future, whatever badge they sport.


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