Every car is first dreamt in the head of a car designer and penned down on paper before engineers understand the concept and head to manufacturing units. Though car design is not as technical as engineering, it is not just about lines, forms and colors either. Aerodynamics, speed, functionality, appearance, understanding customer needs… there are indeed a lot of factors that go into a car design process. Hence every car designer has a great responsibility of imagining the future of transportation and shaping it responsibly.
Though car designers are not household names like the car brands they created, they are one of the most respected people in the automotive industry. The automotive industry has seen a lot of car designers over the years, one time wonders, designers who were the stars of their time and visionaries who will always be looked upon by other designers, creators and innovators. Here is a tribute from Launchpad Academy to those Top 10 Car Designers whom we think were/are the rulers of the car design world.
It is a shame if we don’t give the first place to Giorgetto Giugiaro, who is in fact the Car Designer of the Century! An inspiration to generations of designers, this legend didn’t just design 160 cars but also designed motorbikes, cameras and watches!
Major Companies: Alfa Romeo, BMW, Bugatti, Fiat, Lamborghini, Maserati, SEAT and more
Notable Works: BMW M1, Fiat 850 Spider, DeLorean DMC12, Lotus Esprit and more
Known For: Introduced the Folded Paper concept
One of the greatest design firms (which Mahindra is planning to acquire) Pininfarina was founded by this famous car designer. Carrying the legacy of his design firm along with his son Sergio Pininfarina, he is most known for his post-war Ferraris.
Major Companies: Alfa Romeo, Ferrari, Fiat, Maserati, Peugeot and more
Notable Works: Alfa Romeo Giulietta Spider, Ferrari Dino 246, Cisitalia 202 and more
Known For: His distinctly Italian designs and hailed as the father of modern auto design
Marcello Gandini stands unique amongst car designers as he lived by a design philosophy which focused more on practicality, design architecture, construction, assembly and mechanics of a car rather than its looks.
Major Companies: Alfa Romeo, Fiat, Ferrari, Lamborghini, Maserati and more
Notable Works: Lamborghini Miura, Lamborghini Countach, Lancia Stratos Zero and more
Known For: His angular, sharp designs and introduction of Scissor Door concept
4. Ian Callum
A graduate from the prestigious Royal College of Art in London, Ian Callum is one of the most celebrated car designers till date. He is currently the Director of Design for Jaguar Cars and is highly accredited for Jaguar’s renaissance through his design leadership.
Country: Born in Scotland, British by nationality
Major Companies: Aston Martin, Ford and Jaguar
Notable Works: Jaguar XK, XF, XJ, F-Type and more
Known For: His design leadership at Jaguar Cars
He is the Head of Design at Volkswagen and responsible for design overview of all the Volkswagen car brands including Volkswagen, Audi, SEAT, Skoda, Bentley, Lamborghini and Bugatti! Probably the car designer with the highest responsibility in this list!
Major Companies: Alfa Romeo, Audi, Lamborghini, SEAT, Volkswagen and more
Notable Works: Audi R8, Audi A5 Coupe, Lamborghini Egoista and more
Known For: His experience and versatility to design cheap cars like SEAT to luxury cars like Audi
Two words, McLaren F1! A student of Royal College of Art in London, Peter Stevens’ legacy goes beyond McLaren F1. From 2005, he is also the Consultant Director of Design for Mahindra and Mahindra by the way!
Country: United Kingdom
Major Companies: BMW, Lamborghini, Lotus, McLaren, Subaru and more
Notable Works: McLaren F1, Lotus Elan, Lotus Esprit (Re-design) and more
Known For: His clean, beautiful lines and modern classics
7. Chris Bangle
Probably the most controversial car designer in this list! Chris Bangle was BMW’s Chief of Design and was criticized the most when he dumped BMW’s 50 years of design philosophy down the drain! So much that employees of BMW took part in an online poll to get him fired!
Country: United States of America
Major Companies: Fiat, Opel and BMW
Notable Works: BMW M3, BMW Z4 Coupe and BMW Gina
Known For: His outrageous design philosophy and the infamous Bangle Butt
Arguably the best car designer to come from Germany! A design student of the prestigious Royal College of Art, Peter Schreyer rose to fame through his works in Audi and Volkswagen in the 90s and is currently the Chief Design Officer of Kia Motors and Hyundai Motors.
Major Companies: Audi, Volkswagen and Kia
Notable Works: Audi TT, Audi A6, Audi A3 and more
Known For: His iconic Audi TT design and reviving Kia Motors through his design language
Probably the only Asian car designer who made it this big in the Car Design world, breaking all the stereotypes. A graduate from the Art Center College of Design, Shiro Nakamura is presently the Chief Creative Officer of Nissan, Infiniti and Datsun.
Major Companies: General Motors, Nissan, Infiniti and Datsun
Notable Works: Nissan GT-R, Nissan 370Z, Infiniti Essence and more
Known For: Designing beautiful cars that have a high sale value and global consumer approach
10. Henrik Fisker
Lastly, this Art Center graduate from Denmark. Known for his iconic masterpieces, Henrik Fisker worked with many automotive giants before he founded his own automotive company Fisker Automotive which unfortunately filed bankruptcy in 2014.
Major Companies: Aston Martin, BMW and Fisker Automotive
Notable Works: Aston Martin DB9 and V8 Vanquish, BMW Z8 and Fisker Karma
Known For: Designing timeless classics which still comply with today’s design and safety standards
11. Notable Mentions
It’s a very painstaking thing to define something like ‘Best Car Designers’ and choose only a handful. All of the above mentioned car designers and many of those whom we failed to mention are legends in their own way. Every car designer has his own unique approach towards design and it is really unfair to compare designers in general based on a few metrics. So here are a few other car designers we really wanted to mention in the list, but couldn’t because of the top 10 constraint.
1. Harley Earl– One of the most influential car designers of his time
2. J Mays– Former Chief Creative Officer at Ford Motor Company
3. Frank Stephenson– The man behind the popular Mini Hatch
4. Ralph Gilles– Heard of Chrysler 300C and Dodge Viper?
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