Monday night was packed with both innovation and creative thinking, as Michelin and Detroit’s College for Creative Studies revealed the submissions to the 23rd annual CCS Michelin Design Competition, a celebration of student automotive design, crazy transportation ideas, and perhaps the future of urban transportation.
The competition is an offshoot of the global Michelin Challenge Design, and is a semester-long project performed by a group of seniors at the College for Creative Studies, an art and design school in Detroit. This year, the challenge pit four teams – each comprised of four students -- against each other in a theme called City 2046: Art, Life, and Ingenuity. The project: take a style of city (including a tourism-heavy, ultra-congested, sprawling, and island city), then create a slate of vehicles that cope with that city’s unique challenges, and design it all for the year 2046 – which, it should be noted, is the 100th anniversary of the radial tire.
Monday night at CCS’ A. Alfred Taubman Center for Design Education, Michelin announced the winners from CCS as decided by a panel of four judges. The panel included Bob Boniface, whose recent design work for GM includes the Chevrolet Volt, and Joseph Dehner, Head of Dodge and Ram Truck Design at the Chrysler Group.
Taking top honors for the group project was the team of Taylor Langhals, Tyler Linner, Jiyn Shin, and Zack Stephanchick, all CCS seniors. The group worked together to tackle the issue of an ultra high-density city such as Mexico City (population: 21.2 million), and the unique challenges that come from it. The team designed four cars, nicknamed Stretch, Unicasa, Scuterra, and Forum.
The cars hinge on Mexico City’s metro rail system -- the second largest in North America -- and use them as highways of sorts. At least two of the cars were equipped with in-wheel technology that would allow cars to join the rail network, and drive autonomously on the rails from point to point. The Unicasa uses a side-by-side passenger design to allow for special storage and seating for families, while the Scuterra is uniquely positioned to allow drivers to go off-roading once the driver exits the rail system. Forum is envisioned to be a meeting space of sorts that allows drivers to converse or present to each other during the time that the car drives itself.
The ultra high-density team’s fourth car, meanwhile, scored an individual win for designer Taylor Langhals. His car, nicknamed the Chevrolet Stretch, envisioned a stretchable car that would provide a sporty experience for drivers but also morph into a better people-carrier (it’s designed to carry 1-4 passengers) should the need arise. Look at it a bit sideways and you might understand why it wears the Chevrolet nameplate: its jagged, aggressive front end wears a bit of the Chevy design DNA from the Corvette Stingray concept as seen in the Transformers films.
While the Stretch’s convenience drew adoration, it was the car’s looks that swayed the judges, including Boniface, who said the car’s “aesthetic solution” spoke well for the future of automotive solutions. “There will still be a place for emotional appeal in cars of the future,” he said.
And there might be a place for some of the challenge’s crazier design features -- like replaceable tire tread assemblies, or wheels that permit charging an electric car’s batteries through wireless electric induction -- in future production cars, as well.
“There was a really high level of innovation at this year’s competition,” said Peter Davis, Chief Designer at Tata Technologies. “There are a few nuggets of innovation here that could really become breakthrough ideas.”
From here, the winning designs will join 27 others to exhibit at the North American International Auto Show at the Michelin Challenge Design exhibit.