The new custom

Car design is marrying creatives from a wide range of disciplines to create vehicles that are both individualistic and adaptable. Hannah Booth inspects solutions from the Royal College of Art, while Dominic Lutyens discovers how Mitsubishi h

The soft sell

The Mitsubishi Colt, which launches in the UK in September and elsewhere this month, is a super design-conscious, futuristic car. It has 007-style glamour: its glove compartment doubles as a mini-fridge. It is egg-like in shape, and this feeling of being cocooned is enhanced by the springy touch of the material covering its dashboard and lining its doors. The construction technique behind this – known as injection-moulded graining – which sandwiches foam between two hard layers, has never been used in a car before.

This is the most interesting thing about the Colt. By hand-picking designers from areas not normally associated with car design, Mitsubishi is entering the world of textile and interior design. This, Mitsubishi believes, is the way forward.

Mitsubishi head of design Olivier Boulay has worked with 30-year-old British industrial designer Adam Dewey, Romanian architect Andrei Kramer – both employed as Alias designers (responsible for transforming sketches into 3D models) – and Brazilian textile designer Andrea da Silva-Zunk, colour and trim specialist for the car’s interior.

Da Silva Zunk says, ‘Contemporary furniture design is currently influencing the increasingly elegant look of fabrics in car interiors. Only polyester yarns are used, but you can now give them a wool finish for a more luxurious, tactile feel. We were inspired by performance fabrics used in snowboarding sportswear, as well as embossed or perforated leather.

‘We do our own research,’ she adds. ‘For example, I’ll always go to the Milan Furniture Fair. Demand is growing for deluxe car interiors. In the past, if a manufacturer wanted to save money, a luxurious interior would be the first thing to go. But not any more: people are spending more and more time in their cars so they almost see them as a second home.’

When the Colt was shown recently to journalists at Mitsubishi’s German HQ in Trebur, near Frankfurt, company representatives even went so far as to anthropomorphise it, calling its headlights, ‘honest – like human eyes’. This is a car, one said, that ought to put ‘a smile on its owner’s face’.

It’s certain to put a smile on the faces of Mitsubishi’s head honchos. Sales are rising – up by 2.4 per cent at the last count – due to the success of some of the manufacturer’s other recent models, including the Outlander sports utility vehicle- and the new Colt has garnered glowing reviews.

It’s hard to believe the Colt was conceived at the Trebur design office – an uninspiring, ultra-corporate building standing on dismally flat, windswept country, complete with a 1980s-style atrium. But it’s here that the apparently spontaneous design process (designers dip into any medium that grabs their fancy, from marker pens to computer-aided design) took shape.

The visit revealed interesting information on trends, too: cars’ wheels are getting bigger (the new Colt’s measure up to 16in) and are now made of aluminium not steel, in response to the public’s craving for more glamour. A tour of the fabrics that inspired the car’s trim revealed a super-subtle palette, from ice blue to moody burgundy. External colours, meanwhile, were all softly metallic, pearlescent and, again, subtle. Not a go-faster stripe in sight.

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