Brian C. Baker
Automotive Design Faculty,
College for Creative Studies, Detroit, Michigan, USA
A quarter century as a General Motors designer of Cadillac and Chevrolet concept and production vehicles in Europe and the USA. He shares a U.S. patent with GM for the Chevrolet SSR Concept. He conceived the award winning book; Driving Style; GM Design’s first 100 years.
His work in television includes Discovery Channel’s “Future Car” and History’s “Top Gear” (US). He is a frequent presenter at IDSA and international design symposiums.
For two decades he has been educating young designers at universities and colleges across the USA including Detroit’s College for Creative Studies and the Cleveland Institute of Art. Each summer he co-hosts promising designers from Asian automakers for a tour of American automobile culture across the USA.
Within the Society of Automotive Historians, he focuses on 20th century vehicle design.
Brian Baker is an honors graduate of The Art Center College of Design in Pasadena CA, and attended the College for Creative Studies and Indiana University.
We speak with Brian Baker, Automotive Design Faculty at Center for Creative Studies(CCS) about the role of a emergent Indian auto sector on the global market.
The effect of Indian design on future cars coming from the subcontinent and necessity of strong transportation design education in India are some other topics that we discuss with him. We caught up with him at the Indian Passenger Vehicle Design Summit, which concluded in Pune recently.
BB: I contend India has design passion. I see things like Holi festival. I see passion like I don't see anywhere else in the world. I see it in architecture. I see it in your food. I see it in your traditions, traditions that have survived even the English. I think Indian designers need to look inside at that experience, at the things that make your culture unique in the entire world. As you compare yourself with other cultures, yes it was natural to partner and borrow in the beginning of the automobile but I believe we have entered a time in the development of automobiles when the technology is universal whether it is hybrids or electrics, where u can actually adjust the components or purchase the component sets even outside of India, but the appearance, the aesthetic elements that can make Indian automobiles specifically Indian, I think parts of your culture can be brought forward.
I think India is on the edge of a breakout and that's what I mean about finding elements of Indian culture that are marketable globally.
SJ: Seeing as how we are aiming / headed to becoming the 3rd largest car manufacturer in the next 5 to 10 or 15 years, whatever that timeline maybe, how do you think the designs coming out of India would work on a global scale, because we have adapted very well to western design?
Western designs got adopted by Japan, by China and Korea. But we’ve absorbed and then Japan and Korea did their bit and then new designs came from there.
BB: I think it’s important for India to look at the lessons of how Japan adopted and then developed their own aesthetic and how Korea has now adopted that Japanese aesthetic and taken it further.
But I don't think this is the answer for India. I think it’s not time for India to follow but for India to set its own course. Look at your population size, you are the big guys on the block and admittedly a small percentage of your population buys cars; we understand that, but you can build that aspiration. Part of what Harley Earl did with the dream cars back in the ‘50s was he made everybody want the future, he made everyone lust for something fantastic. India can do this where are the Indian concept vehicles. I don’t see them. I want to see them.
SJ: There are a few designers that we have here, but again they are very derivative.
BB: You are exporting your best to the States, some of my Indian students are my best students. Do they intend to come back to India? I don't think so.
I hope the powers in the industry can look beyond just manufacturing and look at generating designs. India has the most people therefore you have the most knowledge of people.
SJ : Absolutely, but here is where I think we fail, on a CEO level where there should be a stronger push for a focus on design the focus is still on the bottom line. On money. We have just gotten to the stage where we are starting to get rich and some really rich but we have very few people in that top segment, in the so called top 1% or even the top 10%. Let’s not look at the top 1% but at the remaining 9% that can afford the nicer things in life.
BB: We are not that different in America, the number of people that buy new cars is less than 20%. Most Americans are buying used as such. I think India’s auto industry needs to look at the long term and if they don't think deeper than just making the manufacturing dollars they will always be just the manufacturers. They will be ‘that cheap place to go build cars’. They have got to get past that. It’s time for India to say ‘Okay so how do we create a vehicle that everyone in the world wants’. It has to be different. Indian food, there is no other substitute for Indian food. It is its own thing.
Baker worked on iconic but ultimately slow-selling Chevrolet SSR. Could this be a future classic?
SJ: What we had in the Indian market for the longest time was the Hindustan Ambassador and the Fiat 1100.
BB: I think it’s time for Indian automakers to be more independent. I think even the large companies like Renault and GM that are here can recognize the value of doing an Indian-driven design. A great example is GM recognized the need to have a Chinese-driven design for the Buicks sold in China. Now GM sells more Buicks in China than in the US. The cultures of China, the textures, the interiors, have a completely different look from any Buick sold in the US. That’s a good lesson for India to look at.
Also you have the benefit of the English language, it makes a difference. It used to be a very difficult conference for me in China. Here it’s very easy and so is doing business. There is talk of dropping the visa requirements, things like this; little changes will improve the flow of information.
I do believe there is a market for an Indian product in the west.
SJ: How do you think US design education in the automotive field can help prop up our design education systems, because all said and done we lack the design education and we lack the systems for the education. We don’t have giant resources on the clay modeling side, we barely teach Alias (a popular design software) at the levels required.
BB: Rapid prototyping and other things are going to change that. You have 80 years automotive design education between the Art Center, CCS Detroit and the RCA. Hongik is very good in South Korea but if you ask me Royal College, CCS and Art Center are still the top 3 in the world. I think there are lessons to be learned from all 3 of them. I am a graduate alumnus of two of them – Art center and CCS. I think some things CCS does better, some things Art Center does better. For graduate studies I think the Royal College is very good.
But I think India needs to look at advancing design education at a faster rate. Instead of spending a lot of time on clay modelling, the analogy I give is ‘to teach students to be clay modelers, is like teaching them to be VCR repairmen. Nobody gives a damn about VCR’s anymore’. Clay modelling will be around for a while but not long. I showed a whole fleet of vehicles designed without clay models. We did full size dimensional cars with a class A surface, and we did it 15 years ago. This is what India needs to do, India needs to leap frog over the current technology, much as in parts of the world like Thailand they didn’t bother putting up telephone poles they just went wireless. Indian education needs to look at what RCA, Art center and CCS are doing and go past. Go to rapid prototyping, we are using rapid prototyping in our school every week, students can do head light details.
SJ: Your thoughts on this conference
BB: This conference appealed to me because
1. India is a point of future greatness. India is about to become very powerful beyond the manufacturing side
2. The fact that this conference invited the world to come here I see a very positive sign.
I said yes to coming here
1. To get out of the snow!
2. Because I thought it was a chance to come and learn firsthand what India is able to do. I leave here very confident. The people who have approached me about coming back to India made me want to come back very much.
I think the next 10 years in India could be amazing for the auto industry. I think every other automaker in the world who is not considering India as a design source needs to wake up.
Brian Baker was speaking wiith Swapnil Jadhav, an alumnus of the Pratt Institute of Design, USA.
Chevrolet Car Features
We speak with Brian Baker, Automotive Design Faculty at College for Creative Studies (CCS) about the role of a emergent Indian auto sector on the global market. The effect of Indian design on future cars coming from the subcontinent and necessity of strong transportation design education in India are some other topics that we discuss with him.
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