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Va, va, vroom

The gleaming Toyota, the regal Ford or the mean, sporty Scorpio ' driving machines are getting sassier by the day. Gone are the days when you would trudge along in your doughty Ambassador and ogle at a swank imported car speeding past. Even the Indian vehicles on our roads now have a sleek look that can give any foreign vehicle a run for its money. But these designs are mostly generated abroad and up until now, a wannabe auto designer did not have access to an Indian institute that would train him or her in the art of designing cars.

But all that is set to change, thanks to the National Institute of Design (NID), Ahmedabad, which is planning to introduce the first auto design course in India in its next session. NID is about to get into a collaboration agreement with an Italian institute for the purpose and is in the process of appointing faculty for the course.

“There was a demand for such a course from the student community as well as the indigenous automobile industry,” says Sanjay Vilas Pandit, assistant administrative officer of NID. “Car design professionals have an important role to play but unfortunately, because we didn’t have any courses, manufacturers in India had to rely on either product designers trained by us or those with a foreign degree. Hopefully, things are now going to change.”

NID will offer a two-and-a-half-year post graduate course in Transportation and Automobile Design from June 2006. The course seeks to establish a credible relationship of products and services with the user, technology and the environment. It aims to train young professionals “in holistic problem-solving processes and a sensitivity towards the environment and needs and requirements of different user groups”.

One of the major objectives of the course is to develop an understanding of the field of transportation design with respect to the discipline of industrial design. “Transportation as understood at NID includes not only cars and other vehicles or off-road vehicles but also vehicles on tracks, water vessels, aircraft, space vessels and other equipment,” says Gaurang Shah of the Industrial Product Design department, NID.

The course will include the development of skills in analysis, concept generation, formulation of design strategies, problem solving, product detailing, communication and teamwork. It will help students understand the socio-economic, cultural and ecological and environment contexts of transportation design and also teach them the ethical responsibilities of the professional designer.

What is perhaps even more significant is that the course is not going to revolve just around technology. It will be more about designing vehicles that will conserve energy, be environment friendly and allow optimal usage of materials, using contemporary, indigenous production technologies. “Transportation in India so far has been generally technologically driven.

Minimum attention has been paid to the users’ needs in terms of comfort, safety, and even considerations of cultural sensitivities and preferences,” says Shah. In short, students will be trained to produce not just Ferraris and BMWs but vehicles that will cater to the Indian market in terms of design and price. Habib Saleh, regional manager of Tata Motors, Calcutta, too feels that low-cost multi-utility vehicles designed in India could be the rage. “In the last three years, this market has grown to 50,000 vehicles a year. This could be our forte. But if we can design a car like Indica, then why not more luxury vehicles as well,” he asks.

According to experts, auto design is set to be a booming career in India. As India’s leading car designer Dilip Chhabria says, “Considering the fact that the auto industry is set to grow phenomenally in the coming years, the scope of a career in this field is immense. With globalisation, you can find work for foreign brands from India.”

In fact, product designing graduates from NID are already doing it successfully. Sanghamitra Datta, for instance, is working as a specialist in automobiles, design and engineering services in the automotive department of Tata Elxsi, Bangalore. Says Sanghamitra, “As a car designer, one gets to work with original equipment manufacturers such as Tata Motors, Maruti or even Daimler-Chrysler, Ford and GM. One can also be part of a team with a design services provider offering both industrial design and transportation design solutions,” says Dutta who, after her degree from NID, studied transport and car design at the School of Art and Design, Coventry University, UK.

However, according to her, it’s not going to be all plain sailing if you are planning to make a career in auto design. “This is a tough and competitive field. Europe, Japan and the US have been designing vehicles for years. India is still at a nascent stage in this field. Moreover, as a car designer, you are required to not just sit and draw. You have to understand the niche area you’d be addressing.”

If you can afford it, you could always opt for an auto designing course from an institute in the West. In the US, private schools offering auto-designing courses include Academy of Art University, San Francisco, Art Center College of Design, Pasadena, Cleveland Institute of Art, Cleveland and College for Creative Studies, Detroit. The University of Cincinnati also offers auto-designing as part of its industrial-design programme. In Europe, you can look up such institutes as the Royal College of Art, London, Coventry School of Art and Design, UK and Umea Institute of Design, Sweden.

So what qualities do you need to be a good auto designer' Says Datta, “You should be good at sketching, and make original designs, as there is no scope for copying. You also need a good understanding of 3D shapes and models.” So if you have all these qualities and are an auto maniac to boot, designing cars could be your ticket to a great future.

With additional reporting by Prithvijit Mitra

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