RPMGO Interview: Nicolas Stone, freelance automotive designer – rpmGo.com

Some time ago we wrote about a very interesting concept car created by Nicolas Stone, a young automotive designer with a lot of talent. Then we had the idea of asking Nicolas for an interview (the first one ever done by us) and ask him a few questions about him and his work, because we really loved it. In the meantime, though he is still looking for his dream job in a large carmaker’s design department, Nicolas has launched his own website (nicstonedesign.com) where he has his portfolio, resume, bio, and a blog where he discusses various ideas and products, explaining what he would do to make them better. He’s also in the process of starting his own company with his business partner called “Element SA”, serving as a design and business consultancy. Their website (elementSA.com) is currently under construction. So, enough talking from us, we’ll let you read more of what Nic told us:

1. Let’s start with “Who’s Nicolas Stone and how did he end up designing cars?”

Born in Atlanta, GA, my family moved to Miami, FL when I was 8 years old. It was there where I first discovered my artistic ability. Soon my passion for art and automobiles merged when I first saw the Dodge Viper. I realized that there was someone who gets paid to draw these things, and that it was what I wanted to do. Since the age of 11, I attended specialized art schools, including Design and Architecture Senior High (DASH), the only high school for industrial design in the country. In 2003 I won my first car design competition at the 2003 South Florida International Auto Show. Since then I have never stopped designing cars.

2. Tell us a little about the projects you’ve worked on.

While at CCS, I worked on a total of 10 automotive projects. Before the Hyundai project, I did a project for Honda and the IRL (Indy Racing League). For that project, I designed a new hybrid IndyCar for 2011 that integrated wind turbines into the body of the vehicle, using the air passing over the car as high speeds to generate electricity for the engine/motor. Prior to that, I had a 5-month internship at Fiat Centro Stile in Torino, Italy. Other projects include the Dodge Dendro (an exo-skeletal sports car showcasing advanced steel technology), “rally wheels” for the new Dodge Challenger, a new Fiat Panda for the North American market, a Jaguar luxury sports-crossover, and even an ambulance designed specifically for the tight streets in urban China.

3. What exactly is a sponsored studio and how were these experiences to you?

Sponsored studios [at CCS] are where a company directs/funds a class of students through out the 15-week semester. A design brief is given at the beginning of the project typically with an in-depth presentation from design, marketing, and engineering staff. The design process goes through research, ideation, refinement, package development, clay/milled scale models, and in some cases Alias (3D digital modeling) development. Students are guided by periodical visits from design staff throughout the project term, finished by a final formal presentation to design/marketing/engineering staff and in some cases even executives (CEOs, VP’s, Directors, etc.).

4. What’s the project you’re most fond of and why?

I would have to be most fond of my Dodge Dendro project, which was done during my internship with American Iron and Steel. It was the first project where I was really able to “break out of my shell.” The projects I had done prior had fairly limiting, as they were more production oriented. It was also the first project where I worked closely with an engineer to realize my concepts and test my theories.

For this particular project, I wanted to design a exo-skeletal vehicle frame using a triangle, which is the strongest shape in geometry. In collaboration with the engineering student from University of Michigan, we were able to put my proposed design to the test, checking for various strength and impact requirements. According to the simulations, my design not only met the requirements, but actually even tripled the strength over the requirements in certain areas.

5. Which was the most challenging project and why?

I would have to say the most challenging project was the Honda IndyCar. Open-wheeled race cars are completely different than regular bodied cars, especially from a volumetric stand point. In order to design a new IndyCar, I had to study the current platform, and more importantly the history of how it came to be over the almost-100 years of IndyCar Racing. Considering this was a 15-week project, I had to familiarize myself with this new type of vehicle rather quickly. What made it even more challenging was integrating my proposed wind-turbine system into the body of this light-weight open-wheeled race car.

6. Two weeks ago we wrote about the 2020 Hyundai City Car. That’s a really interesting concept, especially judging by the technologies it uses. I understood it’s something very similar to photosynthesis in plants. How exactly does it work?

The 2020 Hyundai City Car is my proposal for a plug-in hybrid EV. That means the car runs off an electric battery charge and functions as current EV’s do. However, my design also features a system of “artificial photosynthesis” that serves as a “back-up” power source. By electrically stimulating a central water tank, the water is split into oxygen and hydrogen. The hydrogen is stored in removable tanks that fit into the rear of the chassis. These hydrogen tanks (sold separately at your local dealer) could be pre-filled and kept in the rear storage compartment to extend the vehicle’s range even further.

The new technologies incorporated in this vehicle can be used to dramatically extend the range of an EV, making them far more versatile. More importantly, this technology (pending future development) could potentially hold the answer to the world’s energy crisis.

7. What’s the difference between a transparent solar panel and a regular one and why is it better?

The transparent solar panels used in my Hyundai project are actually referred to as “solar concentrators.” Typical solar panels contain many tiny expensive mirrors and tracking systems that have to follow the sun as it moves through the sky. These new solar concentrators are clear glass or plastic panels that are coated with a special organic dye that re-directs the ambient light to the edges of the panel, where tiny solar cells collect the light and convert it to electricity. These new panels can also be applied to existing solar panels, increasing efficiency up to 25%. This technology was developed by 3 MIT students, who started Covalent Solar (www.covalentsolar.com) to further develop this material. From a design standpoint, these new solar concentrators could create a whole new aesthetic for cars, buildings, houses, etc.

8. You’ve worked with a lot of big companies, like Hyundai, Fiat or Honda. How was that experience to you?

As a student-designer, nothing is more valuable than interaction with companies. The various sponsored studios at CCS that I took part in allowed me to get “real-world” feedback and guidance from studio design managers. Since each company has their own design approach, you become more versatile as a designer as you work with each company/brand. Those experiences also gave me the opportunity to network with designers for each company, which helps when looking for a job after graduation.

9. How do you see the future of car design?

Despite the current gloomy global situation, I personally believe we are on the verge of an “automotive renaissance”. More than ever before, the public, corporate, and even government sectors are being forced to confront the global environmental issues. The carmakers now have to respond, and respond quickly. [In my personal opinion] we have the potential to see the greatest leap in automotive evolution since “body-on-frame” design. These new EV technologies can dramatically change the way the cars are built and designed. As “design” as an industry is becoming more mainstream, people’s attention to design has also grown. It may take a decade or two, but I see an incredibly bright future ahead.

10. Recently, Chris Bangle decided to quit his position at BMW. He was a really controversial figure. What do you think about his influence on the BMW design philosophy?

Fortunately, I had the opportunity to meet Chris Bangle at this year’s Detroit Auto Show (shortly before his resignation). I am a huge fan of his work. It is amazing how he was able to take such a conservative company as BMW and generate some of the most provoking (although controversial) designs on the road. The current BMW line-up, which Bangle left his mark on are hands-down the most sculptural and unique looking cars on the market, and always stand out as a step above the competition. While certain features on some vehicles are either love/hate (ex. “Bangle-butts”), what is un-doubtable is the profound impact he left on the entire industry.

11. Are there any car designers which you really admire and who have influenced your work?

Besides Chris Bangle, I wound have to say I was a great admirer of Franz Von Holzhausen’s work at Mazda, especially with the Nagare Concept Series. Those vehicles were simply amazing; unlike anything else I have ever seen. The elegance and artistry in the surfaces and details bring a whole new language to car design; offering something truly uniquely beautiful, making even exotic supercars look somewhat – average. Those designs re-affirmed to me that there are truly no limits in design, beyond the ones we put in-front of ourselves.

12. Americans are famous for not designing the most beautiful cars around, while everyone loves European (especially Italian) designs. You’ve worked in both American and European design centers. What’s the difference between these two design philosophies?

The largest difference I noticed was in “approach”. In Europe, designers tend to take a more emotional approach to design, where as Americans designs tend to be more about problem solving and tradition.

Aesthetically, I think European designs are more refined and sensitive to details; As opposed to American designs, which tend to be more bold, big, and aggressive. However, American companies are becoming more global-minded (as well as the consumer) and therefore [for once] both sides are starting to move in the same direction.

13. If you were to give the “Nic Stone Design Awards” for existing cars and concepts, which would be your top 3 and why?

Hands down, I would have to declare the BMW GINA Concept undoubtedly as the best concept car ever created. When it comes down to it, design is about innovation. New solutions are what we [as designers] strive for. Breaking conventions is what we are here to do, to remind people that there are no limits except the ones you put in front of yourself. The Mercedes-Benz CLS is another car I really admire, which created a whole new product category, a four-door coupe. Although the Audi Sportback Concept was a beautiful and more modern interpretation, the CLS is the true innovator. I would also have to give a special mention for the new Chevrolet Camaro. The way the GM design team took the design from concept to production should stand as a model example for all future development (and let’s hope they follow suit with the 2nd gen Volt). Honestly, my personal tastes always favored European brands, but the Camaro might be enough to make a “GM-believer” out of me [and that is not an easy accomplishment].

14. I understand you’re looking for a job. What is your dream job?

My dream job is to ultimately become the director of design for a major automotive brand/manufacturer. I want to be able to contribute to the development of future vehicles, helping to take “the automobile” to the next level. I personally believe we could be on the verge of a new energy/technology renaissance; one which could dramatically change the way our world looks and operates. I wish to help the automotive industry move in this forward-thinking direction. Those positions take years of hard work and loyalty, so right now I am simply looking for an opportunity to prove myself, and earn a spot in a design studio.

Thanks a lot for your time Nicolas and we wish you all the luck for the future!

Post tags: Tags: design, interview, nicolas stone