John Irwin, Automotive News Canada
March 5, 2021
Four Ottawa students were inspired by the nation’s natural beauty and ideals to design what could become the world’s first all-Canadian zero-emission concept vehicle.
Kaj Hallgrimsson, Jun-Won Kim, Mina Morcos and Matthew Schuetz of the Carleton School of Industrial Design were announced as the winners of the Automotive Parts Manufacturers’ Association’s (APMA) Project Arrow design contest in October.
Their design — which the head of APMA, Flavio Volpe, described as “Tesla meets Fisker meets Land Rover meets Canada” — will be the basis of an all-Canadian showcase vehicle, now in the engineering phase.
“One of the things that drew me to the project was that it would be the first Canadian car,” Morcos said. “And one of the things we really had to think about was how to represent Canada with something physical, try to take those Canadian values and distill them into something we can all kind of identify with.”
The result is a crossover with a wide stance, striking headlights and an interior designed for maximum customization. From the side, the crossover’s design is notable for its use of horizontal lines, inspired by drives through the Ontario countryside.
“We all thought about things that we see,” Schuetz said. “And one of the things I distinctly always remember seeing — whether I’m driving up north, west, east or to and from Ottawa — all the highways are going through blasted bedrock. The rocks don’t necessarily seem like abstract shapes. There are a lot of horizontal lines.
“It’s almost like stacks, and they’re all cracking apart and shifting.”
The designers also drew inspiration from three Canadian values — freedom, stability and simplicity — as well as the shape of a polar bear, which is reflected in the vehicle appearing lighter upfront and heavier in the rear.
“We looked at those Canadian values and then those landscapes, and a lot of cars get inspired by animals to give their characteristics,” Kim said. “Which animal can represent some of the values [the group identified] and still relate to Canada? And we ended up with a polar bear.”
Ralph Gilles, Stellantis chief design officer, spoke with the student designers during the APMA’s virtual conference in November and heaped praise on the final design.
“I’ve seen a lot of talent in my time, and I think I’m qualified to say these students here are some of the most talented I’ve seen,” said Gilles, who led the panel of judges selecting the final design. “It’s hard to believe they’re students.”
FORMING THE TEAM
Hallgrimsson said he first heard of the APMA’s design contest for Project Arrow when it was announced in January 2020. Miles Hammond, president of the industrial design studio Studio 63 in Ottawa, encouraged him to pursue the project, he said.
Hallgrimsson approached Schuetz about working with him because of his sketching skills and Kim because of his interest in vehicle design. Kim then brought on Morcos, who had impressed the other members in various competitions.
Group members initially thought they would be designing the exterior of the vehicle only. But the APMA made it clear that they would also need to design an interior, making an already-daunting task more challenging.
To further complicate things, the group was only able to work full time on the project in the three weeks leading up to the deadline because they were focused on schoolwork and major projects.
And, of course, they were largely forced to work remotely because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The group was able to squeeze in one in-person brainstorming session before the pandemic led to stay-at-home emergency orders, Hallgrimsson said.
“We were all remote after that,” he said. “We were on Facebook messaging each other, doing video calls with each other, texting, and collaborating online.”
After a few weeks of 16-hour days working on the project, the group submitted its design just in time for the deadline.
It’s an impressive feat for a group of students who do not specifically study automotive design.
“We mostly design products as industrial designers,” Hallgrimsson said. “Designing a car is another thing that we think about and dream about, but we never get to do it. There are people who take full master’s programs to become car designers, and typically they’re kind of just stylists.”
The group approached the project from an outsider’s point of view, looking at how vehicle design should adapt as electric and autonomous technology come online, Hallgrimsson said.
“We take a human-centred design approach. We look at what people’s needs are and explore a bunch of opportunities that we can use to address those needs.
“With cars, there are a lot of accessibility features that are kind of missing for people. With autonomy, you’re able to overcome those accessibility issues.”
Still, the group kept the vehicle somewhat realistic, despite being a concept. That’s no small feat, Gilles said.
“In some ways, doing a realistic car is actually harder than a futuristic one because the futuristic ones tend to push the rules aside completely and have no viability to them,” he said. “They’re just really there to catch attention more than to solve any actual problem.”
The group’s design will eventually be realized in some form when a prototype is built. The APMA in January issued a request for proposal (RFP) to companies that want to contribute to the vehicle’s production. Volpe said he expected more than 200 Canadian companies to bid to work on the vehicle by the RFP’s March 1 deadline. The APMA wants a prototype on tour by 2022. Hallgrimsson, Kim, Morcos and Schuetz will remain involved with the project in consulting roles, helping steer the direction of the vehicle’s ultimate design.
The APMA hopes the crossover will serve as the auto industry’s “best business card,” showcasing the capabilities of Canadian companies, engineers and designers.
“Not only am I telling you we can make a car here,” Volpe said, “we did. Look, I’m showing you.”
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