The publication follows the design story on the Fiat Panda, and is an interesting resource with many insights on the conceptual and styling phases in the model’s development process.
The full 96-pages document, with Italian and English text, can be downloaded in pdf format from Fiat’s website.
Here we report an extensive image gallery and the text of the included interview with Head of Fiat & Abarth Design Roberto Giolito, Chief Exterior Designer Andreas Wuppinger, Chief Interior Designer Virgilio Fernandez and Head of Color & Material Rossella Guasco.
“Invented here!” – A conversation with Roberto Giolito
The presentation of the new 500L represents a very important moment in the context of programmes and the present growth strategy of Fiat Group Automobiles. Can you tell me why?
There is a propensity for invention well rooted in the Fiat identity, designing projects that promote real innovation. There is a way to think of and design the automobile in such a way that it establishes continuity with the brand’s history and culture and at the same time pushes itself towards the future. This fact has within it many elements for reflection: the growing importance of synergies that flow between the company’s different divisions and in particular between the Research and Development area, Marketing and Fiat Group Design; the possibility to take action regarding the packaging that does not exclude the opportunity to modify it beforehand; the vast amount of usefully sharable technological expertise that reinforces every creative formulation with the mark of feasibility. These factors represent an indispensable premise in understanding how the 500L project contains such a multitude of elements that it underlines its own conceptual consistency before its formal relevance.
More than once you have reminded us of the profound analogies and correspondence that exist between design and the musical universe, two different ambits of creativity. Could you explain these relationships also based on your direct experience as a musician as well as a designer?
The parallel with the musical context can, in effect, prove timely if one looks at the Creative-design process in terms of an enhancement of different experiences: putting yourself to the test together with other musicians, taking your cue from a “standard” to then dialectically find convergences, trying to compare yourself even through different languages, refining your own personal awareness in the field of design and automobile design in particular.
In the 500L there was not so much a heading towards a morphological diversity, as a physiognomy that moves its “centre of gravity” to other aspects, principally regarding the relationship with the car’s end user.
There is perhaps a predominance of the driver and passenger compartment over all the rest; a tendency to favor as wide and diversified a use as possible, to set the Fiat capacity for “invention” against other variables centered on self referentiality, to feed the project on motivations that touch the emotional sphere as well as the functional one.
How is the 500L project placed within the context of the Fiat brand’s development and identity?
In the history of the Fiat brand precise moments can be traced in which the contribution of some designers translated into the creation of models with revolutionary characteristics. Looking at more recent times, if Trepiùno has autonomously generated an icon of Fiat production, the other experiments carried out by Advanced Design and Centro Ricerche Fiat have underlined a capacity for vision, for foreseeing very important scenarios when it was not strategic for the company.
Vehicles like the Ecobasic, with the hatchback produced in a single piece of polycarbonate for example; a prototype capable of introducing, at the end of the nineties, important valencies under the technological profile and its own aesthetic raison d’être, have explored the theme of efficiency (Ecobasic boasted a fantastic aerodynamic coefficient given its size, a CX of 0.28) but also that of optimization of the internal space.
The company’s history has made room for mass distributed objects available to everyone and pliable to the users’ requirements: vehicles as real instruments of mobility beyond all the possible superstructures. In this context the 500 and today the 500L provide two points of reference.
What phases of design work proved decisive in the creation of the 500L?
Retracing the 500L project, the briefing – already in its initial formulation – foresaw an explicit input for a positive meeting at the level of communication. There is a basic philosophy that has nevertheless led us for the entire journey, orientated since the beginning on the 500 “roller” and the recovery of a more concrete dimension.
Therefore, not just visible icons but objects capable of living in the proximity of relationships with those that use them. A design procedure articulated through the pertinence of actions, in which one didn’t fall back on easy expedients.
For example, the anterior irregularities provide for the passenger and pedestrian safety norms in force in the USA and the structural parts respect North America’s restrictive regulations.
With the “L zero” project, which then became the definitive 500L, we aimed for a car that resembled the 500 and 600 Multipla more than following the trend for cars with very slanted windscreens that are particularly widespread on today’s market.
Which characteristics distinguish the 500L when it comes to design?
The 500L can be listed as an “open source” project, capable of catalyzing unique experiences and summing them up in a more organic whole, in an idea of compelling transport. The 500L is a demonstration of Fiat’s capacity to make the most of different contributions and this interaction, which I would define as “fluid”, in the most proactive and creative sense of the term. It comes from specific attention dedicated to not only problems of a technological character, but also to the conceptual ones.
Without having to fall back on a concept car, Fiat has been able to get its hands on one of the themes that can still be considered underexplored in car design: multipurpose vehicles.
With a double body, the 500L will also offer a car with a slightly longer measurement that will become the “L zero”, the smallest seven-seat MPV in circulation. Others will then follow…
“Design honesty” – A conversation with Andreas Wuppinger
Can you tell us about the creative procedure that led to the production of the 500L? What aspects represented the guidelines for the 500L project?
When asked to develop a new model for the L segment, to which the so-called “leisure activity vehicles” belong, we immediately considered the loss of appeal of many products on the market and asked ourselves how we could give a large usable internal space and a bit of emotionality back to limited external size; something that belongs to our history and our technical capacity. Starting from the experience gained with the 500, we tried to transfer the same imagination to the new typology, accentuating however the concept of versatility. The objective was to define a line that would not undergo a rapid obsolescence, with a unique look and boldness of construction.
What are the features that characterize the 500L’s external design and what considerations inspired them?
The 500L is characterized by a continuous glazing, large apertures towards the outside and a highly liveable internal space. The design of bodywork inspires a sensation of safety obtained through a high belt line, the accentuated shape of the wheel arches and a raised driving position. As a point of reference we did not, however, consider the SUV, which often has a negative connotation: grandeur, high consumption and almost shielding one from the outside. Here the process is the opposite; I feel protected inside the car but have a great view of the exterior; the clutter of the bodywork is reduced but the space available inside is maximized.
How does the 500L compare to other vehicles in the “L” segment when it comes to size?
I believe that the 500L is primarily a highly functional car, capable of offering a surprising space for passengers and luggage in a little over four- metre length. However, this has a duplicate structural and with it formal reasoning: the 500L expresses its prerogative, but also a particular visual identity. We have tried to optimize the volumes that have a technical function to the advantage of liveability. At the same time we wanted to show a design “honesty”, excluding particular expedients that then, however, were not born out in the vehicle’s true prerogatives. The answer adopted in the design of the windscreen, with the split uprights, shows how one can obtain a fundamental requisite for safety and with it a coherent and original physiognomy.
“For an introspective design” – A conversation with Virgilio Fernandez
One of the most obvious characteristics of the 500L is the close inherence between the design of the bodywork and its interior. How was it possible to obtain this continuity at a design level?
The team of designers and engineers that worked on the 500L project is a tight-knit group of professionals that had already gained significant experience during the creation of the 500, where there prevailed a constant willingness to face a challenge and above all a common vision. Another reason, however, can be considered the research shared with marketing to obtain an accurate “mapping” of the type of users the 500L intended to aim itself at. A type of work that I would liken to a sociological study; to a meticulous introspective, almost psychological investigation, but not for this reason without a precise creative value.
What were the parameters assumed to identify such a wide and articulated target of potential users? And how does the design intend to respond in the context of a market in which an extensive but also strongly homologated offer seems to prevail?
During the development of the 500L design, we represented the motorcar market and the existing situation, in order of typology and segment, as a true and proper jungle. The metaphor certainly doesn’t aim to callously describe the system as something inscrutable, but rather emphasize diversity of shape, features and above all behavior that can be assimilated in this case to the character and nature of certain species. The metaphor proved useful in circumscribing certain dynamics that distinguish the present production, in particular in terms of a greater possibility to understand the mechanisms that are driving you. From this investigation sprang a number of considerations that guided our design: the desire of the final users to find an answer to their own needs, to identify themselves with the product, also from the point of view of its personalisation, and then that the vehicle must be an iconic and at the same time functional object.
In conceptual and product definition terms, what solutions were adopted for the interior of the 500L?
The basic principle was that of applying a logic to every feature, to every individual aspect regarding the 500L interior; a logic in the sense of ease of approach, interface, colloquialism, simplification, congruence and even humanity. The safety but also the pleasure given by the windscreen that allows a wide view, the raised position of the driver and passenger seats, the sensation of airiness, even if inside an automobile, hark back to an idea of harmony between the objects and the surrounding scenery. Specific attention was then paid to determining the shape of all the other features, from the dashboard to the door panels, from the design of the steering wheel to the smallest details, evocative of the vehicle’s physiognomy.
“Exploring shapes through the senses” – A conversation with Rossella Guasco
With its iconicity, the 500L has a strong appeal that goes beyond the formal configuration of the object and solicits a more direct interaction. In creative terms, how was it possible to transfer this prerogative at a sensorial level?
The 500L project allowed us to once more show the importance of recognizing a material’s sensorial value; therefore no longer as simple upholstery material, as an additional element, as a complementary aspect. I think that every internal surface of the car has a soul and contributes to the elaboration of a language.
Designing a car also means thinking and structuring; designing its “matter”. Our instinctive capacity to explore through our senses draws attention to a series of aspects regarding contact with an object that assail the tactile, visual and even olfactory ambit.
At a creative level, in the case of the 500L, the car’s strong iconic connotation allowed the preparation of specially defined “moods” and the further development of the conspicuous work carried out for the 500.
With the 500L Fiat explores possible scenarios in which the consolidated identity of the brand involves every single aspect and feature, material and immaterial. What part did the Colour & Material division play during the creation of the 500L project?
With this model one of the most interesting aspects was making contact with customer-interlocutors that were extremely diverse. In the first place, the route taken considered a phase of careful analysis of objects, environments and “life styles” that could be assimilated in some basic concepts. All this compared with the brand values and the iconicity of the 500L; different worlds in which the tactility, three-dimensionality and “graphics” could find a suitable fulfillment.
What margins of personalization were foreseen when it comes to the choice of fittings, color and internal combinations?
Our work was concentrated on the identification of an “environment”, a context of symbols and features opportunely combined to provide different types of fitting. The criteria adopted, freed by a purely hierarchic and sequential logic of the standard fittings and possible options, was intended to trace a profile of the final user more or less disposed to approach pre-defined configurations on which to make their mark. There are wide margins for personalization in the choice of color, fabric texture, upholstery and “stitching”, according to a range of possible harmonies: from “basic” pastel colors for the interior in “body-color” to “polished” vinyl upholstery connoted for its functionality, to the “micro fibre” and “marbled” leathers that hark back to an image of more classical and “heritage” interiors.