On May 10th we had the chance of participating to the presentation of the Twizy design story, with Renault VP Design R&D and Nissan Synergies Patrick Lecharpy and Renault Design Manager R&D Design Studio Luciano Bove.
Both Patrick and Luciano shared many details on the work done on the car, not only in term of design, but also carrying out a complete reorganization of the concept development process, which resulted so successful that it is now adopted by the whole Renault R&D Design Studio.
This design story is particularly interesting given the unconventional nature of the Twizy, and it shows how a new concept was created from scratch, from the initial briefing to the final road tests.
Patrick and Luciano also gave many tips and suggestions for design students and aspiring designers. We have collected them and you can find them in our exclusive article 10 tips for aspiring car designers by Patrick Lecharpy and Luciano Bove.
UPDATE on Aug 13, 2012: the complete Italian translation of the article is available over at Virtual Car.
The context: innovation and new markets
Patrick Lecharpy starts by underlining the importance of innovation: “The history of car design shows that the big successes for the automobile industry comes from innovation, and that represents an investment and a risk for a company.”
“When you are innovating it is important to identify where the Blue Oceans are, i.e. where nobody is. This doesn’t mean there are no customers, it just means there are no answers for customers’ needs.”
“So you can decide whether to be in Red Oceans – where there is a huge amount of customers but also many competitors – or to be in Blue Oceans and try to create a new market.”
“A few years ago Carlos Ghosn stated that in the future Renault would focus on the production of electric cars, which was initially greeted with some skepticism.
“According to his analysis from 2020 the cost of fossil fuel would be extremely high and electricity would be less costly for daily use.”
Based on this, Renault designers started to research in this field, and this investment eventually resulted in the presentation of a complete range of electric concepts (Twizy, Fluence, ZOE and Kangoo ZE Concepts) in 2009, all aimed at envisioning series production models.
Briefing and initial concept
While the other three projects were centered around the design of family vehicles, for the Twizy the development team was given much more freedom, in terms of both technical specifications and organization.
The initial goal was to offer a new solution for the urban commuters’ needs.
Patrick explains: “According to statistics data, the average number of occupants per car is just 1.4 and the average distance traveled each day is about 60 km.
“Based on this information, the idea was to design a single-seat, four-wheeled vehicle that provided a minimum range of 80 km”
The vehicle needed to be safe, affordable, agile and fun: each of these requirements influenced the choices made during the first phase, where the basic layout of the Twizy was outlined.
Luciano Bove explains: “We understood that it was not so important for the car to be extremely sophisticated. It was more important to achieve a feeling of energy, agility, a good balance between costs and quality and also a sense of motorcycle-like freedom.”
The need for safety led to the idea of providing a car-like protection: this translated into a four-wheel layout. In order to reinforce the feeling of safety, the target driving position had an eye-level comparable to that of a Twingo.
Having a car-like safety also led to incorporate the “half doors” on the sides, while the original concept was doorless: their purpose is to provide protection in case of side impacts.
True to the briefing, the cabin was mainly developed for one, with the possibility of accommodating an additional passenger if needed.
The need to keep costs low led the Renault team to avoid complex dynamic systems such as leaning wheel suspensions.
Luciano Bove comments: “When designing the Twizy one of the starting requirements asked by the product planning in the briefings was to create an emotional driving and to offer an outstanding experience. This reflected in our sketches, that communicated the impression of unique driving experience.”
“Taking inspiration from modern three-wheel scooters, we also tried to incorporate a very strong connection between driver and machine.”
The Twizy project was unconventional also in terms of look. Patrick explains: “When dealing with a new concepts we had two options ahead: to follow the conventional styling trends of automobile design or to search for a different imagery and look.”
“With the Twizy we wanted to reach new customers, not necessarily attracted by conventional design.”
The need for a distinctive look was also aimed at meeting the needs and tastes of customers different from the ones targeted with the Zoe, and this reflects in the research sketches, mostly created by designers Francois Leboine and Eduardo Lana.
“Given the nature and the performances of the car we deliberately decided to avoid a sporty look that would evoke speed. We stayed true to the brief of creating a design that would express dynamism, fun and joy, while being appealing to both female and male customers.”
The final look of the Twizy Concept also incorporated a number of distinctive styling elements which contributed to express its diversity as well as to raise fun, curiosity and expectation for something new to happen.
On the exterior, these included the distinctive wheel covers and the LED screen face, capable of communicating emotions.
The interior of the featured a range indicator inspired by lotus flowers, with petals that close progressively as the range decreases, which was another hint at rising positive emotions.
A new organization
The development of the Twizy concept took just nine months, compared to a standard period of about 2 years. This result was enabled by the implementation of an innovative organizational structure, necessary for such an unconventional project to be accepted for production.
When developing a new vehicle, car companies usually establish a dedicated technical platform consisting of a Director and a large number of managers, each responsible of a different aspect.
Then, the initial development is generally carried over in sequential phases: product planning, design and engineering.
For the Twizy Renault decided to take a different route. Patrick Lecharpy explains: “We decided to integrate these three phases into a single organization, where the three areas of competence – each consisting of just about 15 people – would work at the same level in a more dynamic and integrated process.”
This helped each member of the team to have more responsibilities, and allowed to cut bureaucracy and bouncing decisions
Luciano Bove adds: “We avoided the risk of having too many discussions between different departments, which would have delayed the process and ultimately increased the costs.”
(Image Courtesy: Renault for Car Body Design)