Sell your dream

We can use the innovation in the car industry to make our design ideas a reality, says MC1 designer David Hilton


Anyone with good stylistic design talent, vision, fortitude and a PC, can create a digital rendering to get the industry and enthusiasts excited. We have all seen that far too often.

The key lies in following that vision through. Many of us who read The Engineer have either had breakthrough ideas or come up with brilliant solutions to our automotive problems. But in today’s climate, the question is, how can we turn our ideas into an industry?

The MC1 is one of these development stories. Without disclosing too much, the car is based on something very real. There are still tucked-away places in the UK pouring cash and labour into long-term dreams. Some of them are visible, and some are not… yet.

I have been fortunate enough to work with many talented engineers and designers in the UK. As the sole designer of the Ford Focus RS, and co-designer of the ST and S-Max, I am consistently impressed with the ‘can-do’ attitude of the UK auto industry. Having worked with companies such as Tickford, C2P, Ricardo, Concept Group, Mira and many of the dozens of job shops in the Midlands and Essex, I can say there is no lack of high-end expertise.

So what are we going to do now? Maybe we are in a second Renaissance? We must remember that companies like Jaguar, Aston and Morgan began in small job shops.

The MC1 began life as a self-funded ‘springboard’ concept from another project. The design process started the same as most: a few sketches, then straight into the digital model over package. The only difference was that the exterior surfacing was created in under three months, which by styling time standards, is incredibly quick. Of course, experts can see that this version is not yet 100 per cent feasible, but the powertrain and proportion packages are there.

First, the design style must be unique, fresh, clear and very professional. The second key lies in selling the concept. And by using software, specifically Alias, as a design surfacing tool and DeltaGen for rendering and animation, we’ve been able to display our creations in the most realistic way possible without incurring the costs of developing a full-size model.

This is especially useful to companies who may have a fully working prototype, but no great style as yet, or for established firms who have a proven product and are ready for a new look.

Despite this, I believe that clay model development will be with us until the digital world can completely fool our senses. I am a strong digital proponent, but I also need to touch and sculpt my visions. There are software tools which are getting close, such as interactive 3D sensory powerwalls and ‘blue caves’, but we can still see through these. Normally, when the digital model is as far as we can comfortably take it, we mill it out 1:1 in clay for continuation.

Once the digital technology can deceive our brains, we will have an opportunity to further speed up development times and reduce physical modelling costs. Fabricating clay models is not only expensive on materials but also on manpower. A clay buck can cost about £72,000 to build, depending on its complexity and longevity. The man hours smoothing that clay into 100 per cent feasibility consumes years and millions at most of the OEMs.

So, how to sell the dream before the start? The most cost-effective method is, of course, to not build a real design model. This is where the designer’s skill and the software comes in. As an entrepreneur, it is difficult to find clients willing to put a concept on to the road. And it’s not a cheap endeavour. So I prefer to partner with strong engineering firms who are willing to develop vehicles. If these cannot be found, the digital world can assist my pitch to find them.

This is where the UK auto industry’s advantages — small and decisive teams, strong talent, and the can-do attitude — help to make my vehicles become reality. Several groups are getting cars on the road now and deserve credit: these include Ascari, Noble, Morgan and Aerial Atom.

As an independent designer, my job is to please my clients and sell my creations. It seems we are all looking for that rich Sheikh to come and sweep our beautiful dreams off its wheels, and if anyone knows one, please send him my way. Until then, we must sell our designs to ourselves and start expanding garage space — maybe that industry is in our own back gardens.



Automotive designer David Hilton, is the founder of Motorcity Europe, and developer of the MC1, a V-10 powered supercar that could be in production by 2011