Automotive Design: Global or Local?

“Italian automobile design was for many years the beacon for the world.

“Italian automobile design was for many years the beacon for the world. Now it has been weakened. Why? Because we exported our design culture.” That’s a quote from Lorenzo Ramaciotti, head of Fiat design—which encompasses Fiat, Alfa Romeo, Maserati, Abarth, Lancia, and Fiat light commercial vehicles—that appears in a story by Colleen Barry of the Associated Press that appeared in the Detroit Free Press.


Barry amplifies Ramaciotti’s observation by writing that the export was “First to Japan, where Italians designed a lot of cars in the 1970s. Then in Korea, for Daewoo and Hyundai, and now China.”

Ramaciotti had worked at the Pininfarina studio prior to moving to Fiat, so he knows more than a little something about Italian pens for hire.

He raises an interesting point. Is there a geographical, or cultural, specificity of design. Can there be quintessential Italian designs and French designs, British designs and American designs, or has the alleged “flattened world” resulted in something of a homogenization of design?

Speaking of the Fiat 500—the Cinquecento—that is coming to the U.S. market this fall, Barry quotes Ramaciotti as saying, “The general flavor of the car has remained very much Italian. It has such personality that we think that even the Americans will buy it in the Italian colors.


“Someone who buys a 500 does not buy it just as a means of transport, but because it is cute and European.”

The Ford Fiesta was designed in Europe, yet it is being positioned as a American car. Chances are GM won’t make much of the fact that the Chevy Cruze was designed in Korea, where it has been available since 2008 as the Daewoo Lacetti Premiere since 2008.


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So, what’s the verdict? Is there area-specific design, or is there just design?