One of the many people our Economics of the Auto Industry class met with was J Mays, Ford’s Chief Creative Officer. Part of the conversation we had with Mr. Mays, along with our trip to the Detroit Institute of the Arts, had me thinking about the intersection of the art and automotive industries.
Design sells cars. A car can be a complete disaster in many ways, but if it is designed well, it might still sell. Take the MG MGB, which was unbelievably unreliable, but gorgeous: the design was a large part of why the car sold so well. Put simply, the design of the car is very important and creating that design is creating an artwork. Car designers are artists and can be successful, as with almost every Aston Martin ever produced, or unsuccessful, as with the Pontiac Aztek.
As with art generally, the artwork of car design doesn’t necessarily have to be beautiful to be “good.” It can be interesting, eccentric or surprising. The Ford Mustang, for example, isn’t really a beautiful car, but it is a successful piece of art, because it conveys well the notions of aggression and free spirit which Ford was trying to convey.
Finally, Mr. Mays told us that houses portray what people are, but cars portray what they want to be. I have a few problems with this idea (if I lived somewhere with bad winters, I would drive an SUV, even though I love BMW coupes), but even so, using his idea, it is the design of the car which portrays what people want to be. Imagine if we walked around with a painting around our necks. Wouldn’t it be important to choose the correct one – to portray ourselves as we want to be? Maybe Mr. Mays was on to something.