The art of designing a new car

In our second podcast, we talk to Chris Longmore the founder of Drive. We talk to Chris about the importance of branding and values in the automotive industry. We ask him about the process he and his team goes through when designing a new car and his thoughts on the future of the automotive world.
chris longmore


Chris Longmore


Chris Longmore is the founder of Drive, an automotive design agency working with both major automotive manufacturers and specialists low volume marques. Drive was founded in 1997, Chris and his team of design specialists make it their mission to understand the DNA and the Purpose of the brands they work with, transforming these values into a physical reality. In addition to this, Chris’s team create emotive and captivating CGI visual content to supplement the automotive brands’, comms strategy.


Chris Taylor: Hey everyone. And welcome to That Purpose Show brought to you by The Podcasterists. Drew, and I love storytelling and together we help brands tell their story one podcast at a time. I’m Chris Taylor, your show host. Join me as I explore the fascinating world of Purpose. I’ll be talking with everyone from brands and content creators, to voices with the authority to explore what Purpose is, why it’s important and how to communicate it in a relevant and authentic way. We’d love your feedback and you can find out more about us.

Welcome to That Purpose Show brought to you by The Podcasterists. I’m Chris Taylor, your show host. And this week I’m joined by another Chris, Chris Longmore the founder of Drive, an automotive design agency working with both major automotive manufacturers and specialists in low volume marques. Drive was founded in 1997, Chris and his team of design specialists make it their mission to understand the DNA and the purpose of the brands they work with, transforming these values into a physical reality. Additionally, Chris’s team create emotive and captivating CGI visual content to supplement the automotive brands’, comms strategy. Welcome Chris to That Purpose Show how are you doing?

Chris Longmore: Morning Chris? Very well. Thanks.

Chris Taylor: Good good. Automotive brands have been adept at defining their brand DNA and Purpose.
Volvo of course, is known for its safety Ferrari for its elite performance, et cetera. What’s the process I’m curious to know, what’s the process that you use when applying these brand values to designing new concepts?

Chris Longmore: Well, we try and delve in from very early on to understand what the messages that the company is trying to get out as a brand.
So we’re trying to understand the values they place on the communication, whether it be safety, whether it be speed. And so bring these all together and through mood boards and discussing it sort of internally, we come to an understanding what we believe they’re trying to convey. Then that’s sort of, if you like our role is to put that into 3d form that conveys everything they talk about.
So if it’s a strength of character, if it’s to be a very strong body line or if it’s to give us stance and the stance being up on its toes, so it’s very nimble. So if it’s to give that feeling through to very solid, you know safe car looks very solid on the roads and gives that confidence in people that are driving it or seeing it coming down the road.

Chris Taylor: Okay. I mean, cause you were pretty instrumental in the design of the Zenoss. So for people that don’t know is Zenos, I think it was a lightweight, high-performance British made sports car and the boss there. Ansar Ali, I think he was the co-founder at the times that, that you really understood the personality and the values of the customer and the firm’s Purpose.
How do you, how do you know what the customer’s looking for or what their perceived end-user wanted?

Chris Longmore: Well in that particular project, we’re really lucky we’ve got involved right at the start. So it was a brand new company with a brand new concept. And the feeling that everybody is trying to get was one of a community there.
And obviously, it’s a sports car. So. Britain’s known for, you know, Caterham 7’s and BAC Mono’s, very specialist track D cars. And that gave us a feeling of what we’re looking for with that particular project. And what we were trying to do, the Zenos for instance, was give people the experience of being on edge, but actually, they’re not quite.
So if you…

Chris Taylor: I’m always like that

Chris Longmore: But imagine you’re a skydiver, but actually that experience for somebody like me would be terrifying but put them in a balloon, you’re up in the air and you’re looking down on it. So it’s putting them like that. So that it’s a very quick, nimble car, but we’re making it feel secure and you didn’t feel exposed to a very high shoulder line to feel that you’re cocooned in a very strong package, but understanding people.
Yeah, we’ll go and talk to them. We’ll do a project, perhaps filming, say we’re designing the rear of a car and the, the boot space. We’ll go and talk to people and understand how they use that boot space. We’ll film them and that, film them inside their house as well as in the car because then you get a feeling about how they approach the organisation of their goods at home and maybe how they store things.
And then when they’re using the car and they’re packing things into the back, how do they keep the kids’ pram separate from the food, separate from the dog?

Chris Taylor: That’s pretty good, isn’t it?

Chris Longmore: Yeah. And I think you have to be, I think there’s, there’s almost two views, of how you see design, there’s the sort of styling aspect.
And I think you could say that a lot of the exterior of cars is about styling them to the brand. But there’s also the design almost industrial design side, which is designing for the people that user or the drivers. So you’re, you’re styling for the brand and you’re designing for the use of it that the people actually. have to use it every day. And interiors now are becoming so important, you know, exteriors always separated the cars up till now, and you know, it is what draws people in. But on then to your side, and especially with autonomous vehicles and this whole idea that you’re going to be using the space differently and maybe even car-sharing, how that’s used so much is so different now. And in many ways, the autonomous idea that the steering wheel disappears, you turn round four of you all talking, it’s almost like an aircraft interior.

Chris Taylor: That’s absolutely fascinating. So you almost like, you also have to have some sort of like, almost like a psychology background to actually see how individuals will be sort of, you know, using the interior of their vehicle.

Chris Longmore: Yeah. And I think trying to predict it as well. That’s the other thing because there’s lots of legislation comes in. There’s lots of changes in how things will happen down the road. And of course, unlike, maybe a mobile phone, the turnaround from design concept to production is fairly short.
The lead times on a car is, you know, two, to three years at the quickest. So you have to be predicting that fine down the line, not just from the looks at the time, but also about the technology that will be available. And I think this is where a mobile phone and apps, you know, Tesla cars have been very adept at using the technology to allow them to update the car like a mobile phone, so things have moved on and I’m again, getting that understanding of how people can use it and the technology that will ease people’s lives.

Chris Taylor: So you and your team at Drive, you almost needed like a crystal ball don’t you to sort of try and work out what people are going to be requiring.

Chris Longmore: Yeah, it, it, it is. And. Just having that zest for life to go and look at things. So the designers were trying to encourage, to look around them and go and see different things. It’s important that they’re not just looking at cars all day. As nice as that is, we’ve got to look around us and sort of bring in influences from everywhere, but it’d be museums to old classic car shows to walking down the high street because it’s fashion. You know, there’s a lot of that going on at the moment and bringing those elements across. Drive in the past has done a lot of product design as well. And we focused on automotive and then with that has brought people from other industries back to us to try and once again, get involved in their side of things, but bringing an automotive slant on it.

Chris Taylor: That’s really interesting. I mean, few purchases in life really define sort of perceived social status as much as a car. So I’m just thinking, you know, back to the 1980s and you’ve got your Porsche driver and it’s a, it’s a man and he’s a City trader and he’s got a, sort of a champagne-fueled lifestyle. Something I never knew anything about. I wonder how easy it is for an automotive brand to sort of jettison, perhaps slightly negative legacy brand associations. And is that something that Drive also helps its clients with?

Chris Longmore: I think they can. And I think like everything, it just all takes time.
And I think one of these aspects of change is just being consistent on your message and your, and your new standing. So if you taking some of the brands, likes of Skoda, for instance, when that joined then, the Volkswagen group the quality went up and people then started appreciating that they could get a very good car.
You know, as a Skoda the quality level is so high that people would make that first choice purchase. And it also, in a sense, brought along some of the strength of the Skoda brand from in the past, almost gave it almost a very reliable, but then quality because of it’s associated with Volkswagen.
And I’d say Volvo, which, you know, traditionally, and probably still is known as a safe car actually has moved the boundaries forward because you know, it’s very design-led and very good looking cars and they’re very well put together and people are buying them on looks not just because they’re safe.
So I think, again, that’s something that’s…

Chris Taylor: It’s certainly possible then to move.

Chris Longmore: It’s possible. Because we’re a consultancy, we can go in and talk with a brand and almost jettison things that we don’t think are relevant anymore. Whereas sometimes internal teams can be so close to it and clinging on to things that actually.
Maybe you could let go and maybe take a step back, have a look at what you’re trying to achieve as a company trying to achieve from the looks and yeah, we can help move them in a direction.

Chris Taylor: Okay. I mean, you mentioned VW earlier. I mean, I was, I was coming on to VW cause actually the, I mean in some respects, people sort of see them as a rather classless as a brand that, you know, you can be you know, you could be a duchess or you can be you know a dustbin collector. So they don’t really say very much about anybody in, as I say, they become almost classless. The emission scandal that they had, didn’t seem to cause them much long-lasting impact. Did it?

Chris Longmore: I think as a brand they’re very strong and I think that’s gotten through that aspect. I think it had a massive impact on them because they had you know, liabilities to sort out.
But as a brand overall image, no, I think they weathered it, well, I think they did the right thing. They hands up. We’ve done something wrong. We’re going to put it right. And we’re going to move things on and there’ll still be people of course, that have that association with them. But you know, maybe the timing of electric vehicles coming on board has given them a fresh impetus to be moving away from that, you know, like every other brand.
So everybody’s now looking at how things will move forward. So yeah, I think that they dealt with it well, I think with admitted the mistakes and yeah. It’s probably proved the right approach to it.

Chris Taylor: Yeah. I mean, you also mentioned Tesla and I think they now, I think they vibe with Toyota or whoever to be the world’s most valuable automotive business.
And I think they produce very few cars when compared to say Toyota And obviously they, they, you know, it’s, the Tesla CEO is an individual with some, you know a bit of a profile, one could say but they’ve really understood Purpose. And their mission is to accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy.
This has been a masterclass, hasn’t it in sort of Purpose marketing?

Chris Longmore: It’s been very good. And I think the whole approach cause it’s, it’s not just about a car is it? It’s about the whole system. It’s about where, where they’re made, how they’re made the factories the whole process and trying, it’s almost like, it’s almost like Apple and an iPhone approach isn’t it? You’ve, you’ve got the product, you’ve got the software, you’ve got the sales outlet that isn’t the same as a dealership. They’ve approached it differently and they’ve got in there first in a sense, and they’ve really pushed it on and they really have made everyone have to take notice.
Sometimes. I think there’s an old saying that, you know, the first, mouse doesn’t get the cheese. Let’s hope that’s not the case for them. Cause they really, you know, they’ve really

Chris Taylor: They’ve defined it haven’t they?

Chris Longmore: They’ve defined it and disrupted it.

Chris Taylor: Absolutely. And I mean, obviously, I think the UK of banning sales of new fossil fuel cars by 2035. But the price of electric vehicles and for many people that, that, that price is really prohibitive. And I’m wondering if this means that only affluent people will be able to drive cars in the decades to come. And the car that sort of democratised travel for everybody is the Mini. You know, when that rolled off the production lines in the sixties or seventies that was seen as the people’s car, is there going to be a people’s electric car, do you think?

Chris Longmore: Yes. And it’s it is going to happen and who gets there first, whether it will all come down to the technologies, the batteries. The technology has to move on quick enough, but as soon as the big players are getting involved, the VWs, of this world, you know, the costs will come down. And then the cost of you buying it will have come down.
So there will be that happening. The form that it takes will be interesting. Again, just this idea of, is it going to be a shared car? Are you actually going to have one outside the front? Are your petrol driven classics going to be the equivalent of the canal boats, where you go out and enjoy them at the weekend sort of thing?
Be interesting to see, but there will be, you know, there’s no stopping it, it’s rolling on. And hopefully, there’ll be technologies that are getting around some of the downsides of the battery production and the, you know, the materials that are used in that and solutions we’ll be finding, I guess that’s a great thing about progression.

Chris Taylor: And I wonder whether those organisations, you know, like Amazon or Google will actually enter the automotive market. And whether they have
designs on that.

Chris Longmore: I guess I would think that there’s a lot of these people thinking about it a lot of them already buying into vehicle manufacturers are new. Whether it be delivery vehicles or last-mile delivery they’re already involved and they have to be, I think.

Chris Taylor: Sure. So I’ve got some quick-fire questions for you, you know, cause I was going to ask them now what’s your favourite all-time car design and why? Before you answer that mine is, I’m going to say, I quite liked the DeLorean from Back To The Future.
So you know, I should go with that. How about you. Any favourites?

Chris Longmore: Right? I’m going to say, I’m going to say two. One, one is the party line I do have a Zenos. I love it. And I’ll tell you why I love it. I was just on Monday round Brands Hatch. It was great. And that I’m slightly biased obviously, but it’s probably the closest thing I’ll get to as a car that is a Drive car.
You know, every surface on it was done by us. We worked with engineers, but anything you touch and you look at, so from that point of view, that would be one that would be my favourite. And also on Monday, I had a good friend with me, Mike Arney from another consultancy. So that was just a special day, but the car I love is the Alfa Duetto and you’ll best know it in the film The Graduate and just think that is such a well-proportioned car, a lovely red Alfa Romeo, Italian. So flair, and just so nicely done and in a way that modern people have tried to do certain things and maybe missed the boat as it’s known as a bullet tail.
And that’s maybe a good way of putting it in a really, really beautiful car. So that’d be my, my favourite.

Chris Taylor: Any shocking car designs, I mean, do you want to hark back to the sort of the days of British Leyland and some of the nonsense that rolled off the production line, but anything stands out for you recently?
Chris Longmore: Okay. There are lots. I’m sure it could go through. What I’m going to do is there’s a car a Fiat that I’ve never really liked, but I actually got the Fiat coupe and it was done yeah, around the eighties. And it had some slashes above the real arches and it was quite advanced I guess, at the time, but it was something I just never quite got.
So it’s not that don’t like it it’s just, if we were having an argument about car design can bring that up to have an argument with some people that like it.
Okay, well, I’m going to Google it when I finish this interview. So I’m going to have a look at it. Do you think there’s any historic brands or car marques that you think deserve a bit of a resurrection?

Chris Longmore: I’d love to see the car I’ve just mentioned and Alfa Romeo sort of Spider come back in a form. But, you know, there’s, there’s, there are lots of British brands that sort of like Triumph, there might be something quite nice to come back with that and Triumph Herald, you know, you could imagine something being quite nice around that sort of thing, but yeah, I dunno.
It’s a difficult one because they were of a time. And I sort of feel that people, Chinese companies have brought brands, but they’re not bringing them back to hark back to the past. They’re trying to initially get a story, but really when they do I feel that they’ve changed it’s not that time anymore.
They deserve to have their role in the industry and where it was at that time. So some that have kind of hall of fame. That’s in the hall of fame.

Chris Taylor: Okay now, Chris, that’s brilliant. How do listeners get hold of you?

Chris Longmore: The best way, is LinkedIn, just look me up, Chris Longmore.
You can also get me Chris dot and yeah, just Instagram, et cetera. You’ll get us Drive design and you can see some of our work there.

Chris Taylor: Brilliant. Thanks, Chris. That’s excellent. Thanks a lot.

Chris Longmore: Great. Thanks for your time.


Welcome to That Purpose Show brought to you by The Podcasterists.

We’ll be talking with everyone from brands to content creators to voices with authority to explore what Purpose is, why it’s important and how to communicate it in a relevant and authentic way.


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