Slate August, 28th 2012                       > version française



Car designers are in the habit of surfing the wave of concept cars sporting exotic fins or frothy coach trim, while advertising beckons us with awesome hair, leave-in conditioner and crop tops. It might be entertaining to expose their motives but would hardly elucidate us in seeking solutions to the economic, ecologic, social or political crises confronting the automobile.

Even if Hawaiian shirts can’t propel the automobile into the 21st century, surf culture could nevertheless be of interest for the industry.

To think of obstacles not as problems but as opportunities to implement creativity and style . . .

…allows us to take on the strategies of the industrial groups, in the areas of management, product, markets, with a more humanistic potentiality favoring autonomy of the different players, aiming for options with unlimited profitability within the orbit of Silicon Valley, powered by business models of the New Economy. This way of functioning, in synergy between two springboards, has other advantages as well (related to personal motivation in facing challenge, acquiring new skills, discovering…).

Let’s imagine the process of producing a ‘small’ car. Marketing studies show that everyone needs an affordable car: young people starting out in life, retirees on limited income, parents picking up kids after school, a third of over-50 housewives with time on their hands, the travelling public, populations in emerging economies seeking autonomous routes to development. These same studies show that, exceeding all other criteria, low price is a deciding factor. Yet, car makers’ response is calculated from the get-go, “Let’s construct an €8,000 car with a 3.60 m body length.”

Insisting on objectives measured in figures (delays, costs, target customers, sales, market share . . .) is probably a good way of reassuring the hierarchy. But, instead of aping the competition, putting strategies in place using simple tools (modelled on skateboarding, Google . . .) and heading in a more thought-out direction can actually lead to surpassed objectives and highlight the unique savoir-faire of all individuals in manufacturing companies.

Lowering the price of a car by 10% (by shortening length) and increasing profit margins by 20% (by dolling it up) can never lead to a price decrease of 100% and a profit margin increase of 2,000%. But, this result is achievable when we think differently and shake up the old order.


Let’s get beyond using art and culture to fabricate a ‘hip’ image. The FREE CAR PROJECT, conceiving a design which is open to all expectations and an economic model surpassing all others, has developed alternative working methods. Artists, scientists, journalists, philosophers, craftsmen have been given carte blanche to bounce ideas around on the question of the Automobile, with their discerning, outsider’s view of the industry. What are the rational and irrational uses of a car? What are the social, economic, ecological implications? What does an open structure favor: potential, narrative, the notion of ‘slow’, the non-car, manufacturing history, the user friendly environment, optimism, lightness?

By applying these working methods to a light and open automobile, several coherent elements surfaced to constitute the FREE CAR PROJECT. A car which permits fundamentally different types of users to surpass their expectations while significantly decreasing manufacturing costs and reaffirming the value of labor, gives subcontractors the opportunity to develop offers freely, pleases shareholders, and instigates discussion about ecology.

Buckminster Fuller (American engineer, architect, designer, 1895-1983) showed that construction based on oppositional forces is not the only solution possible; that an alternative, more natural vision is achievable, based on circulation of effort within structures. Instead of adversarial debate, dialogue is enriched via mutually cooperative endeavor allowing for harmonious and fluid results. Workplace stress is replaced by constructive exhilaration.

Car buyers, too, have wearied of performance comparisons in endless car reviews; or measured by quivering, red dashboard needles; of never being up to speed leading to frustration.

Frustration and dependance based marketing have become less profitable today than  promoting freedom and autonomy for the customer. It’s the right time to offer an iconic car stripped of brand status, revealing a new story, free of calculated computation, a car which is priceless…

Hang loose.