What You See When You Look There Instead of Up

Vietnamese company Vinfast have shown their Lux A2.0 saloon and AS2.0 sports utility vehicle at the 2018 Paris Mondiale. The styling is attributed to Pininfarina who did it real quick, you know.

2018 Vinfast: source

“The design direction of these first two cars was influenced by the Vietnamese people through a public vote. This has enhanced the sense of national pride in these products, which pay homage to the country’s natural beauty. The design development for the production cars was undertaken by legendary design house, Pininfarina, giving the cars Italian design flair and sophistication,” says the corporate press kit. The part which caught my eye was this:

Sketch rendering of Vinfast saloon: source

(design director) Lyon said that by eliminating the traditional clay modelling stage, he reduced the time from the first sketches to the final surface development to less than 11 months.”

2018 Vinfast saloon: Vinfast cars

Along the way features from the concept sketch got lost and a few styling features hopped on board. It’s still such a blandly indeterminate kind of shape that that probably doesn’t matter a great deal.

I was going to write about Pininfarina’s inability to get their customer to accept a design more interesting and decisive than the car shown here.  Vinfast’s caution is pretty much consistent with every new arrival in the car market for decades: hesitant recycling of contemporary themes. Kia and Hyundai did it and Tesla did it too, with Lexus in between.


Well, I am not going to go down that path. More thought-stirring is that Pininfarina ditched the clay modelling stage. This is not unlike a restaurateur deciding not to try out the recipes needed for the dishes on the menu. Here’s Chris Svensson from FoMoCo on the topic: “‘We always came back to clay.’ The problem is, he says, digital projections can’t accurately show how light will play on a car’s surface. ‘You can’t replicate the sun.’” And you can’t think in two weeks what you will think in three months.

I don’t have the statistics to hand about precisely how much it costs for a clay modelling programme. It’s less than you’d think. For a large firm like Ford or Renault the studio spaces are standing there and paid for and the main additional cost is the labour for a few months plus some lumps of Chavant.  

The other potential cost is more notional, that if you spend three months modelling then that costs three months of lost sales at the end of development (this is opportunity cost?). Presumably getting the car to market three months earlier means three months times X thousand monthly sales.

I have trouble with this figure since it is partly based on hypothetical, approximate sales guesses. I also have trouble with the idea that, as per the Vinfast car, anyone is standing around waiting for this product. Whatever Vinfast would sell in March 2019 will be similar to what they’d sell in June 2019 after some clay modelling.

Unlike the change from pens and chalk to screen-based drawing (which hasn’t saved one minute of design time), to dodge clay modelling dramatically reduces the time the designer has to think about the form as seen in three dimensions and at full-scale. Soak time, they called it at GM.

Although a form can be seen in a second and maybe understood superficially in a few more seconds, it can take many days to fully comprehend a new shape’s gross form, sometimes months. There is also the matter of the numerous centimetre-scale details that collectively add up to how the how the car is perceived.

Bluntly put, reducing design time is the dumbest saving of all. Given the huge cost of launching a car, the idea of saving money on its appearance is absurd, like having a multi-million dollar film budget but having no script and using bad actors.

I can’t see any Italian flair in this car. Rather, I see something half-cooked from other people’s ingredients. Maybe the big idea was not there in the first place. It didn’t help that the designers were granted months less time considering the overall form and the details.

Author: richard herriott

I like anchovies. I dislike post-war town planning.

8 thoughts on “What You See When You Look There Instead of Up”

  1. How to go from a concept to a Subaru Legacy profile clone with just a few keystrokes.

    The man who runs the Vin series of companies does everything quickly; he’s on a tear. Here’s a very complete article on Vinfast and Vin in general from Paul Tan, who has run a Malaysian car website for over a decade and who visited the new factory. It’s well worth reading:


    These Vin cars use the incredibly unreliable N20 BMW engine (timing chains again, a BMW Academy Award multiple repeat winner) which only came out in 2011, and was replaced by the B48 in 2015. However, Vinfast dump the Valvetronic feature and return to a throttle butterfly.

    1. It´s a bit smoother than the legacy. However, it is still derivative. Pininfarina must be very depressed about the situation they are now on. This is not the kind of work that goes into a big coffee table book.

    1. It’s not a SUV – it’s a sketch showing the original intention of the designer…

    1. If I squint I can just about make out some S90 at the front. The Lincoln similarity I can not see. Congratulations for having an idea of Lincoln´s appearance because I can´t think of any unifying principle for their cars. Do you mean the Lincoln LS? It is indeed a very dull object and precisely how all new car entrants are presented. Can anyone think of an exception? I don´t mean there isn´t. It is that I can´t think of a new-to-market brand with a striking and original car design.

  2. I don’t wanto to shatter your world, Richard, but majority of the movies you see in the cinemas are just that – huge budget, no script and mediocre actors ; ) The ideas are similar – churn out as many mediocre products as you can in the shortest time possible, earn the big bucks, rinse, repeat. The public are too ignorant to notice the difference.

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