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Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Interview With sTrike And Smooth Concept Designer Stefano Marchetto

e-Talian recently had a chance to sit down and interview with industrial designer Stefano Marchetto. Among other things, we talked a little about his to concept designs: sTrike and Smooth car.

Some people interview vampires, I interview industrial designers.

Tell us about yourself. Where you're from and live as well as your education.

I’m from Vicenza, a small city in the North of Italy. I grew up in a big and somewhat futuristic house that stood over a factory. My neighborhood were factories and car showrooms, this is why probably I became so accustomed to industrial aesthetics. I’ve started drawing cars when I was 5 years old, and since my passion never stopped, after high school I decided to join the Industrial Design Faculty at IUAV in Venice.

But my start was disappointing. On the first day the lecturer asked us “what’s your name and why you are here?”I answered “my name is Stefano and I want to design vehicles”, he answered “mmmh, I think you are in the wrong place: there isn’t a transportation design course here!”

At the end of my studies I presented the Smooth car, and with this project I won the “Stile Italiano Giovani 2004”, an international car design competition. Now I live in Milan, I moved to study at Politecnico di Milano.

Who were your main (design) influences - if any?

When I was younger, I was totally concerned about car design: my heroes were Pininfarina, Giugiaro, Bertone. I was strongly attracted by fluid and aerodynamic forms, like the Concorde, sport cars, high speed trains.

What are the main challenges to green car/bike technology in making it accessible, efficient and feasible?

So far, I can see 2 main challenges: technological and cultural. The first one is mainly related to batteries: if you compare the energy density of 1 kg of petrol to 1 kg of the best kind of battery, you will see that there a huge difference. Fuel has a higher specific energy, and it’s cheaper, too. Batteries are heavy, with a relative small capacity, and could be really pollutant when dismissed. A solution to batteries’ problems could be the ultracapacitors: but right now they don’t have enough energy density. There are rumors about high performance ultracapacitors made by a company called Eestor, but so far nothing happened…

The cultural problem is maybe more difficult to solve: we come from one century of cultural domination made by car makers. In the 20th century, cars were a status symbol, values like freedom, power, speed, technology were convoyed over this object, cities and activities were shaped according to their capabilities. This is the cause of the unlivable cities we have now, polluted and with social problems. Developed countries’ citizens have to realize that a car makes sense when you have to travel for 100 km outside from the city, with more than one passenger. Cars are designed for this, using them in an urban area creates only problems. When a critical threshold of responsible consumers will realize this, industry will invest more on alternative solutions, not only green cars and bicycles, but other new kinds of vehicles. This will make green vehicles more affordable.

Why an interest in green technology?

When you are a designer, you have to consider everything you think and make could be produced in millions of copies and sold everywhere. We are now living in a critical historical moment, since big countries like India and China are quickly moving to a capitalistic way of life: they have no more only millions of producers, but also millions of possible consumers. If we don’t evolve the technological and cultural aspects of our industrialized culture, we are taking the lanet ,, and all mankind, to a very dangerous position. Green, or even better sustainable, is the only way to make everything, in my opinion.

How did you come about your design for sTrike. What are the main attributes?

sTrike is the final result of an university course: teachers asked us to redesign an existing trike, the Greenspeed GTR-20. Instead of caring about technical issues, I decided to work on an aerodynamic body, designed to offer weather protection and to be installed over existing trike’s body with minimum modification to the frame. The result is a fluid and light cover that embodies also a small luggage van, and aesthetically transforms the trike from a “really low wheelchair” to a “futuristic vehicle”, something that could be desirable, sustainable and practical too.

What are the main characteristics of the Smooth car?

Smooth is an electric micro car designed to be used in the urban areas: with Smooth 2 passengers, with luggage capacity. It can travel easily inside the city getting direct access to the sidewalk, thanks to the big front door that, when opened, “disappears” inside the car body. In this way, the car can be parked transversally, saving a lot of parking space. Smooth could be considered a redesign of the famous Iso Isetta, a bubblecar designed in Italy by Ermenigildo Preti in 1952.

What has been the reaction to both? Where have they been presented?

Smooth won the “Stile Italiano Giovani 2004" (as mentioned earlier) competition for its styling simplicity and technical innovation. So far, no production is scheduled, simply because actual laws are too restrictive (at least in Italy). sTrike has never be really presented, but received several positive comments from many design blog users.

What are your plans for the future? Will we be seeing more concepts?

My next step is finishing my thesis: I can already say that will be on sustainable and green mobility, so another concept is coming! Then, I’d really like to work in the sustainable mobility area, alone or in a studio. It seems really hard to find this kind of job in Italy, so probably I will move. If you know someone interested to my concepts, let me know!

Are any of Italy's big car/bicycle/motorcycle manufacturers working on their own concept models? Or is this left to the small independents?

Many Italian and international big car/bicycle/motorcycle manufacturers are working on their own concept models. The only problem is they don’t want to produce them now! When you are big, you are interested only in high quantities, and these means you need a mature market. Green mobility is still something new, numbers are small, big ones are not economically interested. But they want to show they have the creative potential to do a different product for a different market. So, if you look for a green vehicle, you will probably find a lot of small independents manufacturers’ products. Things will probably change a lot in the next 5-10 years.

e-Talian thanks Stefano for sharing his thoughts with us!