The 2011 EyesOn Design Awards, held at the NAIAS in Detroit last week, commemorated the late Chuck Jordan, a Founding Chairman of the annual EyesOn Design event, which celebrates its 25th recurrence this summer. Dr. Philip Hessburg, President of the Detroit Institute of Ophalmology – a non-profit internationally recognized organization that presents the awards every year – opened the ceremony by stating that Jordan was the "unwavering internal advocate" at GM. "He understood the importance of sight in his profession of design," Hessburg said. "He understood that vehicles were an art form."
Of all the new cars on show, Audi and Porsche took home top honors at the EyesOn Design Awards for Design Excellence this year. Decided upon by a panel of global automotive design leaders, the new Audi A6 won the Best Production Vehicle award and the Porsche 918 RSR garnered the Best Concept Vehicle accolade. But while the judges appeared content on the final decision, general opinion was that the voting had become increasingly political.
"It's strong feedback that we have done our homework," Audi head of exterior design, Achim Badstuebner, said as he accepted the award for the A6. The German brand has received four EyesOn Design Awards over the past three years - testament to the overarching accomplishments of the design team. Other finalists in the production category included the Bentley Continental GT and the Hyundai Veloster.
"A lot of hard work went into designing the car," Badstuebner added. "It was a team effort, and it is nice that this is seen and appreciated - this makes us very happy."
Judged solely by designers, the EyesOn Design Awards panelists include Chief Judges Jack Telnak, former Vice-President of Design for Ford; Willie G. Davidson, Senior Vice President and Chief Styling Officer at Harley Davidson; and Tom Matano, Director of the Industrial Design program at Academy of Art University and former General Manager of Mazda Design. The panel also features a host of top design executives from nearly every major OEM in the world as well as academic leaders from renowned transportation design programs. One of the criteria for a vehicle to win the award is that it has to have made its debut at the NAIAS.
While the decision to honor the A6 as the Best Production Vehicle design is hard to argue with, granting the Porsche 918 RSR with the Best Concept Vehicle award left many stunned. Category finalists also included the Ford Vertrek and the Kia KV7 concepts, yet it was the Porsche that took home the accolade - a race version of a vehicle that made its initial debut at the 2010 Geneva motor show.
Designed under the leadership of Porsche Design Director Michael Mauer, the 918 Spyder is said to have surprised even Volkswagen officials when it was unveiled in Geneva last March. The RSR variant on show in Detroit was neither a concept nor an all-new vehicle. It was, instead, based on a previous design and built by a company that hadn't participated in the NAIAS for the last three years.
Detlev von Platen, President and CEO of Porsche Cars North America Inc, accepted the award on behalf of the design team (Michael Mauer was already on a plane back to Germany). "[The 918 RSR] is a vision of Porsche for the future of the sports car," von Platen said. "Design is very important for the brand; it's part of our design DNA."
If vehicles are to be considered an art form, then they should be defined and quantified as ‘good', as the case may be. And while that, to a degree, is subjective, the fact that 918 RSR should win this year's Best Concept Vehicle award over the entirely new, arguably better resolved and fundamentally more interesting Kia KV7, is a shame. People who choose to hang a Renoir painting in their living rooms do so because they hold the artist in high esteem, not because it's been a while since they've seen one.