Maurizio Tancredi brings world-class industrial design expertise to Ricardo’s Rimini Technical Centre in Italy. RQ’s Ian Adcock takes notes on the aesthetics of sustainable mobility.
In case anyone hadn’t noticed, the transportation sector is undergoing its biggest technological revolution since the internal combustion engine replaced the horse 137 years ago.
It’s not just that vehicle emissions and sustainability are now the overriding priorities for Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs), no matter whether they are producing two-, four- or multi-wheeled vehicles. There are shifting attitudes towards vehicle ownership, especially among the young, as well as emerging autonomous and connectivity technologies and the negative impacts of pollution, energy demand and transportation in the world’s megacities, mainly in developing nations.
At the same time, the traditional OEMs’ business model is being tested by new disruptors and alliances – think Tesla, Sony-Honda, Foxconn and any number of fledgling electric vehicle producers.
But, having spent time talking with Maurizio Tancredi, Ricardo’s Chief Style and Industrial Designer, these are the challenges that get him and around 30 colleagues in Rimini out of bed each morning and inspire their working day.
“Nowadays it’s not just a matter of styling a product,” he insists. “We need to think differently to ensure we consider the whole experience of a brand by going into it in more depth and detail. Design should be a reflection of the customer, how he or she is thinking, their work, the ecosystem they live in. Everything is different.
“We cannot think about repeating an already established product, we need to think differently. We also must remember that everyone is more conscious about the environment and sustainability.”
The word ‘sustainability’ crops up frequently during the course of our conversation and was one of the key attractions for Tancredi when he joined Ricardo two years ago. An early and influential mentor was Gino Finizio, the designer and architect who died last year. Finizio worked for a wide range of brands including Alfa Romeo, Aprilia, Fiat Auto and IBM, later becoming co-director of the
‘Transportation design and management’ course at the Politecnico di Milano.
Finizio pioneered the ‘minimal and sustainable’ concept, while his book ‘Architecture & Mobility: Tradition and Innovation’ examined the car as an object that changed the 19th-century city into a metropolis of suburbs and highways. He explored how urban planning, architecture and design ideas can create a new philosophy for cars as a type of domestic moving space that interacts with the urban environment.
After studying mechanical engineering at the University of Basilicata and Sapienza University of Rome, followed by a Bachelor of Architecture in industrial design at the latter institution, Tancredi worked for Ducati and Benelli motorcycles. He then became a chief designer in the personal watercraft sector, where he won a Good Design Award from the Chicago Athenaeum, one of the world’s oldest and most celebrated awards programmes. Later, as design project leader for global powersports specialist BRP, he won a prestigious Red Dot Design Award for a snowmobile developed to cope with the extreme conditions of the far north and combining high-tech efficiency with riding comfort.
“Sustainability is something I have been working with for many years,” he says. “I also felt I needed to go back to my career roots and love of motorcycles. Joining Ricardo allowed me to do just that and embrace the challenge of designing lightweight vehicles for sustainable mobility.”
“Our customers know Ricardo as a world-leading engineering consultancy,” Tancredi explains. “But hand-in-hand with that, we are also a world-leading consultancy in industrial design for transportation. It is unique within the market to be able to offer this holistic service of engineering capability and design capability – and it’s complete, end-to-end product development incorporating engineering and design. This is a really important and significant part of our business.
“My job is to bring industrial design knowledge and expertise to the studio here at the Rimini Technical Centre, and to develop the studio and the design team so that we help existing or new customers respond to product challenges where they need one team of experts to take them from idea creation to production.
“Industrial design is not just about style: it is multi-disciplinary, taking in everything from marketing to sociology to trend analysis. Customers need trusted technical experts who understand all these facets and can guide them on the product development journey.”
Given that he designed and built his own Yamaha-powered motorbike, Tancredi is passionate about transferring his knowledge of two-wheelers to other mobility sectors.
“A motorcycle is a unique vehicle with lots of challenges: you don’t have much space, it needs to be light weight and packaging is an issue. We can leverage motorcycle philosophy and apply these techniques to different industries and vehicles.
“With a car, the engine, chassis and all the components are invisible, shrouded by the bodywork – so you can think more like a stylist, you are dressing something. In the motorcycle industry, the chassis, engine and a lot of components are exposed, so they need to be aesthetically pleasing, a sort of inside-out effect. The human rider is not just sitting on the bike but is part of the vehicle itself, so the ergonomics are critical – here we are talking more about industrial design.”
Most of the design work done at Rimini has to remain confidential. However, one publicly acknowledged example is the Steel E-Motive initiative commissioned in 2021 by WorldAutoSteel, the automotive group of the World Steel Association and its engineering partner Ricardo. Steel E-Motive seeks to highlight steel’s advantages over other materials for level 5 autonomous battery electric vehicles.
“It was a challenging brief to design a vehicle that could be deployed in a mobility-as-a-service system using steel in a smart way to illustrate that it’s a material of choice for fully autonomous vehicles,” Tancredi recalls. “Engineers and designers usually employ lightweight materials, such as carbon fibre or alloys.
“We designed the vehicle so it looks like a piece of architecture, a modern building, but one that has to pass crash testing as well as deliver passive safety. There’s a unique rocker design that offers superior crush force and protection – not only to the occupants but also to the high voltage battery internals.
“Accessibility is also at the core of the vehicle design: the requirement for low step-in height drove the vehicle’s primary structure and is enabled by a novel battery case solution. A very wide door opening provides ample access for people and goods, while the unique door structure provides reduced outswing to the roadside.”
Looking to the future
Having spent his working life with various OEMs, Tancredi describes working for a multi-discipline engineering consultancy like Ricardo as ‘very different’, but in a wholly positive way.
“Usually, OEMs have programmes in advanced design where they are thinking towards the future but always tied to a particular paradigm or specific business model, and with a kind of historical context that makes it a challenge to shift the brand.
“Working in a multi-discipline engineering and design consultancy is more like industrial design. We can work with different approaches depending on the client – some of the start-ups, for example, are very open-minded and come up with ideas that are not yet feasible! It’s different disciplines with more opportunities – and because we have the chance to work on all sorts of products we can transfer our learnings from one project to another.
“My background as a mechanical engineer helps me understand the limitations of technology and materials, making sure an idea isn’t diluted from concept phase to point of sale. Sometimes in the car industry you see early sketches then you see the final product and it’s like night and day. At Ricardo we are sure that what you see at the beginning is much closer to what goes on sale.”
Designers not only have to capture today’s zeitgeist, they have to predict where it will be in three, four, five years’ time. “Future mobility faces many, and very different, challenges,” Tancredi concludes. “We are in a transition phase in many disciplines socially, and we’re at the crossroads environmentally. Products need to take all this into account.
“People live differently, move differently, consume differently. There’s also integration of services and business models are changing. As an industrial designer I have a responsibility to try and change the paradigm between the designer, the consumer and the product.”
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