At an event where all eyes are on new cars from world-class designers, budding automotive designers are getting their feet wet with an exhibition of their own.
The Transportation Design Department of Detroit's College for Creative Studies is exhibiting the 2- and 3-D automotive design work of 19 students at the North American International Auto Show this year, as well at the school's A. Alfred Taubman Center for Design Education.
"The entire auto industry here is dependent on CCS," said Ed Welburn, Vice President of Global Design at GM and member of the school's Board of Trustees.
GM, for instance, currently has more than 170 CCS graduates on staff. Automakers, including Ford and Honda, sponsor programs at the school and have current industry designers teaching classes there.
In addition to having a handle on up-and-coming talent, getting a look at automotive design student work also benefits car companies in other ways. GM looks to the design choices and tastes of students as one way to figure what young car buyers want.
"We're getting a better understanding of what young people are looking for in a vehicle," Welburn said.
Mark West, who chairs the Transportation Design department, stressed the role GM has played in CCS's program, from sponsoring projects to partnering with the college to seek out high school students in Detroit Public Schools who are passionate about cars and design.
According to West, the back-and-forth between the auto industry and CCS pays off in jobs for students. Car companies sponsor 15-week projects that offer the manufacturers a chance to "test drive" students and their work. Future employers then have an eye on new talent before the students have even graduated.
Brian Malczewski, a senior in the automotive design program, designed a D-class sedan for Lincoln that is currently on display at the auto show. His only assignment guideline was to redesign the Lincoln brand for the year 2020. Malczewski worked around the clock on his 3-D model, drawing inspiration from boats and classic muscle cars to help execute his vision of making his Lincoln look the part of the true American luxury brand.
Junior Kirill Ponomarenko, whose design is also featured in the show, works by day as a performance engineer at General Motors. He went to school for engineering, but knew he wanted to do car design since high school.
"I've been sketching cars my whole life," Ponomarenko said.
While he hoped that he would be able to transition to a design position while he was at GM, he quickly realized he needed to build his skills.
"For car design, it's not just the diploma that matters," he said. "All they care about is your portfolio and what you can actually do."
CCS is the place to get that portfolio, according to both Ponomarenko and Welburn.
"In the past, GM had their own internal [design] school because designers coming out of the universities were not ready for serious assignments," Welburn said. "But today, the designers we hire -- typically from CCS or Arts Center College of Design -- are so well prepared we can put them on serious assignments from day one."
Detroit may be the perfect place to get an automotive education, but it might not be able to retain its talented design students. Malczewski is starting to think about where he'll be after he graduates, and if he has his way, it won't be in his home state. He can't help it, he says. He loves classic European cars.
The student exhibition at CCS runs through Jan. 12, 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. at the Keith E. Crain Transportation Design Studio on the eleventh floor of the A. Alfred Taubman Center for Design Education, 460 W. Baltimore, Detroit. The North American International Auto Show is open to the public from Jan. 14 to Jan. 22 at Cobo Center, One Washington Boulevard, Detroit. Information about hours and ticketing can be found here.