Car Design News interview Jason Castriota

The bible for car designers, Car Design News, has conducted an interview with Jason Castriota (who’s been mega-busy with interviews in the last few weeks – and ain’t done yet πŸ™‚

I won’t reproduce the whole thing here, but following are some highlights from the piece.

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Jason Castriota’s story reads like the stuff of boyhood dreams. Born and raised in New York, he spent hours sketching Ferraris growing up. A few years later, while still in the midst of a transportation design degree at Art Center College of Art and Design, Castriota was offered first an internship and subsequently a full time position at Pininfarina, giving the designer the opportunity to work on Ferraris at the company of his childhood dream.

Following Pininfarina, Castriota moved to head up then troubled Stile Bertone in 2008. Yet the designer’s ambition to setup his own design consultancy in New York never went away and earlier this year, Jason Castriota Designs launched. Six months in, alongside several industrial design projects and work for Shelby Super Cars (SSC) – (click here for the latest on that one – SW), Castriota’s team has recently been hired to design the next generation of cars for Saab. Castriota himself has been appointed as design director, with a board-level role helping to steer the brand’s future.

Tell us how the work with Saab came about?

“I have known Victor [Muller] a long time. In Geneva earlier this year he asked me ‘What are you doing, where are you?’ I began to explain my new company, and he just said, ‘You have to be director of Saab’.

“Initially I was like, β€˜You know, I really want to keep my design company.’ So I suggested we do something for them. We met Jan-Ake Jonsson, the CEO, and it started there. They know they have to get the 9-3 right – it’s the bread and butter, the first independent design – and they said: β€˜We need a bold, courageous design, and we feel you are a bold, courageous designer; we want you to do the car.’ Once they’d seen our initial work, it quickly became a conversation about us doing all of the cars. It’s a landmark deal for my company and a real tribute to my team.”

What makes you different? What’s your unique approach to design?

“A lot of people say this – but I truly believe that design should be function driven. I’ve worked a lot on packaging design with engineers, a lot in the windtunnel over the years, and I’m a bit of a gentleman racer. So I’m a strong believer that a car should function right. Air outlets have a purpose. Surfaces should be guiding air around the car, not creating breaks.”

So you’re not going to be adorning Saab with fake grilles in the name of creating an aero look?

“No – that’s something I detest – it drives me crazy! I never try to force something onto the package that’s not there. I always look at the package first before putting pencil to paper. And I’m a big believer in the Italian system of car design, which is that you start with a true four-view drawing. You do a true side view, and then you start extracting the other views from it.”

How would you define the essence of Saab design and where do you want to take it?

“I think ‘quirky’ is a key word. They should have a particular proportion. The volumes should differentiate it from other cars in its class. We would like to tie back into the aero theme, but not just in a lip service way of showing a cool jet on a commercial. We need to translate that somehow visually into the design. But we definitely don’t want to be retro. They have body styles that other people have experimented with but haven’t been as successful with like the three- and five-door hatchback – one thing that characterizes Saab is the premium small car that the 92 could represent. It would certainly be a very interesting, exciting project for the company, it’s a space they’re not currently in. We’ve no idea how successful a 92 could be. Could it be Mini numbers? Probably not, but Saab needs to get to profitable, decent numbers. The 92 would be the cherry on top.”

One of the reasons Mini has been successful revolves around marketing. Saab has been marketing of their aero heritage, which isn’t present in the cars…

“The problem that Saab has run into is that under GM’s stewardship they became anonymous. They lost that quirkiness of proportion. They lost the true aero tie-ins. The original 92s were two teardrops laid on top of one another – that’s the kind of stuff we need to come back to Saab.”

How do you intend to keep existing customers on board while growing the brand and extending appeal?

You have to stay true to the brand values. We have to recover them – the great space utilization, being sporting but without pretension. Back in the 80s, particularly in the states, the 900 cabrio was a real doctor / lawyer car; a car smart guys used as their daily driver. Today the intelligent buy is Audi. They took that space. The A5 is a brilliant car from this standpoint, giving you this impression of being Bentley Continental-like in presence yet the price of a 3 Series. Saab needs to claw back some of that space, and there’s certainly the opportunity to do that. Many people of my generation grew up with Saabs. A Saab was my first car, it was a 900 three-door handed down from my mother. So for people my age, coming into the upswings of their career and wanting to purchase a premium car – when everyone’s driving an A4 or 3 Series – if there’s a distinctive alternative, then why not? The product just has to be right.

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