“There isn’t an existing benchmark for automotive design studios in India,” says Anand Sharma, who, along with his partners, co-founded Manesar-based Studio34, a boutique that primarily caters to automotive clients.
Studio34 designs accessories for buses, vans, three wheelers, two-wheelers as well as passenger cars and is looking to design a fully-made Indian car for an international auto show. He’s not wrong. The only name that comes to mind when talking about car design is Pune-based Dilip Chhabria who runs DC Design which has been executing car modifications for years. Studio34, which operates out of a 20,000 square feet facility, is equipped with design machinery from Japan and features clay modeling facilities. It is populated by around a dozen trained designers, some of whom earn more than the company’s founders. It is on track to break even this year with around Rs 4.5 crore revenue, says Sharma. Also, it will be looking to participate in a global show in the next 18 months.
Is India’s automotive design scene lagging? Gautam Sen, an author who’s written books on car design, says that “the tendency for most in India is to opt for the styling route — touching up or changing form — without considering the functional aspects.” That needs to change, whereby Indian manufacturers need to consider designing — and not just styling or restyling — a vehicle from ground upwards. There is a strong need to rethink the function of design and its importance in innovating and thinking “out of the box,” says Sen.
Studio34 and other founders that included Aashish Chaudhary, Sandeep Varma and Abhijeet Bhoge, were actually training at a design institute in Italy (Istituto Europeo di Design, IED)) and met at a beer house in Torino, when they dreamed of launching an automotive design studio in India which they did when they got back in 2010.
Studio34’s private research and development facility in India engages in design research, styling design and life-size prototype development in the field of industrial design, which includes automotive, product, graphics design and more. Chaudhary points to a futuristic looking cuboid table lamp that also has a built in humidifier and an air purifier. “It’s perfect for the air in Delhi, and while we can do just about anything, our focus is automotive,” he says, adding that design jobs can start as low as Rs 10,000 and go up to a couple of crore rupees.
While they started out in 2010, funded by themselves, the high costs of specialty computer software and hardware as well as the need for a large space led them to bring on board client NTF India as an investor and majority partner in 2016 for an undisclosed stake.
NTF is the developer and supplier of engineering plastic and composite parts for automotives and systems. Its operations include various technologies like injection-moulding and thermo-compression moulding of wood, plastics as well as composite sheets. Early projects included creating the Datsun Go+ and Nissan Terrano for auto expo 2014. Along the way, other significant projects included an electric vehicle concept scooter for auto expo, an advanced design for an entry-level four wheel car, genuine accessories development for Maruti’s S-Presso and development for electric motorcycle the Revolt RV400. Its clients include Mahindra & Mahindra Toyota, Royal Enfield, Ashok Leyland, Mercedes-Benz, Skoda, Honda and others. Is in-house design at original equipment manufacturers in India changing the ways vehicles are made?
Sen says that in the two-wheeler segment, in-house design has been playing a very important role in the growth and stature of key Indian two-wheeler manufacturers, as well as leading car-makers such as Maruti but its less so for international brands. Renault has, as an exception, been developing cars out of India, albeit with design inputs from global centres.
So what will its first car for international shows look like? Sharma does not give details but says it will be small, very premium and entirely made in India. “Given the wave of electric cars, it may even be a fully working prototype,” he adds.