Father’s Day was good to me this year. By pure coincidence it was the day when I took delivery of my second ever Ducati. I looked at it smitten and thought back “how long has it been?” Another coincidence reminded me that it had been 25 years since the Mona Lisa of motorcycles was unveiled. Like everyone else I was blown away by one of the most iconic pieces of design ever created. The 916 made me a huge fan of the brand, on the street or on the MotoGP and WSBK tracks. Imagine the look on my face when I saw it in a catalogue wearing a striking gun metal livery with gold accents. The Neiman Marcus 748L had a smaller engine but it had the exact same lines. It put a spell on me. A year or so later it was mine: the 16th bike out of 100. When I parted with it two years later, I was absolutely devastated. I told myself I would have another Ducati some day. I didn’t know I would have to wait 18 years to ride a Ducati again. But in that time, I have learned a lot from bikes and the truly important things in life.

Father’s Day was good to me this year. By pure coincidence it was the day when I took delivery of my second ever Ducati. I looked at it smitten and thought back “how long has it been?” Another coincidence reminded me that it had been 25 years since the Mona Lisa of motorcycles was unveiled. Like everyone else I was blown away by one of the most iconic pieces of design ever created. The 916 made me a huge fan of the brand, on the street or on the MotoGP and WSBK tracks. Imagine the look on my face when I saw it in a catalogue wearing a striking gun metal livery with gold accents. The Neiman Marcus 748L had a smaller engine but it had the exact same lines. It put a spell on me. A year or so later it was mine: the 16th bike out of 100. When I parted with it two years later, I was absolutely devastated. I told myself I would have another Ducati some day. I didn’t know I would have to wait 18 years to ride a Ducati again. But in that time, I have learned a lot from bikes and the truly important things in life.

 What’s more important is riding

If you only smoke Cuban cigars you will miss out on life. I think that’s a Bob Lutz quote. Anyway, I did not wait all this time to ride again. Hondas were cheap, reliable, easy to maintain and not bad looking at all. The first one was a Superhawk (or Firestorm) V-Twin. If you close your eyes you would believe the soundtrack came from Bologna. In the UK I got something more practical and less expensive to please the local insurers, a CB1300. Bottomline? I love riding. When you are on the bike (and if you want to stay alive) you have to focus 100% on the task at hand. There are no text messages, no calls, no emails, no voice of the boss in your head, no screaming kids, just you and the road. In the time I get to my work commute I’m either fully awake or I made the mental break between work and home. It is my favourite form of escapism.

 What’s more important is progress

Motorcycles have come a long way. The 748L was a race bike with lights. It was a raw, low slung, purpose-built machine. On the right road in the right apex it was absolutely sublime. There were no electronic nannies (no ABS, no traction control). You thought the bike was falling apart because the dry clutch rattled like crazy. Even for a guy in his 20s the 748L was not exactly comfortable. The clutch was heavy and stubborn. Low speed manoeuvres (95% of the time) were not easy to execute. The racing position also put a tremendous amount of weight on the wrists and crushed the pinkie nerves. On my latest Ducati, you sit on top of it, upright and relaxed. At 6’2” (1m88) I can’t even plant both feet flat on the ground. You can choose how many nannies you want. It is an upright bike, supremely comfortable bike but deceivingly quick. So why the hell did I deal with all of this pain back then anyway??? Must have been love…

 What’s more important is perspective

The universe really owes you nothing. After a long slug to get two college degrees my first Ducati was owed to me. I blew a lot of money on a new bike and so what? When I lost my job, I didn’t handle losing my bike very well. Looking back, it is clear I did not handle anything well at all.Today I understand that life is a series of trade-offs. When I got my first company car, I sold the CB1300 so we could go on a family vacation instead. To ride this (gently used) Ducati, I ditched the company car and bought a small electric commuter. And to be honest it really has not bothered me too much. The biggest thing I have gained in the time between those two wonderful machines is perspective. For all I know an unforeseen event or a totally predictable catastrophe will happen and that Ducati might have to go. And it will be okay. When we moved to the UK, I rented a big house. Our current house is smaller (make that a whole lot smaller). Yet we are happier as a family in that house than in the first one. It is nice to have nice things. Blasting through the British countryside on a Ducati is an absolute delight. Yet it really is not the end all be all. You know what my favourite thing is? It is to get off the bike, open the front door of my house and get hugs from my family. There’s no Ducati equivalent to that.

H2X

For people in my line of work it is becoming increasingly clear that a yearly pilgrimage to Munich will be a must. The Automotive Innovation Forum hosted by Autodesk has now gone global. OEMs from Asia and America are now flying in for the two-day event. People discuss and share ideas and methods about the digital tools needed to enable automotive design. I was very fortunate to present last year and I was equally happy to fly to Germany last month. Two things stuck out in my mind this year

First, Rivian, Italdesign and BMW started off the day with their keynote addresses. Each company was impressive in their own right. However, Nio stole the show. The ES8 was on display in the Hilton Lobby. As well executed as the car was, it was not even the most impressive part. The centre piece was what could be referred to as the “Nio experience”. It has completely taken care of any problem related to or derived from the ownership of an electric car. Did you forget to charge your car? Have a coffee at the Nio House while your battery is being swapped. Not convenient enough? You can summon a charging van to your car. Want to drive from Shanghai to Beijing? It is more than a 12 hour drive but fear not. Those highways are hooked up to the Nio charging network. Obviously all of this requires a huge investment. Time will only tell if Nio can achieve its vision but it sure offers a compelling vision. You can check out  part of the presentation online.

Second, let’s get back to more “car design nuts and bolts”. The other biggest takeaway is that some studios have moved away from clay completely. Clay can be expensive. On top of qualified staff, it requires a massive hardware investment: clay ovens, milling machines, physical bucks to build, to maintain and to store. The move away from clay is not too surprising if you are a consultant. The savings can be substantial. The alternative is to set up a PC and two trackers in the corner of your office. Strap on the VR headset and that’s it. That is way less than the cost of a full-size model. It is a little more surprising to see OEMs diving into the full digital realm. GAC’s new advanced design studio in California has gone fully digital and so has its neighbour in Malibu Audi. 

I have spent a lifetime in the tube but I am not a “clay hater” by any stretch. It has my appreciation and my respect. It dates all the way back to school. I remember how difficult it was to sculpt the clay into submission. It really is more like art and you need the flair for it. My clay mentor Alexander Buchan was a fantastic teacher and a sculpture wizard. Also there is nothing like feeling the presence of a car in front of you, running your hands on the surface and feel the fullness of the shapes. In 3D you can zoom ad infinitum into a part. And because of it some designers are never satisfied (never). When you see it in clay, either modelled by hand or milled from the computer, it keeps everything honest. That’s how the surface looks. You can’t zoom in past the physical limitations of your eyes.

When I started in the business many moons ago, parts were already created without clay or foam models. There were done in 3D only to be seen again when the car rolled out of the assembly line. After movies and video games, the automotive industry is probably right up there when it comes to capital investment into computer graphics. Can you even tell what is rendered and what is photographed anymore? It’s a technological warfare of clusters, headsets, tracking gloves and raytracing for the masses. Let’s put it another way. Do you remember the reveal of the first iPhone? When people saw it everybody knew it was going to be big, expensive as hell but revolutionary without a doubt. In Munich it did not feel like that January in 2007 at all. Nobody wondered if there was going to be a revolution. It had already been underway for a quite some time. The only question remaining is: how far will it go?

To clay or not to clay? Sound off in the comments.