Should Australia learn from India’s Design Boom?

11 June 2013

Australia's car industry might survive if it learns lessons from India about innovation, an expert on vehicle design says.

As Australia’s automobile industry faces decline, Soumitri Varadarajan, Deputy Dean of Industrial and Interior Design at RMIT University, Melbourne, questions the fate of Australia’s designers.

In early 2013, Ford announced its plans to close all Australian manufacturing plants by 2016.

Holden followed suit and announced that it was unsure whether it would continue manufacturing cars in Australia in coming years.

Varadarajan highlighted this during a recent Tiffin Talk at the Australia India Institute, pointing out that the decline of the motor vehicle industry within Australia has left a number of industrial designers unemployed.

Marcus Hotblack, Ford’s former Automotive Interior Design Chief, let go from the company in 2009 and now the Head of Design at Tata Motors in Pune, India, is an example of where Varadarajan sees the industry heading.

“There are a number of designers of that calibre that are leaving Australia in droves. So there’s a spectacular brain drain at work,” he said.

Solution - Follow India's Example

However, Varadarajan, sees a solution to Australia’s motor industry crises – a stronger trust in designers to create innovative and efficient products.

Using the example of motorbike manufacturer Royal Enfield, he highlighted how the redesign of their classic Bullet motorbike reinvigorated sales.

“Bullet was in the same position a few years ago. They were just holding on to some old technology and just pumping it out.

“Then this designer goes into Infield and he says, “give me a chance. I’ll fix this.” And he fixes it. And today there are many models of this motorcycle that you cannot buy from the market. You can only buy bookings. It is totally sold out,” he said.

Varadarajan also pointed to the example of India’s largest automobile manufacture, Tata Motors’ Mahindra XUV, which sold out on the day it was launched.

“No one had seen this vehicle. No one had driven it. But all of the Scorpio buyers moved into this. So they had to stop bookings in the system. A completely bizarre phenomenon. This is a totally new ground-up design from India.”

“When this happens then the design team suddenly become a prized item,” he said.

The main element of difference between the Australian and Indian industry, however, is the practicality of design use within the industry.

Varadarajan pointed out that whilst Melbourne was actually more design orientated, India focused on being job orientated.