A Matter of Process: CargoMAX600 Part 1

As stated in the trailer to Design Confidential, this blog promises to take readers behind the scenes of a design project. Designers talk frequently about “process”, the activity we engage in to create products. This process can be very complex with multiple phases ranging from research and information gathering to ideation and sketching to prototyping and validation. Sometimes, it’s linear as described above and sometimes it’s a circle, a zigzag or any combination of these.

What’s important is that every good design project has some kind of process. This series of blogs called “A Matter of Process” will take readers into this activity one project at a time. For this first installment, I’ll choose a simple one, the CargoMAX 600 cargo van that I designed a year ago.

While vehicle projects tend to be very involved, the CargoMAX was straight forward and had a textbook linear approach. The main reason for this? Time. The design team had 10 weeks to take the truck from sketch to prototype. This adventure began the week before Christmas 2008. A local truck body manufacturer was tasked by an American company with designing and building a first prototype for a new vehicle. The design brief was to create a cargo van with the same interior volume as the Mercedes Sprinter but built on an American chassis. The business case was that while the Sprinter was very practical and attractive, its chassis was not rugged to take the punishment that vans go through in North America and it was expensive. Also, by utilizing Chevrolet equipment, purchase and repair costs would be lower. To compete with the Sprinter, however, the van had to possess an attractive body, something quite uncommon in the truck body industry.

The first step was a daylong meeting the Friday before Christmas at the manufacturer’s facility to fine tune the vehicle specification. In that session we laid out the basic dimensions, the type of doors we would use, how many fiberglass components would make up the body and some basic design features. With this schematic in hand, I set out that weekend to create the rough design and styling.

Needless to say, it was not an easy task. The cargo body walls needed to be fairly upright in cross section to provide adequate volume but the cab of the Chevrolet had a large amount of tumble-home, meaning its upper cabin caved in toward the centre of the vehicle. This was my primary design challenge: how to neatly transition from the inward sloping cabin to the boxy cargo area. There are several easy ways to accomplish this but since the client wanted an attractive automotive look, I had to find something that broke from the norm.

To be continued...

The movie below tells the whole story.

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