Fiat Mio concept

Fiat will show the open-source designed Mio at the Sao Paulo auto show

When the Sao Paulo auto show opens next week, it will feature at least one concept car that has been designed in a completely novel way: Fiat’s Mio.

When the Italian automaker started to develop its new city car, it turned to a new tool: the Internet. And with its daring move to let the web community determine form and content, Fiat is making a radical departure from the standard automotive development path.

In the auto industry, design processes are secret ”“ absolutely secret. A look behind the scenes is only granted to a select few during the design phase for new cars.

Ultimately, neither the competition nor the customer is supposed to see what the new models look like when they are three or four years from their introduction.

But Fiat is taking an entirely different path. The company is making the design of its new city car public. It may well be one of the first cases of an automaker taking this open-source approach.

Open source refers to the process, well-known in the IT sector, in which the community takes part. In this case, it’s the World Wide Web.

“This is the first time that we are making this process public,” said Peter Fassbender, who is charge of the Fiat design center. “We want to reach a lot of people and ask them to cooperate with us,” he said on YouTube.

The movers and shakers have installed a special web platform for the collaborative process. “People can make their opinions, views and ideas known on the site,” said João Batista Ciaco, the director of advertising and relationship marketing.

Design as an extension of online

In this way, the designers become an extension of the online community. The Internet directs the Fiat designers during the work.

The intense brain-storming takes place in a special blog. “Here the next development steps are made visible,” Fassbender said.

An ambitious approach, as it doesn’t involve a well-practiced process with a limited number of experts, but rather a discussion with a wide public.

This summer, 1.2 million visitors had already logged onto the site, 15,000 fans are registered and actively contributing notes to this narrative -- a huge pool of ideas. A think-tank par excellence.

More than 10,000 proposals had been collected and classified according to relevant criteria. They include ergonomics, materials, infotainment and more.

One example: One fan would like the Mio to have wheels that turn 90 degrees so he can park more easily.

The trick is to understand the participants’ desires, correctly interpret them and implement the ideas in the form of design and technical solutions.

At the same time, it’s necessary in the end to flesh out the enormous flood of proposals and transform them into a concept ”“ into an actual car.

In the process, the Mio’s design isn’t following defined trends or specifications tailored to a brand, as in conventional design processes. Instead, it follows the vision of a community.

And they are taking advantage of the opportunity. Fiat designers were surprised by the creativity, precision and detailed knowledge of the Internet users and bloggers.

The team led by Fassbender seemed appropriately enthusiastic.

In the meantime, Fiat designers are affectionately calling fans in the community “colleagues.”

“It’s now time to define the final line,” said Fassbender.

Ultimately, only one idea can be carried out for the Sao Paulo auto show in October ”“ it’s an ordeal to come up with a choice.

Fiat’s open source experiment has already demonstrated one thing: Processes in the auto industry are going to change. The digital natives are functioning differently than the immigrants ”“ who only discovered the new IT and communications world as adults.

Young designers and engineers are growing up with the community’s thinking. They are sharing their views and visions with others. The Internet as a source for new ideas and stimuli. The Web 2.0 will change the car itself and its development on a lasting basis.

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For a look at the open-source design process, go to: www.fiatmio.cc/makingof

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By Peter Rademacher