This article was originally published in POOL 103.

As Senior Designer with Renault Groupe in Mumbai, Ramandeep Singh finds an exciting platform to express his childhood passion for automobiles

How were you drawn to transportation design?

I was born in the family of car lovers – my father had a Datsun pickup and my grandfather had a Chevrolet Impala – so the passion and love for automobiles was already in my blood. I also loved sketching as a child. As I grew my love for automobiles grew exponentially and slowly my sketching was focused completely on cars and bikes. At school I was always caught drawing cars on my notebooks and even classroom tables. Not having much knowledge about the design profession in general, I started my Bachelor’s in Commerce at Punjab University. During this time my madness for automobiles grew sky high and I spent a lot of time researching automotive design. I started sending my work to some professionals and realized where I wanted to be and what I wanted to do. After graduation, I enrolled for Transportation Design at MIT Institute of Design, Pune in 2006.

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What role has formal design education played in your career? 

While formal education at MIT gave me a design platform and introduction to automotive design, it was a lot of self learning, practice and passion that has got me where I am today. My major learning was from my batch mates, Arun and Rigun. It was the team work that kept us pushing each other to be the best at design. The real break came when I won a VDA Design Award in 2008. It was an international competition organized by VDA (the German Automotive Industry association) in Germany. My work was displayed at IAA, the international motor show in Hannover, Germany. I was invited for the awards function and also to meet the heads of design of various German automotive companies. I was awarded an internship with Mercedes Benz that changed my life and career. 

Walk us through the milestones of your professional journey. 

My career started like a dream at one of the finest design studios in the world – Mercedes Benz, Stuttgart, Germany where I worked with some of the top designers. I was involved in a couple of live projects where I got to see how real automotive design happens and the design process that is followed. This proved to be my stepping stone for the future. Soon after returning to India after the internship, I started working with Tata Motors in 2010. 

Tata Motors was a roller coaster ride! In the six years I was there I got to learn a lot working on every category of vehicle possible – cars, trucks, kei vehicles, buses, army vehicles and more. Though I largely worked on exteriors, I also ventured into interior design sometimes, which was always a good change and gave me a fresh perspective. Tata, being the biggest design studio in India, gave me a chance to work on production projects and concept projects; I was also a team lead for designing the future of Tata Motors commercial vehicles. It gave me an opportunity to learn and grow, to be able to handle a project and take the design into reality. 

Presently I am working with Renault Groupe after working briefly with Hyundai. A French company with a global footprint, Renault is really focused on design and gives me brilliant opportunities to work on India-specific and global products. Having a clear vision and transparency, it is a great place to work at. 

Which have been your most memorable projects?

The first production project I worked on was a facelift for Tata Ace, also known as chotta hathi (little elephant). It’s the highest selling last mile truck – over 1.5 million vehicles have been sold so far. Being my first project, I learnt a lot about how design doesn’t end with a pretty sketch. Another interesting project I worked on was Tata Storme – Mountain Rescue Concept, which was showcased at the Geneva Motor Show in 2013. I also quite enjoyed working on the interior design for the Tata Ultra Electric Concept bus. It was a really challenging project where we were working day and night to make it happen for the Delhi Motor Show 2016.

What challenges have you faced in your journey? 

I feel my passion and madness for automotive design kept me pushing my limits and challenging every problem I faced. Being from a non-engineering background was my biggest challenge and the biggest blessing for me as well. Most of the design schools in India would not accept me for post graduation in transportation design as it was mandatory to have an engineering degree. MIT Institute of Design had just started its operations and after a lot of time convincing the jury panel, I was accepted. I was in a similar situation at the end of my course for internships and jobs but the Mercedes Benz internship came to my rescue. 

The most challenging task at Renault is to be a competitive creative designer. For every major project, the competition is between all global Renault studios where you compete with some of the greatest names in design industry. This is also the most exciting part of Renault design!

What has working in the automobile industry taught you?

Automotive design is not as easy as it seems. It doesn’t end with a pretty sketch but the real work begins there. My most important learning was how to take that pretty sketch and make it into a reality, negotiating with engineers for every mm, fighting over cost of production, ergonomics, many more challenges and still not losing the essence of that first sketch.

What do you think will be trending in Indian automobile design in the next five years?

Indian automotive design is trending towards a more global approach. I feel the trend in the near future would be global design quality with very smart and modern interpretation of Indian details to enrich the experience and make it unique. A blend of the latest global technology and Indian craftsmanship could result in what could be called an Indian automotive design language.

How do envision the future of autonomous and electric vehicles in India? 

Electric vehicles are undoubtedly the future of the automotive industry – it is the only solution to growing air and noise pollution. The automotive industry is ready with electric cars and is just waiting for the right infrastructure to arrive in India. Semi-autonomous cars could still be used on closed expressways in the near future but I feel it would not be possible in main city areas in India.  

How do your teaching engagements influence your work?

Teaching design and mentoring young designers has become an important part of my life. I am actively engaged with various design institutes like National Institute of Design, Maharashtra Institute of Technology(MIT) and Industrial Design Centre through workshops, seminars, as a jury member and even occasional visits. Through my workshops I share my expertise and experience of working in the industry. My focus is to help students think out of the box and also teach them how to make that crazy idea work. Teaching works like a two way exchange for me. After working in industry for so many years, you tend to become stale. It is always refreshing for me to visit design schools as students have unlimited raw ideas and so much energy. I share my expertise and in exchange these workshops help me to stay fresh and energetic.

What would you advise youngsters keen on a career in automobile design?

Success in automobile design can only be achieved if you stay focused and follow your passion. It is one of the toughest design streams and only the best can survive; there is no space for mediocrity. So, keep practicing, push your limits and fuel your passion. Make sure your skill is second to none and you will achieve success.