Ron Hill (TRAN, ’55)
“I think the most significant development has been the need for efficient vehicles.”
Ron Hill has been an influential figure in the world of transportation design for more than four decades. Hill joined Art Center in 1985 as Chair of the Industrial Design Department. In 1992, he was appointed Chair of the Transportation Design Department, where he stayed until retiring in 2000. Hill’s career began after graduating from Art Center in 1954. That year he joined General Motors, where he designed the rear end and fin treatment for the 1957 Eldorado Biarritz. After a stint in the U.S. Army, Hill was involved in almost every area of GM’s design projects, and worked abroad at GM’s affiliates in Germany, England and Brazil. As a chief designer at Chevrolet, Pontiac and Buick, he led studios that contributed to the designs of the mid-engine Corvette and the 1965 Corvair line, among many other production models. He led the 1972 and 1973 LeMans, GTO and Firebird programs, all 1973 and 1974 Buick programs and advanced Chevrolet products and advanced Cadillac projects such as the Eldorado. Hill and his team designed the forerunner to the 1978 Monte Carlo, new Camaro/Firebird designs, small car projects such as the Chevette, and the original concept vehicle for the Pontiac mid-engine Fiero project, which earned him the Industrial Design Society of America Award for Design Excellence in 1984.
What led you to a career in transportation design?
In the early 1950s I was involved in a competition called the Fisher Body Craftsman’s Guild, a national auto design competition sponsored by General Motors. I was very successful in this competition, and the first time I entered I won the national award for the junior level for my model car. I had the opportunity to visit Detroit and interact with the designers there, and won a scholarship to study transportation design. It felt like a very nice fit for me. I went straight to Art Center after graduating from high school—something I’d never recommend someone do, by the way—and went on to work at General Motors after graduating from Art Center.
What do you see as your most exciting career achievement?
Three things in particular stand out to me. First was the opportunity to be involved in the transportation design process in other countries. I worked in Germany, England and Brazil—that was very eye-opening from a global standpoint; things had a different emphasis in different regions. Getting that perspective is very important for a designer. The second thing was to be involved in a total design process from start to finish. One of the last vehicles I designed was the Pontiac Fiero, which was created with perceived and real quality, but used different methods of building, construction and manufacturing. The third exciting thing was being involved in advanced aerodynamic studies, which taught me a lot about efficiency—an aspect of the vehicle that is often overlooked—but still very important.
What do you think has been the most significant development in the Transportation Design Field in recent years?
I think the most significant development has been the need for efficient vehicles. Also, computers and electronic controls have given us the ability to have a much higher density on the roads. That will be a cultural, societal and political issue that will need to be addressed.
Where do you see transportation design going in the future?
Vehicles will have to accommodate the need for efficiency, which is a very interesting, but solvable, problem. In the future, I think that personal mobility will be a focus; autonomous mobility is a very powerful concept, and it’s not going to go away. We will be forced to make advances in other methods of transportation.
What kind of car do you drive?
The family car is a 2007 Mercedes C-Class, and I drive a Mazdaspeed3.