Interview: Fabio Ferrante, Automotive Designer

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Designer Fabio Ferrante is an Automotive Designer from Italy. He began his career in 2003 as an industrial designer and then moved to Automotive Design in 2005 working in FCA. He became chief designer at Puritalia in 2010 and has received various international design awards. He will be sharing his journey and his thoughts as an Automotive Designer today.

This interview is sponsored by MS3D Academy. MS3D Academy is an automotive digital design business and e-learning academy. The main aim of the brand is to promote Alias and to encourage more people to learn car design through basic to professional courses in MS3D Academy.

Where are you from and how’s the car design scene there? Where do you live at the moment? 

Hi, I’m from Italy and started my Design Career in Turin. After a few years in the Automotive Industry, I decided to move to the United States in 2013. New York first, for almost 8 years, and now California. 

When did you first think about becoming a car designer in your life? 

I was 1,5yo when my parents saw me “reading” Quattroruote (the most important car magazine in Italy) on the floor in my room. At the age of 4, my father mentioned to me that there are professionals that actually create the style of cars. He gave me the first idea of Design. From that moment on I realized what my path was.  

What motivates you and from where do you get/seek your inspiration? 

For me, motivation comes from challenges. If there’s something I have no idea how to make, I immediately try to learn how to make it. I constantly analyze myself trying to understand what my comfort zones are. And once I’m in, I try to disrupt them, adding a new variable that allows me to learn and improve. And the variable is simply something I don’t know how to do. Inspiration for me comes from everything that to me is related to culture. And that means music, art, food, etc. Everything that creates in my curiosity. A world that I love to look at is the world of insects. It’s perfectly organized and it’s made of beautiful shapes both very geometrical and systemic but also beautiful proportions and line balances. My favorite insect, for example, is the Praying Mantis. Elegance and dynamism at the purest. 

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From where did you complete your education? 

 I studied Industrial Design at Politecnico di Torino. Automotive schools were too expensive for my family (I’m the 4th of 4 siblings) and ID was the closest thing I could get for the bucks. I was sad at the beginning but I think that eventually, ID background gave me a wider approach to the world of design rather than a very closed angle on the automotive world only. 

Does the reputation of the college matter for an individual’s career? 

It really depends on what kind of designer you are and your personality. If you’re a mediocre designer, willing to become part of the industry, then the reputation of the school will help you for the introduction to the automotive world. But then it’s all about you. You have to find your way in the industry. If you are a super talented designer and really want to succeed in the industry, then the school will help you not only to feed your talent and maybe further develop it but also, because of the process, your skillset will be sharper and ready for the “fight”. Last but not least, if you’re a talented designer, ready to fight and able to improve, making mistakes and learn every day, maybe, I repeat, maybe, you can find the way to get into the industry without an automotive school. It happened to me. Wasn’t easy. But I made it.  

And let me say this: there’s no school “reputation”. There are school programs, there are good or bad teachers and there are school connections, the OEMs the School is in touch with. Choose your school based on these three categories.  

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Which is the most challenging project you came across during college? 

I remember one class, in particular, was pretty tough. It was called “Tecniche della rappresentazione’. The teacher was Carlo Gaino, father of the Maserati Barchetta among others. Very demanding. He constantly showed us Sid Mead illustrations. He wanted us constantly push our limits with old and not easy at all drawing techniques. I thought he hated me. Almost no feedback when I was showing him my stuff. Sometimes he ignored me. While at the same time he was spending time and giving suggestions to my classmates. Which of course I was listening to. Finally, one day he looked at me and spoke. “Stop waiting for my freakin’ suggestion, you’re doing good, keep pushing!” And a couple of months later he called and wanted me as an assistant professor for some of his lessons. He thought me one very important lesson: you don’t need verbal feedback, approval, or something similar. You’re surrounded by those. You only have to be able to see what you’re doing. If it stands out, results will come to you. But you never, never have to stop pushing and be curious. 

 Can you tell a bit about your brand Puritalia? And where is it based? 

Puritalia came into my life in June 2010. It’s not my brand, it has been one of my clients since the day it was founded. It’s a small boutique very technologic oriented where we have created things literally from scratch. The company’s goal is the constant research of solutions that embraces the most advanced technologies and mix them with the typical Italian artisanal approach. The company is based in Napoli, south of Italy. The owner, Paolo Parente, one day called me asking if I wanted to design a Shelby Cobra-inspired one-off with American muscles and Italian Style. Everything started from there. 

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How was your career path from the beginning up to today so far? 

I started at the FCA Research Design Center under the mentorship of Pietro Camardella, father of the most iconic Ferraris of the ‘80s. After that, I joined I.De.A Institute and worked for the FCA (now Stellantis) group on several brands. In 2010 I designed the concept car Go for the Chinese FAW that was presented at the Shanghai Motor show. That successful project allowed me to work on several other cars for the same brand. Even on the production side. In 2012 the things with Puritalia started taking off so, since I was really tired of the OEM world, I decided to quit my job and moved to New York City where I opened my own Design Studio in 2013. Since then, I worked with several clients all over the world, not only automotive. Industrial Design came into my professional life more and more consistently. With a client in NY, in 4 years we’ve been able to work on over 40 different projects for drones, most of them went into production, and thanks to those I was able to win different International Design Awards. In the meantime, I kept working on the Puritalia project becoming Chief Designer of a small but unique team of designers and engineers. We designed in total 3 cars, in 2019 we introduced the Berlinetta to the Geneva Motor show and in 2020 we were ready to present the full-electric version. Unfortunately, the pandemic arrived and canceled the whole Motor Show. I now recently moved to California, to the beautiful Orange Country. I joined an amazing company called Anduril Industries. Which on paper is a startup…a startup with a value of 4.6B and with a skyrocket growing rate. Can’t tell you exactly what I do here since 99% of the project is Top Secret. Our main client, in fact, is the US DoD (Department of Defense). And you don’t want to mess with them :)But check the website. At least there you’ll see a good 5 or 6% of the cool stuff we do here.  

Which 3 things do you think were the most challenging while working in the initial phases of your startup? 

Defining your goal and making it unique. Without that, a startup has no future. – Convincing your collaborators that your dream is going to be able to become reality. – Transforming the dream into reality. 

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What are your views on future mobility? 

I think the future of mobility is pretty uncertain. We all get that “Electric is the Future” according to the majority. And probably it is going to be the future (actually is kind of the present). But I’m not sure for how long that is going to be in the future. Two things are basically sure though: – Petrol is going to go. Probably not that soon as they’re trying to convince us. But we need something different. – Electric cannot take its place. Not now. Not with the size of demand we have. Not with the technology that the OEMs are selling today to the public.  

Today’s electric cars are the perfect example of their very world. You can have a crazy 0-100kmph (or 0-60mph) but at the first curve, you’ll notice the real potential because of the heavyweight you’re carrying around. And that’s pretty much what is going on now with the market. The electric market is growing like crazy. But the real deal will come when we have to deal with real sustainability. In my humble opinion, I see hydrogen as the most sustainable next step. Let’s see how it evolves.  

What impact does covid had on the automotive industry? 

Huge of course. But what scares me the most now I believe is this shortage of electronic components. I’ve heard that this is something that we going to have to deal with for at least 2-3 years more. Design speaking, I think the big OEM is still focused on finding which one is going to be the right language to take the lead in the market. I still don’t see it. What I see are a lot of missed opportunities, cars that look too much…cars! Normal car. Why is that especially when your architecture is changing? I mean, look what Canoo is doing. They are one of the few that are pushing with at least something that, even if extremely related to the auto world, is bringing fresh air into the industry. Too radical? Maybe. But somebody said the same to Marcello Gandini when he designed the Stratos Zero for Bertone. In a moment where a big disruptive event has shaken the world, I think each of us should try to be disruptive on our own. I understand that for startups or new companies that are easier on paper since there’s no heritage to keep in mind. But at the same time, big OEMs with a huge lineup of models can definitely be disruptive when they decide to focus on a new and completely different platform. I personally think that this is the moment to be courageous and take some risks.  

What advice do you have for upcoming transportation design students? 

Do mistakes. A lot. Especially if you’re young and malleable. Disrupt yourself, challenge yourself and be constantly curious to learn every day. The automotive world is a fascinating world regulated by old rules. It’s very small, like a small apartment in NY, and very slow. And Automotive Design is a small room in that tiny apartment where not always your talent is enough to get access. Most of the time there’s simply no room for you. There’s something that you should consider, though. The world is now finally changing somehow. And you can speed up that change. Stop looking at the same old, tiny and dusty room only because you like the color on those 4 walls. New rooms are popping out very rapidly and if you’re able to embrace a wider scenario – not strictly related to what OEMs are picturing today – you can maybe end up in a room with a window and a beautiful view. 


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