Automotive design studios are where the gorgeous creations you and I see rolling down the road are initially conceived.

Every manufacturer has them.  And here in Southern California, we have a high concentration of them.  And that concentrations of design studios are yet another reason that SoCal is the automotive capital of the United States as well as the automotive capital of the world.

Listen to this iDSC podcast for more details, which further solidify Southern California as the automotive capital of planet earth!

iDriveSoCal Podcast 112 banner with map showing locations of automotive design studios in the Southern California area


Recorded August 15th, 2018 in Los Angeles, CA

Why SoCal is the Auto Capital of the World

Clinton Quan: The other reason is Southern California, this is where the trends start, whether you’re talking about design trends or fashion trends. So, it’s not surprising that so many design studios are located here in Southern California.

Tom Smith: Welcome to iDriveSoCal, the podcast all about mobility from the automotive capital of the United States, Southern California. Tom Smith here with our good, buddy, pal, chum, the professor Mr.

Clinton Quan. Say hello Clinton.

Clinton Quan: Hi, Tom.

Tom Smith: Thanks for joining me again, my friend. Today’s iDriveSoCal podcast is going to be a continuation of that fine statement and justifying it: what makes Southern California the automotive capital of the United States as well as the world?

And our good professor always coming up with different ideas and angles and justifications why, in fact, SoCal is the automotive capital of both the US and the globe, this little blue planet that we’re on, and that is design studios. Literally many, many manufacturers have design studios up and down the coast, and inland, of Southern California.

Clinton Quan: Well, primarily Ventura County, LA County, Orange County, and San Diego County.

Tom Smith: So, pretty much up and down the coast?

Clinton Quan: Yes, correct.

Tom Smith: Just not the Inland Empire?

Clinton Quan: There could be some in the Inland Empire. I’m not sure of every …

Tom Smith: That’s what we were just talking about. I’m like, “Well, professor, is that all of them.” And he’s like, “Well, I don’t know. No one curates a list of them.”

Our Responsibility to Plant the Flag

And I think that’s gonna have to be the responsibility that we here at iDriveSoCal take on. We’re just gonna put together a little list of these design studios and say, “Hey, this is yet another reason why we here in Southern California are the automotive capital of the world.”

So, how do you wanna do it? Do you wanna go from Ventura County and head south, or do you wanna go south or head north or do you wanna go alphabetically by the manufacturer?

Clinton Quan: No, let’s go down the coast. Let’s go Ventura County, LA County, Orange County, San Diego County.

Tom Smith: All right. Take it away, professor.

Clinton Quan: Well, the first on is Volvo out in Camarillo. I think that one opened up maybe seven or eight years ago, so that’s one of two I know about in Ventura County.

Tom Smith: Before we dive in, let’s get back to Volvo in just a second, first let’s identify what compromises a design studio. What does it look like? It’s a building housed with what departments of people, about how many people, what goes on there?

I’m sure it varies there for each manufacturer. I’d assume so, but is this something where they’re taking clay and molding it into different concept-type vehicles?

Clinton Quan: That’s definitely part of the process, but every manufacturer is different. So, I don’t think we can say there’s a standard for all design studios throughout Southern California.

The ArtCenter College of Design Connection

Tom Smith: Being in design, this is the artistry aspect of creating automobiles, so it’s however you create, right?

Clinton Quan: Yeah. I think it would look very similar to what you would see at ArtCenter College of Design, and that’s another reason why there’s so many design studios here in Southern California.

Tom Smith: Good point.

Clinton Quan: You have some of the best and brightest alums here in Southern California right out of the school.

Tom Smith: Coming right out of that school, so they’re like, “Hey, we’re already here. We might as well just go work up there, down there, over there, and with [inaudible 00:03:09].” There you go.

Clinton Quan: Absolutely. The other reason is Southern California, this is where the trends start, whether you’re talking about design trends or fashion trends.

So, it’s not surprising that so many design studios are located here in Southern California. And the third reason I think is the weather. You have beautiful weather here. We’re known for having the best weather in the country and San Diego probably the best climate in the country.

Tom Smith: Yeah, I don’t think the word’s gotten around yet because the highways and roads are so wide open all the time. It’s easy to get around.

Clinton Quan: Yeah.

Tom Smith: Okay. So, it varies for every manufacturer, but I mean these are probably departments of the manufacturer of the OEMs that house a couple hundred to a couple thousand each-ish.

Clinton Quan: It’s possible, yes.

Tom Smith: What we do know is the design studios are actually here.

Clinton Quan: Yes, the design studios are here. Some of them, they might be incorporated with the corporate headquarters and some are completely separate.

Limited Design Studio Access 

Tom Smith: Have you toured any of these yourself?

Clinton Quan: Well, the next one I actually got to visit.

Tom Smith: The next one you’re gonna talk about? So, let’s go back to the beginning. So, Volvo’s the first one, and that’s up in Camarillo.

Clinton Quan: That’s up in Camarillo.

Tom Smith: And they’re putting out some really good looking product these days.

Clinton Quan: Oh, Volvo, that is one of my very favorite automobile manufacturers now.

If you look at all of their brand new cars, they’re putting some fantastic cars out there in terms of both exterior design and interior design.

Whether you’re talking about the Volvo XC90, their midsize crossover; the XC60, their compact crossover, which just one the North American Utility of the Year Award.

And then, their all-new XC40, the subcompact; and then you have the brand new S60, their sports sedan.

Tom Smith: Now onto the next one after Volvo.

Clinton Quan: The next one is Design Works in Newberry Park, and that’s BMW’s design studio, and I actually got tour that. Well, I actually got to visit it during a special event for the unveiling of the latest seven series, so that was a couple years ago when I got to visit…

And it’s not something that’s normally open to the public, but because they threw an event, that’s how I got the opportunity to visit this design studio.

Auto Design Studio Concentration

Tom Smith: Another question that’s probably gonna be different for every manufacturer, but the design studio’s that are here, is that the only design studio for the whole global platform?

Clinton Quan: No.

Tom Smith: So, there are design studios in other places of the world as well?

Clinton Quan: Correct.

Tom Smith: We just have a high concentration here for all the reasons that you mentioned early, especially the Arts Center.

Clinton Quan: Yeah. Now, some automobile manufacturers, they may only have one, but some they may have several. BMW I believe they also have one in Germany. So yeah, a lot of them they would have one in their own country as well.

Tom Smith: Now Volvo is Swedish, right?

Clinton Quan: I’m pretty sure they would have one in Sweden as well.

Tom Smith: So, the North America design studio hub is definitely here, and because of that also we have a huge concentration from a global perspective as well as US? Okay. Carry on.

Clinton Quan: So, now we’ve done the design studios in Ventura County. Now we’re gonna move into LA. General Motors has one in North Hollywood.

Tom Smith: Really?

Clinton Quan: And Honda actually has one here in downtown LA. I just found out recently that it used to be in Pasadena, and now in the heart of downtown Los Angeles.

Tom Smith: Well, there you go.

Clinton Quan: Yeah.

We Want In!

Tom Smith: We should nose around, see if we can’t get some invites to go and get tours of these places. That’d be pretty cool, huh?

Clinton Quan: Yeah.

Tom Smith: Tell them, “Hey, I’m with iDriveSoCal.” They’ll be like, “Hang on a second. Let me get the red carpet out. Caviar and violins and champagne.”

Clinton Quan: I’d love to see a mockup or a prototype of the NSX. That’d be really cool.

Tom Smith: There you go. There you go. Okay. So, we got Volvo, we got BMW, we got-

Clinton Quan: General Motors, Honda. Yeah, that’s in the valley in North Hollywood. And now we’ll move down to Orange County and, in Irvine, there’s Hyundai, there’s Kia, there’s Mazda, and there’s Ford.

Tom Smith: Got it.

Clinton Quan: So, that’s right there in the heart of Orange County. Irvine, California.

Tom Smith: And that Mazda-Ford parking lot is where the original Cars and Coffee migrated from Crystal Cove to I think there was a stop before they got to that parking lot. Is that where they disbanded from, too? The really big one?

Clinton Quan: I think so. It just got so big.

Tom Smith: Gosh, I wonder if there’d be some way to get that back.

Clinton Quan: I remember going there; I was completely amazed at how many people were there early in the morning at 7:00.

Tom Smith: So, we’ve covered this one, folks. If you haven’t heard the Cars and Coffee talk, it’s… there’s just so many reasons.

Cars and Coffee & Design Studios

Clinton Quan: Speaking of Irvine and Cars and Coffee, I’m planning on going to another Cars and Coffee this coming Saturday in Irvine. It’s called RCC Cars and Coffee.

Tom Smith: RCC?

Clinton Quan: Yeah, RCC Cars and Coffee. I just saw it on Instagram. I don’t know anything about it. This will be my first time going, so I wanna check it out.

Tom Smith: Okay. All right. Well, RCC Cars and Coffee, you’re getting a little plug here from the professor.

Clinton Quan: As we’ve said, there’s always new Cars and Coffee.

Tom Smith: There are always new ones. There are.

Since we did that podcast, and I think we posted it already, yes we did, perhaps just a couple days ago, but we still haven’t come up with a solution for keeping track of all the Cars and Coffees, because they just move around.

They come, they go, they get successful and have to move into the bigger spaces.

Clinton Quan: And this RCC Cars and Coffee, I guess their headquarters is in Irvine, but they do a second Cars and Coffee in another location. I believe it’s in Coto de Caza, which is also in Orange County. And, I think it’s just northeast of this other location. I wanna check it out.

Orange County Auto Design Studios

Tom Smith: All right, professor. You go check it out. Full report. What’s next?

Clinton Quan: There’s also Toyota in Newport Beach.

Tom Smith: Toyota in Newport Beach. Okay.

Clinton Quan: And that one is called … I believe it’s called Calty, C-A-L-T-Y. I’m not sure what that stands for, but I know that’s the name of their design studio. Next would be San Diego. So, there’s Mercedes Benz in Carlsbad, so that’s in north San Diego County, and they took over the former design space that was occupied by Chrysler.

Tom Smith: Oh, really?

Clinton Quan: Yeah.

Tom Smith: Okay.

Clinton Quan: Just read about that. And then there’s Nissan Design International in La Jola, and that’s very close to where I went to school, UC San Diego.

Tom Smith: So, the professor here is a transportation engineer, but I’m wondering why, because you’re a smart fellow. I’m sure your transcripts were pretty impressive, and you probably could’ve gone to school wherever. Why didn’t you wind up at the Arts Center College of Design? Am I saying that right? Arts Center College of Design?

Clinton Quan: That’s correct, yes. It is Art Center College of Design.

Tom Smith: So, why didn’t you wind up going that path? You’re more of an engineer than an artiste?

Clinton Quan: That’s a whole nother story. Yes, I was very good at math in school, and I was always interested in science and engineering and architecture. So, that’s the field I ended up pursuing.

Automotive Capital of the US & The World – SoCal

Tom Smith: So, there you have it.

Clinton Quan: Yeah, structural engineering.

Tom Smith: I was really on the edge of my seat wondering why. What’s going on with the professor and his career here? So, does that put a bow on this one?

Clinton Quan: Yes, that puts a bow on it, and as you can see, we covered manufacturers from Germany, Mercedes Benz, BMW; from Sweden, Volvo; American, General Motors; Japanese with Mazda, Toyota, Honda; Korean, Hyundai, and Kia. Oh, also Ford, American as well. So, we’ve covered pretty much from every country. Well, almost every country.

Tom Smith: So, there you have it. Design studios up and down the coasts throughout Southern California. Yet another reason, another justification, that old Tom just isn’t blowing smoke over here when he calls Southern California the automotive capital of the United States, and also the automotive capital of the world.

Detroit is Mad…

We have lots of those justifications. This is just yet another one. We’re gonna keep coming up with them, and hey, if you have any ideas as to why Southern California is the automotive capital of the United States, automotive capital of the world, please hit us up. My email: [email protected]

Tom Smith: I’ve gotten a few inquiries through the contact page of iDriveSoCal, and people saying, “Oh, boy, jeez. From a production standpoint, the guy’s in Detroit or the people”—where’s it Alabama or something like that where there’s a lot of production that happens, a lot of manufacturing?

Clinton Quan: Alabama’s one, yeah.

Tom Smith: Okay. But yeah, I’ve gotten some comments such as that, and I’ve replied back, but then it’s kind of gone quiet. It’s like, “Well, come on. Let’s have this debate. Let’s have a spirited debate about this, but no. Good stuff. Professor, thank you as always and until next time, I’m Tom Smith. Thank you so much for listening. This is iDriveSoCal.