Young designers find a dead end in auto industry

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On the same night that the Senate was killing legislation to bail out U.S. automakers last week, seniors in vehicle design at Pasadena’s Art Center College of Design were putting on what should have been the show of their young lives.

Standing in suits beside sleek, carefully constructed models of futuristic-looking cars and video screens with 3-D renderings, they smiled and handed out resumes, hoping to catch the eye of a car company recruiter.

Almost none were to be found.

‘Normally there are a lot of designers from the big companies, but with all that’s going on, nobody is coming,’ said Julius Bernardo, 27, who has dreamed of designing flashy cars since childhood and spent about $100,000 on his education. ‘At this point in time, you have to start thinking about other kinds of jobs.’

In normal times, the senior show at the Art Center, one of the world’s top transportation design schools, is an employment gold mine, an auto-world agora where carmakers go to stock their studios with talent and put them to work on the vehicles of the future. Industry legends such as BMW’s design chief Chris Bangle and former Aston Martin designer Henrik Fisker walked almost directly out of their senior shows and into automotive history.


But with the industry suffering its worst sales decline in a quarter-century -- General Motors Corp. and Chrysler are awaiting word on $14 billion in emergency aid from the Bush administration, and Ford is only slightly better off -- these are not normal times.

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-- Ken Bensinger