In January, Prevost launched its new H3-45 coach, the flagship of its range. Behind this major overhaul lie hundreds of hours of thinking from a small industrial design firm and close collaboration: Brio Innovation is Prevost’s “secret weapon”. Short illustrated story of a long design project.
The design of the new Prevost H3-45 coach is the result of a long partnership between the Sainte-Claire manufacturer and the industrial design firm Brio Innovation. By videoconference, Brio President Luc Bourgeois shares his screen: “I’m going to go through some documents, and you’ll understand our relationship and our involvement with Prevost pretty quickly. »
First, Brio Innovation designers put ideas on paper. On a graphics tablet, in fact. Luc Bourgeois scrolls on his screen through a series of sketches of well-profiled coaches, all subtly different in the chamfer of their underbody, their lines of side windows or the sculpture of their front face. Prospective design, in a way, to push the limits. “From these very preliminary concepts, there were other versions that will be refined,” he explains. They will never be produced as such, because they were concepts that required a major redesign of the chassis. »
Design Director at Prevost, François Trépanier, defined the spirit of what would lead to “brand recognition through the product”. “We wanted it to be intimidating, majestic, to have presence,” says Luc Bourgeois. “We didn’t want lines that were too fluid or organic. There’s a lot of tension. The cutouts are clean, the lines are taut. There is a certain aggressiveness, a rigidity which makes it imposing, and at the limit intimidating. It is the objective. From these three preliminary computer-generated designs, the final design will retain the door window recess from the center proposal and the facial configuration from the right.
Even once the facial organization is pretty much set, work continues to refine the details. Here are just a few of the countless iterations that subtly alter the shape of the headlights and lower bumper recesses. “There were sketches, it’s incredible,” comments Luc Bourgeois. There must have been 30 rounds of exterior sketches. When I say round, it’s that we go back to drawing for a week or two following the discussions we had. We present them again, we analyze them, we make them evolve. »
The body of a coach is similar to a long glass tube, closed by the caps of the front and back sides. “We change the ends, and it changes the whole look of the vehicle,” observes Luc Bourgeois. Contrasting with the horizontal lines of the current models (previous H3-45 on the left and redesigned X3-45 on the right), the front of the new H3-45 shows breaks that accentuate its impression of dynamism.
“We went so far as to draw the headlights down to the smallest detail,” says Luc Bourgeois, while he brings up an optical block on the screen. Despite its complex shape, it sits perfectly flush with the surface of the body. “It’s not Mr. Potato Head with truck headlights stuck into thermoformed fenders!” he exclaims. “It’s automotive quality made by an Asian manufacturer. It makes original equipment for automotive manufacturers. »
Even the light signature of the optical units in the dark has been the subject of numerous proposals, carefully studied at Prevost. “The design, the preliminary sketches, the detailed development of it all: it’s evolutionary,” emphasizes Luc Bourgeois.
Mirrors are aerodynamically harmful appendages. “These large planes disrupt the airflow, and not nearly,” observes Luc Bourgeois. We reworked them with the primary objective of improving aerodynamics. The designers came up with a mirror whose front edge, like the bow of a ship, divides the flow of air to limit disturbances in contact with the bodywork. “The arm is a double arm, with an opening in the middle. It has been hollowed out in the center to create two much thinner profiles. »
“In the new H3-45, 95% of all visible and touchable surfaces on the exterior and interior have been looked at by design,” says Luc Bourgeois. We placed each of the lines and we modeled the surface of everything that is visible inside and outside. Prevost engineers and technicians took over these files to bring them to life. “What’s going on behind, it’s a monstrous job to bring this into production”, appreciates the president of Brio Innovation. “We’re really involved, so that all the lines are in the right place, so that we really have the desired feeling for the surfaces that belong to the design. »
“We evolved that, until it ended up with scale clay models: full-size models of the outside – it’s empty, in there – of what it was going to look like” , says the president of Brio Innovation. In the Prevost factory, the front and rear models look like guillotine-cut coach sections. “It’s downright flawless in terms of presentation quality,” he adds.
With its aerodynamic profile, the new Prevost H3-45 announces a 12% reduction in fuel consumption compared to the previous model. “When you look at the consumption of a normal vehicle, the fact that it lasts 20 years and that it drives over a million kilometers is a lot of money, assures Luc Bourgeois. For the new Prevost product, this is a major asset. But this superior aerodynamics also had repercussions inside the vehicle.
The improved aerodynamics of the body also had an effect on the completely revised interior design. Guided Tour: Come on board.
The better air penetration was notably the result of a steeper windshield, which on the other hand reduced the space of the driver’s compartment. “We didn’t want to move the driver’s seat all the way back,” observes Luc Bourgeois. Space had to be created differently. The dashboard has been slimmed down and reconfigured. On the proposal shown here, even the medallion adorning the steering wheel has been carefully designed to remind the driver that he (proudly) drives a Prevost coach.
This was followed by a complete overhaul of the driving position, reviewed by Brio Innovation down to the smallest detail. “We are talking about several rounds, weeks, months of ideation for a driving zone, describes Luc Bourgeois. We’re talking about ergonomics, fields of vision, access, obstruction, mirrors, A-pillars.” Here, detail of an explanatory board that shows the control distribution zones according to their importance and frequency, as well as ergonomic studies of the field of vision. In their 3D files, the designers placed virtual cameras “at eye level of a 5th percentile female, 95th percentile male, with different driving positions” to replicate their point of view.
While the body had to be dynamic, almost intimidating, “inside, it was important to us that it be inviting, comfortable, comforting to the limit, for the passenger,” says Luc Bourgeois. The vehicle had to be welcoming from its access staircase, of which he shows one of the working sketches. “It’s very fluid. We made sure that the staircase turns gradually, that traffic seems easy and smooth towards the passenger area. »
“The old dashboard was dated, notes the president of Brio. There are components that get added over time that make it a bit disorganized when the base is relatively old. It was an opportunity to put all the requirements back on the table and say: what needs to go, what are the new things to integrate? Brio Innovation has reviewed the entire layout of the instrumentation. “We want the driver to feel important, proud, in control of this imposing device. Anyway, “it’s the pilot of the plane, in his coach!” »
To better perceive the volumes, Prévost made a full-size model of the interior of the front section of the vehicle, whose images Luc Bourgeois displayed on his split screen. “You have the area very flexible, very fluid for the entry of passengers, with volumes that are a little more softened, well lit, he comments. There is a break when you fall into the driver’s area. It’s to separate the two. »
Inside the vehicle, “a lot of attention has been paid to the experience, something soothing, comparable to the best in transport today”. The parcel racks seem to blend into the ceiling, lit by a grazing light. “We wanted the parcel racks to help give the impression of width to the ceiling, using a color very close to that of the ceiling. The intensity and coloring of this indirect lighting can be modified, for example to make it tend towards an azure blue. “It’s borrowed from what you see in aviation, where it gives height, it can remind you of the sky. »
Below the alignment of parcel racks, the handrail, worthy of its name, runs around a long oblong ring “which frames the technical area, a black band in which we have placed control units for each of the passengers” .
Even the controls for the air diffusers and the passenger lamps, integrated in the technical area, have been the subject of the attentive care of Brio’s designers. “In fine detail,” says Luc Bourgeois. We made these proposals. »
“Whether a designer draws a cell phone or a bus, we’re all looking for a quarter inch more,” explains Luc Bourgeois. This quarter inch, Brio has found and multiplied by designing an all-new passenger seat. “With a slimmed back,” he said, “you just gave everyone space.” Not at the expense of comfort, however. It is then necessary to rely on the finesse of the ergonomics rather than on the thickness of the foams. “Focus groups were done for comfort testing with competition seats and different geometries. »
“Having redone the seat had a major impact on the look of the vehicle,” notes the president of Brio. It occupies 75% of your field of vision and you have designed a single seat. This seat is available in a variety of upholsteries, from entry-level velor to stitched leather. The backs are inlaid with small metal plates bearing the Prevost brand, “embedded in the leather like a seal of quality”. “These are small pieces, but in terms of feel and finish, it plays a huge role. »
When Prevost’s new H3-45 coach was introduced on January 12 at the UMA Expo (United Motorcoach Association) in Orlando, Florida, industrial designer Luc Bourgeois was certainly among the happiest to see it appear.
“We were looking forward to this moment,” said the president of the industrial design firm Brio Innovation, which had made a key contribution to its design. “It almost brings back memories, because before it was produced and presented to the public, especially with the COVID, we are talking about years that have passed, practically. »
Brio Innovation has been providing industrial design services to Prevost for almost 20 years.
“We are their secret weapon,” says Luc Bourgeois.
He calculates that since the beginning of their close collaboration, 19 different industrial designers and design technicians have intervened on an ad hoc or continuous basis in the various Prevost projects.
“The amount of hours invested and passionate people who have worked for this client, with us, is incredible! “, he launches with transport.
Brio Innovation was founded in 2004 by Luc Bourgeois and François Couillard, two industrial designers who combined extensive experience in transportation design.
Almost immediately, the small firm began a collaboration with Prevost’s design director at the time, François Trépanier.
Apart from François Trépanier and his colleague Christian Héroux, who replaced him as design director in 2020, Prevost had no design department.
“It didn’t take that long that we basically became his team,” says Luc Bourgeois.
At Prevost, the design director “is a super important player, and I think that plays a huge role,” he insists. “He is our eyes, our ears, our spokesperson. He is the one who defends design internally, on an equal footing with the other departments. »
François Trépanier distilled the essence of the Prevost family of coaches – and we’re not talking fuel here. He defined the characteristics of his brand image and his personality. In short, his DNA.
It is by following these guidelines that Brio Innovation has since developed its concepts with Prevost. “Everything we offer is in line with that. »
Brio designers first worked on the body of the previous version of the H3-45 coach, launched in the early 2010s.
They gave it this dynamic, rebellious facies, which one could assimilate to a Greek hoplite helmet, as well as this well-cut, powerful rear face, with clean edges.
Brio then made the variation of its little brother, the X3-45 model, intended for suburban connections.
But as early as 2012, Brio Innovation had begun the fundamental overhaul of the H3-45, the large intercity coach for 56 passengers. Prevost wanted to refine the aerodynamics of his flagship, which, like its peers, has the shape of a shoebox with barely softened edges.
Depending on the design phases, between one and three Brio employees are assigned, almost permanently, to contracts with Prevost.
“We are talking about modeling, files that are used for production, describes Luc Bourgeois. It’s not just sketches and discussions. »
At the height of the final stages of development of the new H3-45, five “more technically-oriented resources” were dedicated to the project.
Fluctuations in the intensity of the work, and therefore of the personnel and the skills to be assigned to it, are one of the main challenges of the small firm, which had nearly twenty designers and technicians (men and women) at the height of its growth, before COVID-19. Since its inception, Brio has supported more than a hundred Canadian and American manufacturers, both in transportation and in product design.
For Brio Innovation, the new H3-45 is “sort of a culmination”, concludes Luc Bourgeois. “It represents the ultimate integration of all the desires and all the good ideas accumulated over the years, both in terms of style, functionality and ergonomics, as well as the user experience in general. »