The conventional wisdom is that millennials are not as enamored of cars as Generation Xers such as myself or Baby Boomers who came before us.
These kids today get their driver's licenses later than age 16 - if at all - and spend all their time with (pauses to ask 15-year-old Sturgis Kid 4.0 what kind of phone he's using) their Samsung S6s. That is, when we're not yelling at them to stay off our lawns.
But there's still that segment of young America that spends its time creating new car designs, often while daydreaming in math class or ignoring the latest English lesson. Those are the students that Mark Trostle, head of Dodge Design and SRT Design for Fiat Chrysler America, hopes to reach.
So he initiated the Drive for Design contest, which will mark its fourth year in January. The contest challenges any U.S. high school student in grades 10 to 12 to design a Dodge SRT Hellcat for the year 2025.
"Part of why I really wanted to bring this competition back was, I wanted to try to get exposure to the kids who were like me," Trostle said.
An auspicious beginning. Those students could potentially be more like him than a reader might imagine. Trostle recalls his high school years, when he was nodding off in math class or ignoring the latest English lesson to draw cars.
While in high school, Trostle entered a design competition in Detroit and won. He received a partial scholarship to the College for Creative Studies - and he still has a copy of the sketch.
After two years focused on the Detroit area, the 2016 Drive for Design contest is in its second year nationwide. Last year about 125 entrants submitted their work. Some of the winners get a chance to develop a strong working relationship with the Fiat Chrysler design team.
The 2015 winner. Take Joshua Blundo, 19, the winner of the 2015 competition. The graduate of Moultonborough (N.H.) Academy is now a freshman at the College for Creative Studies in Detroit, pursuing a career in automotive design. And he's keeping in touch with Trostle and getting feedback on some of his designs.
But Blundo's story shows that an interest in drawing cars does not need to start from a very early age.
"I started drawing cars in my freshman year of high school," Blundo said. "I enjoyed it so much that I kept on doing it and I really wanted to do it as a career."
As Thomas A. Edison told us, genius is 1 percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration. Blundo attended three summer camps at Lawrence Technological University near Detroit, and then had the three-week program at the College for Creative Studies and was the winner of the Drive for Design contest.
Blundo characterized himself as a good student in high school, able to understand a math lesson quickly and then pursue his sketching during class time with a full array of tools.
"I would come in with full-out marker set - drawing paper, chalk, pencils," Blundo said. "Because I was a good math student, I didn't have to pay attention as much - so my teachers just had it figured out that I was going to be drawing in their class."
While Blundo said the contest prompt for 2015 was a more general Dodge model - and he offered an electric sports car - the 2016 contest asks for a Dodge SRT Hellcat for the year 2025, Trostle said.
"The reason we selected doing the Hellcat: Most kids in high school are going to know what a Hellcat is," Trostle said.
What designers do. Of course, every great success story involves the authority figure who misdirects a student. Trostle recalls a guidance counselor who told him he didn't have the math skills for automotive engineering.
But Trostle said his realm is a more exclusive club than the automotive engineers most people associate with the industry. For example, the 2015 Dodge Challenger Hellcat had hundreds of engineers working on pieces of the machine, but only about eight or so designers from a studio spent two or three months sketching out two-dimensional drawings.
Typically, the group then critiques the offerings and one or two turn into clay models. Wind tunnel tests are critical to supercars such as the Hellcat, and then time is spent refining and working with engineering to make sure all the pieces come together. Out of the original team of eight, usually only one or two designers can call a car their own.
Trostle himself pointed to the Chrysler Phaeton, the Chrysler LHX Concept, Dodge Intrepid ESX, and Ram SRT-10 as his designs, and most recently the Hellcat - both the Charger and Challenger - and the 2013 Viper.
This is the world Blundo hopes to join when he finishes college, and perhaps a few lucky winners of the 2016 contest will as well.
And who knows: Perhaps some piece of the design will make it into the production model.
"As designers, we're inspired by cool things, by cool cars," Trostle said. "I would love nothing more than to see an entry that inspires me."
Contest information. Entries for the 2016 Drive for Design contest are due Jan. 8. Contest rules are available via FCADriveforDesign.com.