Michelle Christensen – Acura Designer
by Lauren Morrison
The original Acura NSX was a first for Honda when it hit the streets a little over 25 years ago. A high-tech exotic sports car with everyday reliability. And now the all-new NSX has a first of its own…. the first woman to lead a supercar design team. So, we sent our FYI reporter Lauren Morrison to Acura’s California’s HQ for a chat with the woman behind the NSX’s dynamic new look.
LAUREN MORRISION: The new Acura NSX… is a work of art. Behind the masterpiece? Michelle Christensen…the project’s exterior design leader.
MICHELLE CHRISTENSEN: “You know, every angle and width of this, it’s all critical, it’s all been like done on purpose.”
LAUREN MORRISION: The art of auto design wasn’t always in her future.
MICHELLE CHRISTENSEN: “I was always in art classes and stuff as a kid and I was always doodling and drawing horses and dresses…no cars.”
LAUREN MORRISION: But a chance encounter while at a car show with her dad, had her shifting gears.
MICHELLE CHRISTENSEN: “One day, we were at a car show and he pointed out a designer, a car designer. And I was like what?!?! Wait, wait, wait.”
LAUREN MORRISION: After graduating from the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena in 2005, Michelle landed her first job right here at Acura…where one of her early projects included working on the then pretty radical ZDX crossover.
MICHELLE CHRISTENSEN: “I learned so much from that project right out of the gate.”
LAUREN MORRISION: but it was in 2012, at the Detroit Auto Show…
JOHN DAVIS: “Detroit was a rebirth for Acura’s luxury brand…”
LAUREN MORRISION: …when supercar stardom came calling.
MICHELLE CHRISTENSEN: “So, that’s when my boss at the time approached and was like would you want to do this? And what, I mean, you can’t say no! It’s like dream car! Yeah, of course.”
LAUREN MORRISION: “Once she joined the team, Michelle hit the ground running and has seen the NSX go from design to road ready.”
MICHELLE CHRISTENSEN: “So this area right here is my favorite area of the whole car. And this right here is feeding the intercoolers, so air comes from the front and stays along the body side and gets shoved in here.”
LAUREN MORRISION: “Form follows functionality in any supercar, and you can definitely see that rings true in the NSX.”
MICHELLE CHRISTENSEN: “It’s usually like you’re playing tennis. It’s back and forth between design, engineering, design, engineering. We wanted to use the styling to enhance all the performance, the cooling, the aerodynamics, because it is such a high performance car, all those things are crucial, so we wanted the styling and design to enhance all that.”
LAUREN MORRISION: pulling from the original NSX…
MICHELLE CHRISTENSEN: “In theory, the soul of it we wanted to relate to the original.”
LAUREN MORRISION: The new design proves it’s at the forefront too…not just with its exotic exterior, but with Michelle. She is the first woman to lead the design team of such a limited production, exotic car... something she didn’t know until “after” production.
MICHELLE CHRISTENSEN: “So I didn’t even know about the female designing a super car thing until afterward, but that would have, yeah, I was pretty motivated but I think that would have given it a little extra push. It’s kinda cool to hear that.”
LAUREN MORRISION: Just like I’m still in awe that this is my job here at Motorweek, Michelle says getting young women to see that her job is an option for their careers, is where the interest starts.
MICHELLE CHRISTENSEN: “I was lucky enough to have happened upon it at a car show, but how many little girls are walking around at a car show, you know. I think it’s just a matter of exposing it to more people.”
LAUREN MORRISION: But the glass ceiling is starting to crack.
MICHELLE CHRISTENSEN: “I am seeing more women get up into more leadership roles, like Mary Barra with GM, I’m seeing more women going into higher ranks like that. Which I wasn't seeing necessarily when I first started, that’s also motivating. It’s good to see.”
LAUREN MORRISION: So fellas, expect to see more women behind the wheel; driving the future of what we all drive.