Car design: China rules, OK?

2012-04-30 09:25

BEIJING, China - Automakers believe consumer tastes in China have a growing influence on global vehicle design.

China emerged as the world's top vehicle market in 2009 even though the sector stalled in 2011, with sales rising just 2.5% to 18.51-million. Automakers are convinced, China is where the automotive industry's future lies.

Manufacturers at the Auto China 2012 exhibition in Beijing said they have started to include features that appeal to the Chinese consumer, from large grilles and highly visible chromed fittings to luxury back seats for the in-laws.


Shen Li at Nissan China said: "We want to have more China elements in our design for global cars. The designers find inspiration in traditional paper cutting, or in Tang (dynasty) paintings representing opulent women. Every model in the future has to have a good potential in China."

The car penetration rate in China is still relatively low compared to more mature markets in North America or Europe but in 2011, even with the sales slowdown, more cars were sold in the Asian nation than in the US.

Until recently, foreign vehicle manufacturers adapted existing models sold in Europe or North America to the Chinese market. With the rise of China and its global footprint, the trend is the other way round.

Frederic Banzet, director at Citroen, said: "In the future as China grows, we will increasingly need to take into account the weight of the Chinese market. We will work from a design with Chinese characteristics and adapt it to other markets."

To this end, Peugeot/Citroen set up a design studio in Shanghai in 2008 aiming to understand the Chinese market and launch targeted products to increase its market share.

The studio now has 650 employees and the company plans to increase the headcount to 1000.

Volkswagen has also invested heavily in two design studios, one in Shanghai and another in Changchun. Walter de Silva, head of VW design group, said: "The chromed finishings, the interior woodwork... We are delivering the whole package to the US."

Volkswagen's new Passat was designed and launched in China 2011 and hit the roads in the US a few months later.

Simon Loasby, director of design for VW in China, said designs from China had a growing influence on VW cars globally, while many Chinese designers were also working on projects in Germany.

"It is amazing how much of what is started here can fertilise the rest of the world," he said.