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Chinese brands closing gap in vehicle styling

Chinese brands have made significant improvement in vehicle styling in the last couple of years, according to James Hope, corporate design director at Chery Automobile Co., Ltd.

“Chinese cars not long ago were a joke, but not anymore,” said Hope at the designer roundtable. “At the 2012 Beijing Auto Show, there was quite a gap between Western and Chinese brands. Fast forward to the 2013 Shanghai Auto Show, the gap was closing. At the Beijing Auto Show this year some of the Chinese brands were, in my opinion, surpassing Western brands in terms of styling.”

Hope attributed the improvement to how fast the industry is moving in China. Chery, in particular, has made massive improvements in design as well as perceived and actual quality of its cars, according to Hope, with the Arizzo 7 and Tiggo 5 as examples.

Hope says that as vehicle purchase decisions in China are led by women, the styling direction at Chery is aimed at gender neutral for more customer attraction, such as Porsche, Mini and the Land Rover Evoque.

“Our Concept Alpha and Beta at this year’s Beijing Auto Show take that philosophy, with the sculpture form between tough and refined,” said Hope.

Chery is also adopting a principle where its concept cars are very reflective of the vehicles that will be put into production, rather than coming up with a great concept car but the production version is a very disappointment refection. The Chery TX Concept, unveiled at the Beijing Auto Show in 2012 and launched as Tiggo 5 last year, is an example.

“We don’t want to do concept cars just for the sake of concept cars,” said Hope.

In terms of incorporating the latest connected cars technologies into design, Chery is working on the next generation of learning, customizable and configurable HMI and Hope believes OLED could be the future of integration.

Guy Burgoyne, design director of Geely Group, believes that features like this will become more and more important and be the differentiators as market matures, and Geely wants to become competitive differentiating itself in terms of performance, styling, size, luxury, safety, economy, quality and reliability.

Both Hope and Burgoyne believe that diversity plays an important role in vehicle design. At Chery, about 5 percent of the design team is international, while the proportion at Geely is about 15 percent, according to the directors.

“We get diversity in the group to make cars more appealing globally. We have designers that come from the gaming industry. The melting pot of creativity will give something new and fresh,” said Burgoyne. “It’s not relevant where people come from.”

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