Over 300 industry delegates gathered for the opening day of the annual Interior Motives China conference, which this year takes place in Shanghai, just a few days prior to the opening of the international auto show on Tuesday. Interior Motives is CDN's print magazine and this is its 4th annual gathering in China.
The title of this year's conference is 'The challenge of being different: establishing a local design direction for China's maturing market', a pertinent topic now China has become the biggest new car market in the world. As design debate moves beyond the much-discussed 'C-factor', expert speakers explored what could come next in an exciting – and at times controversial – first day.
Session 1: The market for design
The first session of the morning, chaired by Interior Motives editor, Euan Sey, tackled 'The market for design'. Xiao Ning, Director of Styling for Guangzhou Automobile Group, used the example of his home city of Ghandou and the local culture there as the basis of a talk which centered around the question of why designers need to understand the 'soil' that their customers came from. His description of how GAC had used this customer-centric approach to design the Trumpchi sedan neatly led into the talk of Lou Tik, General Manager and Design Director at JAC's Italian Design Center.
Tik echoed Ning's sentiments that, in general, a local and targeted design approach would do better in the Chinese market. His talk also brought up for the first time a point that was made throughout the day; that it is not enough to simply design for China as a whole, because the country's sheer size and population mean tastes and approaches differed wildly by region. Yet these two speakers gave little new insight, with later presentations by representatives of European OEMs giving much more incisive views on how the market is evolving, and on the design approaches that might be used to emotionally better engage Chinese customers with a brand and its products.
Andreas Wlasak, VP of Indutrial Deisgn for Faurecia, wrapped the session up with a series of market observations and the suggestion that, for Chinese brands, achieving the same level of brand identity and value as European makers would prove difficult any time soon. What Wlasak demonstrated, with the toolbox of various Faurecia solutions, was how products could be tailored, optimized and changed for each market – giving the same interior appeal to a much wider spectrum of tastes, adding design value for less cost.
Session 2: Hot segments
The late morning session focused on 'Hot segments'. While China is characterized by many Westerners for its love of the three-box sedan, the reality is that the market share for each vehicle typology is changing fast. Certainly, judging by the number of BMW X6's we've seen on the road out here, there's a real appetite for some very niche segment vehicles that have only recently gained a foothold in Europe.
Chaired by the Dean of Detroit's College for Creative Studies, Imre Molnar, the session was kicked off by Holt Ware, Design Director at GM-PATAC. Ware gave a neat summary of the life and history of the SUV and a first-hand insight into the Chinese market. He reported that the importance of this market and the tastes of Chinese consumers were such that they were now beginning to influence GM's global strategy. Amko Leenarts, Head of Interior Design at Peugeot, followed this with one of the most compelling presentations of the day which, interestingly, didn't focus on China specifically.