FT story on how "China influence on design growing fast."
Fundamental tenant of my vision since the late 1990s: when the global demand center shifts in an industry, everything changes for that industry. Now, it's Chinese tastes and desires that shape design, not so much the American consumer. Yes, some customization by market, but the underlying dynamics shift.
At the Shanghai car show that opens today, General Motors and PSA Peugeot Citroën will both launch global models for the first time in China, a symbol of how the car industry’s centre of gravity continues to shift to the mainland, the largest car market.
But it is not just about launching the new-generation Chevrolet Malibu or Citroën DS-5 first in China, to attract more Chinese buyers.
The shift goes both ways.
When GM on Monday unveiled its Buick Envision SUV concept car, it revealed a car designed in China, for the world.
Chinese tastes are increasingly influencing the design of cars driven not just in China, but around the world.
China is having the greatest influence on luxury cars.
Demand for premium cars is soaring in China, making it crucial for luxury carmakers to satisfy them first.
When Mercedes-Benz set out to design a new S-Class luxury saloon, to hit showrooms in 2014, Daimler flew 100 Chinese consumers to customer clinics in Germany and the US to ensure they had input in the car’s design.
But the Chinese car boom is shaping the look of some mass-market cars too.
When General Motors designed its LaCrosse saloon, the brand, which is popular in China, devised a roomy and plush rear seat of the kind that Chinese owners – many of whom have chauffeurs – prefer.
“It’s a natural extension of the size and importance of the China market,” Kevin Wale, head of GM in China, says.
Ed Welburn, GM head of global design, says: “The trends here in China are having an influence on the design of our brands, but it is not a case of China dictating what cars are driven in Detroit.
“The influence is more subtle.”
Mr Welburn says one of the reasons Buick has become so successful in China – where owning a Buick is a status symbol – is that its fluid lines are more oriental in feel than the angular shapes of some other global auto models.
“China connected with Buick in a very positive way because . . . Buicks have a lot of flow in their design and Chinese artwork and calligraphy have a lot of flow,” he says.
“I’ve encouraged the design team here to . . . continue to play that up, and they have used that aesthetic in every detail [of the Envision SUV concept car], to give the same kind of feeling you get with a jade sculpture.”
Mike Dunne of Dunne & Co, an Asian motor industry consultancy, says: “Five years ago, no one would have imagined that China would have surpassed the US as the largest market.
“But now it’s natural that these cars are being developed for Chinese customers and sold globally.
This is such an amazing change in just a decade, but it signals globalization's immense power. It is evidence such as this that always makes me laugh when people posit globalization's retreat because of this or that policy in the West, or the dividing up of the internet, etc. There are some profound forces at work here and they mostly have to do with greed for a better life. It's a demand function - not a supply one.