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An Aussie abroad

Show and tell: The Denza show car is a clear guide to how the final production car will look when it is launched in 2013.

Australian design ace setting the style for Daimler’s new Chinese brand

15 May 2012

RENOWNED Australian car designer Peter Arcadipane is back working with German auto giant Daimler AG and heading the team tasked with launching a new brand for the Chinese market called Denza.

Mr Arcadipane – whose CV includes the original Mercedes-Benz M-Class, the acclaimed CL and CLS coupes, the current Mitsubishi Lancer and, not least of all, the still-celebrated Mad Max Interceptor movie car – is responsible for styling the first Denza production model, a small electric vehicle previewed at last month’s Beijing motor show that will be launched in the second half of 2013.

With a name chosen to be accepted internationally, Denza clearly has global ambitions and Mr Arcadipane could shape a family of new models that might eventually be sold in Australia, where Chinese vehicle sales are up 54 per cent in 2012 and are expected to make substantial inroads into passenger-car segments in the coming years.

The production car – potentially boasting the longest range in the world for an EV – is likely to be shown at the Shanghai motor show in April 2013.

Denza is the brand of a new company called BYD-Daimler New Technology Co Ltd (BDNT), a 50:50 joint venture between Daimler and one of China’s biggest car-makers, BYD, initiated two years ago.

BYD is among the companies with which Ateco Automotive has held discussions in recent years about importing vehicles to Australia.

Ateco, which distributes the Great Wall and Chery brands in Australia, has also vowed to launch a Chinese-built electric vehicle in this market, although there is no longer a definitive timeframe for its introduction.

The Denza brand made its public debut at the Beijing show with a concept car unveiled by Daimler chairman Dieter Zetsche and BYD chairman Wang Chuanfu.

As chief designer for Denza – an EV-only brand – Mr Arcadipane heads of team of 10 international designers based in Shenzhen, just over the Chinese border from Hong Kong.

187 center imageFrom top: Australian car designer Peter Arcadipane, Denza EV launch at the 2012 Beijing Auto Show, Denza EV.

Since moving to China 13 months ago, Mr Arcadipane has helped design the new company logo, made changes to the concept car, designed the Beijing show stand and taken overall control of the production car.

He was recommended for the job by former Mercedes-Benz and Mitsubishi colleague and friend Olivier Boulay, the Frenchman who designed the Adelaide-built Mitsubishi 380 and for the past three years has headed Daimler’s Advanced Design Centre in Beijing.

Mr Boulay’s team created the Denza show car and, in conjunction with BYD, produced a clay model concept for the production EV before Mr Arcadipane took up the post of chief designer and made considerable changes.

“We couldn’t handle the show car,” Mr Arcadipane told GoAuto from Shenzhen last week.

“The department is still growing, so we couldn’t handle doing both the production car and the show car, but I was able to help out on the car – some things I tried to push through I got in – but the basic thing was handled by the Beijing studio of Daimler.

“I’m doing the production car.

“The show car is indicating the way we’re going. There’s nothing interchangeable between the two, but it gives the basic concept, the proportions, the volumes, the fact that it’s a full electric, not a hybrid, and has the battery pack under the floor and all this sort of stuff.”

Although it started out being based on the recently replaced B-Class platform, Mr Arcadipane said the Denza production car has been completely re-engineered.

“Without giving away any specifics, it actually ended up being quite different because proportions and volumes change. When you start with a petrol car and get into a whole new technology, the chassis and the whole bodyshell ends up changing so dramatically that you end up with something different.

“It’s not really true to say it’s based on the B-Class now. It was influenced by the B-Class, but in the end it’s really its own vehicle because it’s a full-electric car, not a hybrid.”

Although Mr Arcadipane would not say if the car had been engineered with right-hand-drive production in mind, he said “it would only be good business to consider it” if the Denza proves successful and there is demand for the car from outside China.

“If it’s really popular and demand is high, and if there’s an interest from countries, even like Australia, where there’s right-hand drive, they would obviously consider it because it would just be good business.”

Asked about the brand’s global ambitions in view of having chosen such an Anglo-friendly name, Mr Arcadipane said: “That tells you something because, if it was only going to be forever only Chinese-market-orientated, then they probably would have had one of these stranger names like Great Wall or something like that, which doesn’t work quite so well in English.

“Even though I’ve worked in a lot of companies, it’s interesting to be involved in something that’s come off the ground floor. It’s a new brand, a new car. However good or bad it ends up, it’s interesting to be right at the start of a totally new brand.

“The corporate logo and the name was all the sort of stuff that I got involved in and I’m quite pleased to say that my name is on the patent papers for the actual logo of the brand that goes on the car because I helped design it. If it had been totally up to me, maybe I would have done something a little different, but it turned out pretty good.”

The logo is designed around the central form of a water droplet – coloured blue to represent advanced technology and environmental friendliness – supported by two hands representing the two partners.

Born and raised in Silverdale, at the base of the Blue Mountains west of Sydney, Mr Arcadipane worked for both Holden and Ford in Melbourne, then had a stint designing magazines before returning to car design – in Detroit, Paris, Kuala Lumpur, Tokyo, Nagoya, California and Germany.

The self-confessed “country bumpkin” rarely gets the chance to visit Australia and technically lives in a small German village near a forest between Frankfurt and Cologne, much like his childhood home.

He is enjoying his time in China so much, and faces so much future work, that he now considers living there permanently – if he can convince his German wife and eight-year-old daughter to move.

“Depending on reaction to the Denza production car, pretty soon we will have to start getting into the next product and things like facelifts and maybe variants – wagons, coupes, whatever – all these things are potentially in the pipeline,” he said.

Mechanically, the Denza – there is no specific model name as yet – will be well-proven because BYD has a strong background as a producer of electric motors and batteries, and produces an EV called the E6.

The low-volume all-electric E6 is claimed to have the highest range of any production EV in the world – some 330km – and Mr Arcadipane said the Denza could be even better.

“The final production car range isn’t locked in yet because there’s still more testing to do, but that’s what we’re trying to achieve – we’re hoping to get that or even a little bit better in production.

“It will be (impressive). When you can guarantee your customer that sort of range, that will be something that’s quite serious.

“Daimler got involved with BYD because of their battery technology and electric powerplants, so that tells you something.”

Neither the Daimler-styled show car nor the 2013 production Denza are related to the E6.

Mr Arcadipane said he was able to influence development of the show car, helped by his 20-year association with Mr Boulay at Mercedes and Mitsubishi.

“It’s a Daimler-BYD joint venture, so there is Daimler influence and also the Chinese influence, (but) Olivier and I talked a number of times and I made some suggestions, and they were used, so I was happy to help out. The main themes were already done, but it had to be relatively close to the actual production car.

“The theme more or less designed itself. We wanted it to be different, but it couldn’t be so different that it alienated any potential production car customers.

“The interior is a little more extreme than the production car, but the exterior is quite close.

“Probably the biggest changes between the show car and the production car are that the show car has suicide rear doors and no B-pillar so you could see the interior more. We won’t have that in production.

“The grille (will not be) as different as people think. Of course, the show car doesn’t have to worry about issues of cooling – even electric cars need cooling because you have a lot of components that get hot – so the production car grille is not exactly the same.

“And some of the technology of headlamps and tail-lamps of show cars can be a little more extreme because they don’t have to meet all the legal requirements they only have to work and look good.”

A clay model for the production car had already been created by the time Mr Arcadipane arrived in Shenzhen, almost a year after the joint venture was created, but he was keen to make his mark on the first car, especially with the prospect of applying a family style for future models.

“There were certain things I couldn’t influence, but I’ve basically redone the car. I’ve reworked nearly the entire car from where it was when I came in, to upgrade the perceived quality, the professional look of the car,” he said.

“So I think I can honestly say it has improved quite a lot, but I don’t want it to sound like I redesigned it. It’s still the same theme that was started with, but it’s become more sophisticated and perhaps more serious than the way it looked early on.

“My job was to come in and productionise it and upgrade it wherever I could and use my experience and background to pull it up as much as I could.

“When I look at the production car now and I look at the early prototypes, I’m quite happy. I’m quite surprised when I look at them.

“If someone had come and said ‘go and do a new car we will call a Denza’, I may have gone down a different road because I have different ideas coming from the background I do. But the assignment was to productionise and make it as good as possible with what was basically agreed upon for the program.”

The Denza team has its hands full establishing the brand and creating the first model, but there is clearly a long-term plan to create more models and to expand beyond China.

Mr Arcadipane is therefore excited about the future, and the prospect of influencing the new brand and creating new product with a consistent design theme.

“We’ve thought about this and we’re aware that whatever we do on the show car or, more importantly, on the production car, we have to be careful we don’t lock ourselves into too many things in case we want to change them, but also there are things that maybe we want to retain in terms of developing a corporate identity.

“I’ve certainly got a direction and a concept in a brand segment that I am hopefully going to influence the company to do, so that’s already pretty clear in my mind. I don’t know if I’ll be successful in influencing them, but I’ll give it my best shot.

“It’s always a corporate decision on what sort of car you do, what direction you go with styling. As a chief designer, you try to influence them to what you believe should be done.

“I’ve still got a ton of things I’d like to get in the system for whoever, whether it’s the company I’m with now or someone else.

“I guess I’m lucky that I’m not running out of ideas – in fact, the more I do the more I seem to have additional ideas – so there’s still things I want to do, there’s still some concepts that I thought about years ago that never seem to have been done.

“I’ll keep going as long as I can and hopefully get a few opportunities to do some interesting and alternative things that haven’t been done before.”

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