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Beijing show: Designer plans Geely overhaul

Made in China: The Geely McCar signals a new era as new senior vice-president of design Peter Horbury looks to China for inspiration in future designs.

Get set for real Chinese cars instead of western clones, says new Geely designer

30 Apr 2012


LEADING European car designer Peter Horbury has signaled his intention to draw on Chinese cultural influences to create a uniquely Chinese identity for cars produced by his new employer, major private Chinese motor company Geely.

British-born Mr Horbury is planning an overhaul of the Geely range that at the Beijing motor show last week stretched to 27 vehicles, from limousines to London taxis.

The first Horbury designs are not expected to surface for at least three years, by which time Geely should be well established in Australia under the distribution arrangement with Perth-based Chinese Automotive Distributors (CAD) that so far has delivered only a handful of Geely MK light-car sales in Western Australia.

The main Geely push across Australia is expected late this year with the arrival of the Holden Cruze-sized Geely EC7, which last November achieved a creditable four-star Euro New Car Assessment Program (ENCAP) rating.

Geely, which is listed on the Hong Kong stock exchange but operates out of China’s Zhejiang province, acquired Volvo in 2010 and has wasted no time in dipping into the former Ford subsidiary’s resources.

Mr Horbury shaped Volvo’s design language and had a major impact on Ford, Aston Martin, Land Rover and Jaguar styling with Ford’s Premier Automotive Group.

This month, he transferred from Volvo to the Swedish car-maker’s parent company, Zhejiang Geely Holding Group, to assume his new role as senior vice-president of design for Geely Group.

He revealed to GoAuto last week that he spent more than three hours ahead of the Beijing motor show telling Geely management of his plan to use Chinese cultural influences to help shape the next generation of Geely cars for both Chinese domestic and export markets, including Australia.

Mr Horbury was critical of the Chinese industry’s obsession with cloning European designs rather than finding its own styling identity.

 center imageFrom top: Geely senior vice-president of design Peter Horbury, the TX4 taxi and EC7 small car.

“I know Chinese people love European cars, but let’s leave that to the Europeans because – let’s face it – they do it better,” he said.

“Why not dig into China’s fantastic 5000-year history, of which a lot is visual, and use cues from architecture, art, porcelain and things.

“There is enough in the catalogue of cultural icons and things like that to make a difference.”

Mr Horbury pointed to the Japanese industry’s evolution from turning out what appeared to be scaled-down American cars to vehicles of their own design creation in the 1990s as evidence of the direction he envisaged for Chinese manufacturers.

He said he had reached into Scandinavian cultural influences when designing Volvo cars – a method he was now intending to employ at Geely.

“The simplicity of the surfaces, the rounded shoulder that is taken straight from the bent wood of the chair arms in Sweden – it (Volvo design language) is full of Scandinavian signals,” he said.

Mr Horbury said Geely had already created “a great, unique product”.

“They are perfectly competent cars and I admire what they have done,” he said, but adding that the brand needed its own identity.

“So that is my intention (with Geely), to search the catalogue of Chinese visual identity and find something new.”

Asked how he thought Australian customers would react to a car built to Chinese cultural influences, Mr Horbury said new-generation Geely design would still be influenced by western design, but would step up the Chinese direction.

“I think my job, though, is to bring it to another level and not to be chasing Audi or BMW style-wise, but to be brave and say ‘look, for God’s sake be proud of who you are, and let’s use that as the starting point’.”

Geely, which has been producing cars only since 2001, already has one of the most Chinese-inspired cars, the Panda, which has a face modeled on China’s much-loved bear, with its eyes circled in black.

The Panda mini hatchback had been expected to be sold in Australia as the LC – with a name change to avoid legal problems with Fiat – but had to be dropped from the proposed line-up due to a lack of ESC, which is now mandatory in all new models sold in Australia.

Mr Horbury joined Volvo as head of design in 1991 and a year later became responsible for design for all brands in Ford’s Premier Automotive Group, which included Volvo, Jaguar, Land Rover and Aston Martin.

In 2004 he moved to Detroit as executive director of design for Ford, in charge of all North American products. He was replaced in that role in April 2009 by former Mazda chief designer Moray Callum when Ford restructured its global design team.

Mr Horbury returned to Volvo as vice-president of design and most recently has overseen the brand’s new design direction and foreshadowed the next S80 flagship with the Concept Universe – unveiled at the Shanghai motor show last year – and the follow-up Concept You shown in Frankfurt in September.

Not including Volvo, Geely sold 422,000 cars worldwide last year, up one per cent on 2010 but down on its target of 480,000.

Geely deliveries in mainland China dropped three per cent, to 382,000, while export sales almost doubled, to 39,600 units.

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