“The speed when you work with the Chinese is amazing. If you like change, this is the right place to come.
“Things are changing on a daily basis. It’s a bit of a cultural challenge [for us Swedes] because we think everyone – even the janitor – should agree before we make a decision. In China they say ‘go’ and everyone does. It’s something we need to learn.
“I joined [executive VP for design, Geely Auto Group] Peter Horbury in the summer of 2013 from Volvo and he had a team of five guys working for him at the office here in Gothenburg. They had started a pre-study on body styles from a product planner in China. Then it was announced there would be a joint venture between Volvo and Geely to co-develop a small architecture. Unofficially, we also knew we would require a new brand. Peter basically told me: ‘Build a team and develop this new brand’.
“But I realised you can’t just get going with engineering input. We were doing the 01, a C-sized SUV. It could have been super-generic, maybe falling a bit short on identity and soul, so I got some key players, including [VP, advanced design and brand, Geely Design Sweden] Stefan Rosén, to head up the advanced team. I tasked him with the question: what should we be? We had a lot of workshops.
“I didn’t want to be accused of doing ‘an alternative Volvo’, as many of us came from that brand. In the beginning the management told us to just do Scandinavian design but we said, ‘No, that’s Volvo’. Now we like to see it as a mix between East and West. China meets Northern Europe.
“We started out with a brand identity and values but needed something to base them on. We had no heritage. Creating something out of nothing, how do you get credibility? We decided the only way was through us, because we have history and heritage.
“Our first brand value was ‘personal’ with a dual meaning: expressing what we believe in, but also making it personal to the customer. So instead of trim levels, we are building personas – sporty, luxury, hip, minimalistic, whatever. You choose and we as designers cater for you but make it personal to your taste. We want to make it as simple as possible for the customer, more like shopping for fashion goods than a car. We actually built the configurator, just to present to the top management.
“The second brand value is ‘respectful’. Respecting the environment by not polluting it, but also respecting the environment where the car is used. That’s more likely downtown Shanghai – gridlock, super-intense and chaotic. The car has to respect its occupants, be protective and claim space. So we developed quite pumped, positive surfacing to radiate stability and strength like body armour.
“The third brand value is ‘new-tech’. Chinese and younger customers are used to technology. They want the latest, although not always the most expensive. Developing our designs we didn’t think so much about connectivity, that’s handled by the electrical department; it was more about attributes we wanted to be perceived as pointing to this connectivity. Things like headlamps. Usually we do two levels; low level trims get incandescent bulbs. But we said, ‘No, we want 100 percent LEDs on all our cars. That should be our signal’. Another way was by making sharp graphics to make the cars feel technical.
“The final brand value was ‘dark’, in the sense of being mysterious and contrasting. This was tough to explain to the Chinese because the word ‘dark’ translates as ‘a lack of light’. With the help of one of our Chinese designers we realised the words we were after were ‘mystical Eastern flair’. The first ‘read’ is very European, clean, muscular, well thought-out, disciplined. But when you go closer – and light up the lamps, say – you get more detail. We drew inspiration from shiny Eastern sculpture. Patterned Chinese partition walls are another example. You have a big frame, a smaller frame and then smaller again. So we set up these four ‘rules’, Personal, Respectful, New-Tech, Dark (PRND) – easy to remember for a car guy – and then told our designers to sketch.
“The butterfly-doored car is our brand concept. It shows elements of things you will see in coming vehicles – voluptuous, sexy surfacing and solid-looking, intricate technical details. From the corner of your eye you need to know when you see a Lynk & Co car. In China, if you look at their theatre it’s all about face masks, they express everything through the face. It’s difficult to come up with something that’s not been done at all before. But we looked at technical-looking eyes and this black band – the mysterious bit where the other lamps are hidden when off in the daytime – and it’s something we’re carrying through to all our cars to come.
“The parent company wants Lynk & Co to be bigger than Volvo. We will certainly have the products by 2020. We are launching first in China in late 2017, Europe in 2018, and the US maybe slightly later. Then there’s our second wave of cars. I still believe it’s super-ambitious.
“It’s not a niche brand, for sure. We have a lot of projects going on and difficulties recruiting enough people. To persuade them, we usually explain that we are setting up a brand-new facility with a paint booth, milling machine, workshop and clay and advanced studios. It will be about 8000 sq m. We have 200 staff today just in Sweden, the same in China and more in Barcelona and California. We will be approaching 450 soon, not including Volvo. If we are to do what our management want us to plan for, we need even more.
“On the autonomous side we need to understand what to do. If it develops to be bipolar – an engaging experience in demanding situations where the system can’t cope, and then another situation where you should kick back and let the car do its job – how do you get an interior to cater for both scenarios? You see fancy concepts with living room set-ups where passengers chat to each other, but there’s also motion sickness and stuff to take care of. I haven’t seen anyone crack it yet.”
Car Design Review 4 contains the best concept and production cars of the year, as chosen by the world's leading designers, trends, student work, and much more. And it's available now.