“The big attraction to joining SGMW is I can help plant the design seeds that will grow for decades to come.”
That’s why I decided to join SGMW in September 2016 [from Cadillac]. Our design staff is about 218-strong and we develop 16 cars across two brands, Baojun and Wuling. Our designers are young, in their 20s and 30s, and our customers’ ages are similar, 20s to 40s. They bring optimism and insight and I enjoy witnessing the collaboration between our more experienced designers and our new, younger ones.
This is one of the attractions to working with SGMW. I have an opportunity to mentor the design team daily, much like my past role at the College for Creative Studies. This collaborative approach is what builds a strong team. It is the designer’s job to understand the differences in our customers. A brand can take a unilateral approach, but I think the young Chinese millennials’ needs are more particular.
Our designers do research and honour those nuances between customers and segments. Sometimes, it might mean an interior of one vehicle is more passenger-focused and this would manifest itself in a design that has less of a driver-oriented feel. But another vehicle could have more of a cockpit-style interior – where the centre console and screen might be more angled to the driver – just slightly.
In another vehicle we may want to communicate a more unilateral, collaborative environment and so an intentionally ‘pass-through’ instrument panel would do this. While the technology is important, it’s also about slight differences in surface orientation.
Every designer uses surface placement to communicate the intention of a vehicle’s use. The customer is not always shopping for these details but it’s the designer’s responsibility to do some research and apply these ideas in a meaningful way.
My engineering counterpart WeiYoung is always finding ways to improve the development of our vehicles. Lisa Li, the deputy general manager, is my partner in design and we all collaborate daily to devise the best design solutions. This is a really exciting time to be at SGMW.
What I have observed since I have arrived is an amazingly passionate design team. It’s echoed in every stroke of their pen, each millimetre of clay that is scraped away, to every section line that an engineer develops.
Design is very important at SGMW. Lisa and I have regular meetings with ShenYang, SGMW’s president and Dr Yao, the vice-president. Our direct line of communication with them is what gives us our design agility. We have exterior, interior, advanced, strategic, colour and trim, visualisation and interface design collaborating on each project daily, and recently we set up the studio in a single space so all departments can work collectively.
Each project begins with strategic design and marketing input from our leadership. The customer is our compass. The various design departments bring solutions forward in a fun, modern work environment, with a line of sight on our 3D clay models from every vantage point.
The Wuling brand got its start in Liuzhou, Guangxi province, in [southern] China and now we have expanded to most cities in eastern China. Wuling has continued to dominate the MPV market in China and grow into new areas as well – we export some products to Egypt, South America too.
‘Modern capability’ is the phrase we have been using in the design studio as a way to inspire our young design team when developing future Wuling vehicles. We are also seeing an overall market migration from commercial vehicles to passenger vehicles. The 2016 Wuling Hong Guang S1 – designed for young modern families – is an example.
The Baojun brand is a really awesome opportunity to address the needs of the millennial customers. With the Baojun 510 – which debuted at the Guangzhou auto show in late 2016 – the design team set out to develop a youthful, high tech, modern, sports activity vehicle.
It has a confident stance and proportion, with a modern expression in its face. The young millennial customer wants to be taken seriously and having a vehicle that demonstrates their aspirations is important. Character and persona is an important vehicle attribute. Our closest rivals are Changan, Great Wall, and GAC.
SGMW’s president ShenYang is always coming into the studio, to share with us technology and products he admires. I would say he is a modernist and a designer at heart. We were at the Guangzhou auto show recently, talking over some tea and having a spirited discussion about what is – or is not – modernism, and the subject of local Chinese brand Mi came up.
It’s a clean, approachable modern brand that sells well-packaged consumer home goods, with a kind of Ikea or Muji feel.
The execution is exquisite and rivals the quality of what Apple does with its iPhone. For very simple things like an air purifier, Mi puts some technical precision into its execution, and that’s one of the things ShenYang is always challenging us to do: to design and execute technical precision in our vehicles in a youthful, modern way.
A good signal of that approach is the Baojun 510, and there’s more to come.
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