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China: the driver behind future car
31 Jan 2013
by Mark Morley, GXS
Posted in: Comment, Manufacturing, OEMs
Over the past decade, nearly every automotive OEM has established some form of joint
venture operation in China. Although the Chinese government appears to have been
strict on the establishment of manufacturing plants, it remains keen to leverage the
expertise of global OEMs when it comes to manufacturing quality cars to help develop
its domestic automotive industry. Over the past 24 months, a new trend has emerged
in this regard: global OEMs are not only establishing manufacturing plants in China –
they are also opening design studios.
This is a logical progression for the world’s largest car market and, for manufacturers to
gain and maintain a foothold in this lucrative market, they must understand and cater
to the needs of the Chinese consumer. For example, many Chinese buyers of executive
cars such as BMWs or Audis prefer to be driven, creating demand for longer wheel
base cars with an emphasis on rear passenger comfort. Chinese consumers also tend
to prefer cars that have an upright look to the front of a car, rather than swooping
curves, for which manufacturers of rugged vehicles are particularly well-suited, like
Jaguar Land Rover, which recently signed a joint venture agreement with Chery. It is
clear that global OEMs like Volvo and BMW have had to broaden their presence on the
ground in China beyond manufacturing to keep a close on eye on consumer popularity
trends, and so offer products tailored to the Chinese market.
For manufacturers to gain and maintain a foothold in this lucrative
market, they must understand and cater to the needs of the Chinese
Initial efforts by domestic OEMs in China to design their own cars merely introduced a
number of cloned designs or copies of western cars to the market: one of the most
publicised was Shuanghuan’s Sceo, widely accused of being a facsimile of the exterior
design of the BMW X5. In recent months, however, domestic OEMs have gained
confidence and begun to introduce their own designs to the market.
Given the sheer size of the market, the number of cars introduced in China first is set
to increase, with reworkings of those designs being offered in other markets.
Over time, it is expected that designers working in these new JV design centres will
leave for jobs at one of the domestic manufacturers, leveraging valuable training from
outside the country to benefit Chinese design.
As more regional design centres become established in China, the country
will inevitably become the central hub from which future car platforms are
developed and then adapted to suit other markets
Concurrently, the trend of developing global car platforms first and foremost for the
European and North American markets, is also likely to falter should China’s OEMs
push forward. As more regional design centres become established in China, the
country will inevitably become the central hub from which future car platforms are
developed and then adapted to suit other markets.
Admittedly, other issues need to be taken care of before this process can start, and top
of the agenda is the need to ensure that Chinese-designed global platforms meet the
stringent crash and quality standards set by countries around the world. Geely’s
acquisition of Volvo is a case in point. By association, Geely could be perceived as a
producer of safe vehicles and Volvo could certainly help establish the necessary crash
and safety test facilities in China to make this a reality. Furthermore, it is notable that
Peter Horbury was elevated from his role as Volvo’s Vice President of Design to the post
of Senior Vice President of Design at Geely.
In addition to the benefits of a local presence, establishing a design centre in China
allows manufacturers to operate design on a ‘follow the sun’ basis. Based on expected
growth in new car sales over the coming years, manufacturers need to increase not
only their production capacity, but also their design capacity.
The opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the
positions of Automotive World Ltd.
Mark Morley is Automotive Director at GXS.
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