Chinese cars, here are all those designed by the Italians

How important is Italian design in the history of Chinese cars? And what weight do Italian designers have in the car built and designed in China or with Chinese capital?

A question that is certainly topical, after the news of Walter de Silva’s new role as head of design for the newborn company that will produce electric and hybrid cars in Emilia, following the agreement between the engineering company Silk EV and the large Chinese car manufacturer FAW.

Italian pencils and Chinese cars have had a history in common for over 25 years; a phenomenon not easy to analyze, if not for examples, given the very rapid development of the oriental automobile. The constant is that Italy has always had a considerable weight, albeit with some substantial differences between today and yesterday.

The era of “clones” and the arrival of Italian designers in China

The first era of Chinese production abounded with clones of other international cars, from the Matiz to the BMW X5, from the smart to the Fiat Panda, and in any case the goal was to import know-how in a market lacking in automotive history and motorists, but from explosive and disordered growth: this is demonstrated by the appearance, and often also the rapid disappearance, of entire families of new brands.

In this initial phase, the Italian firms were looking for important spaces, but they mainly sold a way of making cars, also acting on old or already existing platforms. It was our designers who taught the importance of copyright and the originality of shapes, together with the value of aesthetics in the choice of a car and in the clear definition of a brand.

In this first period, many Italian pencils involved; for example:

  • Chery’s collaborations with Fumia Design by Enrico Fumia, already an important designer of Pininfarina and Lancia, for example for the QQ Sport, and with Torino Design by Roberto Piatti (ex Bertone) for the QQ second series and other concept cars
  • the birth of Bertone China in 2010, especially while driving Mike Robinson, already in force at Fiat Lancia, closed after the bankruptcy of the Piedmontese body shop
  • the cars of Fioravanti design, by the well-known designer Pininfarina Leonardo Fioravanti, such as the BAIC C90L of 2012 and S900 of 2013
  • the historical presence of Pininfarina in China since 1996, with the collaboration with many car manufacturers: among these, over time, BAIC, Brilliance, Chery, Changfeng, FAW, Foton, GAC, JAC, Hafei, SEM, SGM

The example of Pininfarina shows how since the mid-1990s many traditional European style centers have opened branches in China, in order to work directly with the local industry, without problems related to foreign exports, and follow its progressive expansion.

Alfa Romeo Pandion 2010

Alfa Romeo Pandion 2010

The new phase: Italian design as an added value

Now we are witnessing a curious turnaround. The Chinese market has now evolved, customers want cars of international level and quality, and sales continue to rise unlike other parts of the world, with great profitability and planning, and a decisive approach towards new technologies, starting with electric.

Today, therefore, Italian design is not needed for a design from scratch of a model or a brand, but as an added value of “Made in Italy”, or the engineering of innovative technologies, including the world of supercars.

A few examples:

  • Italdesign and Youxia Motors: have signed a three-year agreement for the stylistic and engineering development and production of a zero-emission concept car (2019)
  • Giorgetto and Fabrizio Giugiaro, autonomous with GFG Style since 2015: they recently presented the Techrules Ren (2017), zero-emission sports cars; Sibylla, a representative sedan with a raised floor for Envision Energy (Shanghai); Kangaroo, hyper electric suv with CH Auto of Beijing (2019)
  • Icon Design: recently it has proposed concept cars such as Fuselage, Vulcano, Neo and Nucleus, but above all the founder Teresio Gaudio had the intuition very soon to become a supplier of Chinese companies, not just automotive
  • Pininfarina: important collaborations continue, such as Karma Automotive with the Karma GT by Pininfarina, and especially Grove Hydrogen Automotive Company Limited with the hydrogen concept car created by the Chinese team of Pininfarina Shanghai (2019)
  • Lvchi Venere, designed by I.De.A. Institute, on the other hand, is a story that ended in court: the 500 specimens should have been built in Moncalieri with a Chinese investment of 40 million, then Lvchi withdrew from sales, and with the bankruptcy the complete project went to auction.
Karma GT 2019

Karma GT 2019

GFG Sibylla GG80 2018

GFG Sibylla GG80 2018

Chinese investments in Italy

The story of Lvchi Venere shows that investments in a project with Chinese capital have not always had a happy ending, probably as in all somehow pioneering initiatives. What should be noted, however, is the movement of Chinese entrepreneurs to Italy, with the financing of structures in our country, including style and design centers:

  • Lancio Design, which is based in San Mauro Torinese, and which is a branch of the Chinese brand Launch, one of the first independent design companies in China
  • Changan, a Chongqing-based manufacturer that has built its third global research center in Rivoli (Turin) since 2012, called the Changan Automobile European Designing Center
  • the Xev YoYo is instead an example of a complete project: what is defined as the cheapest electric car in the world, starting from 6,500 euros, was made thanks to the collaboration of the Polytechnic of Turin, but by a Chinese car maker with based in Italy. In addition to the Yoyo, Xev produces the Baw Kitty quadricycle and the iEV7S SUV, with 10 dealers in Italy set to increase.
  • Evergrande, a Chinese giant in the real estate sector, is about to enter the automotive market with high-end electrical products in competition with Tesla, and, in addition to important investments, has established relationships with numerous Italian design companies: Pininfarina and Icona design, first of all, and there’s also Mike Robinson’s pencil for future projects.
Electric cars, Chinese super sports cars arrive in the Motor Valley

Chinese design also with European guidance

There is also another path: the Chinese manufacturers that survived the first phase, often giants also active in other sectors, are creating their own internal style centers, with branches also in Europe. In many cases, important Italian or European designers are called to lead these centers:

  • Stefan Sielaff, who after years in the Volkswagen group, up to the recent leadership of Bentley, has reached Geely, with all its brands, such as Volvo, Polestar, Lotus, Lynk & Co, etc .; previous Volvo designers had already converged here, now working throughout the group, such as the current manager Peter Horbury
  • Ken Okuyama, former head of Pininfarina design, designed the Aiways U5, the first electric SUV of a Chinese company sold in Europe
  • Gert Hildebrand led the Qoros design center, which was opened specifically in Germany for the premium brand of Chery, but which will no longer sell cars in Europe from 2017: the designers of the current Qoros 7 are Chinese.

In sight there is a new generation of Chinese designers, trained in international schools, and responsible for the internal style centers; for example, SAIC’s Shao Jingfeng. Chinese design is gaining autonomy, and is starting to attract international attention, not just in the automotive field.

And Walter De Silva? After the end of the Volkswagen adventure, and his activity as a designer of women’s shoes, he is preparing to design cars again for a brand with Chinese capital in Italy. In reality he is not new to the creation of cars made in China: his is the signature of the Arcfox ECF, a 2019 SUV of the new brand of Beijing Electric Vehicle, a division of BAIC that will produce only electric cars. Certainly, his presence in the Motor Valley is to be considered an important added value, being a well-known Italian designer.


Source: Motor1.com Italia – News by it.motor1.com.

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