The words Chinese car designer for too long have been synonymous with Xerox machines, for a while it seemed the Chinese manufacturers skipped the design and Ramp;D stages and went straight to the nearest foreign auto manufacturers dealership to buy a best selling model and then put it into production themselves under their own brand, see the Chery QQ, Laibao SUV, and other famous cloned cars. However in the past few years Chinese car companies, as well as international car companies, have been plucking the brightest Chinese designers from within China and elsewhere and cultivating their talents to a new level. Chinese designers have had a hand in some of the more popular cars on the roads in the past few years, take for example the Buick Lacrosse a big seller for GM in North America and China but it was designed by a Chinese hand.
Ken Ma recently jumped ship from SAIC to Changan, but recently jumped ship from Changan for reasons currently unknown. Mr. Ma was head of design at SAIC. When at Changan he was assistant to the Chairman of the group and also a vice leader of the research and design center. Although Changan is a Chongqing based company Ken Ma went out of his way to develop a Beijing design studio some 800 miles away from Chongqing, but as Beijing is the cultural and design capital of China it seemed like the best place to set up a design center.
Ken graduated from the Central Academy of Arts in 1990 and soon went overseas to continue his studies at Ohio State where he studied car design again. In 2000 he became the head of GMs Asia Pacific Design center and oversaw the development of the last generation Buick Lacrosse. By 2007 SAIC had pinched him over to be their own design director, he worked on concept models such as the Roewe N1, Roewe 350, and MG5 final production model and also the Roewe W5, 750 and 550 facelift models, in addition to those he also worked on the World Expo models such as the Leaf.
In 2011 Ken went over to Changan where he strengthened their core Chinese development team and gave us a strong reason to believe that Changans future models will be world class cars. Why he left Changan still remains a mystery.
Wulin Gao Wa
Wulin is not just a pretty face, she has been at the forefront of product and auto design for a few years now, she recently took over the top seat at GM Chinas Advanced Design Studio where she will be leading research into the habits and likes of Chinese drivers to further localize GMs products for the Chinese market.
Wulin graduated from the same university as Ken Ma, The Central Academy of Fine Arts, in 2000 after graduating she went onto Germanys Pforzheim University where she gained a masters degree in Traffic Design and worked part time at the then Daimler-Chrysler, by 2003 she had already moved onto Mercedes HQ in as the first Chinese female designer within the group.
In 2006 she returned to car design after taking a short break and also lectured at her old university on car design, in September 2011 she landed the top design job at GM China.
Mr. Gong is not to be confused with China Car Timess own Mr. Gong, although the two are equally dashing in appearance. Peter Gong is currently heading up PSAs Asia Design Center, a much needed entity for the French company if they are ever going to have serious sales in the Chinese market. Peter graduated from Tsinghua Universitys School of Industrial Design, later he went onto VWs design center in Germany, and then BMWs, as with Ms. Gao Wa Peter studied at Pforzheim University in Germany and later went on to work at PSAs design center in France. When talking about Chinese designers and the situation in China, Peter was quoted as saying: The nationality of a car designer is not the problem, the problem in China is that there is not a strong development for designers to further themselves. Manufacturers dont understand local designers, and dont have much confidence in their abilities, which leads to local designers having poor or little experience and thus creates a situation which is deadly towards a car designers career.
For China, Peter has had his hands busy with designing the Peugeot 508 sedan which is one of the better looking sedans on the market currently and he also oversaw the design of the new SXC concept car which unveiled at 2011s Shanghai Auto Show.
The new A-Class is a Chinese car. Who would have thought it? The man behind the design is none other than Zhang Fan, a Sichuan boy born and raised. Zhangs bio is a simple one compared to the above, after graduating he was hired by Mercedes Germany and worked there for 8 years, slowly being promoted from a simple designer to a senior member of the modeling team. Whilst at MB Zhang Fan developed the show stopping Mercedes A-Class concept car which was aired at the Shanghai Auto Show in 2011
After 8 years of working at Mercedes Benz, Zhang Fan took up his new position at Guangzhou Auto where he will be assisting with the state owned companys new brand: Trumpchi. Whilst the name is hardly inviting the products have so far been well designed and well thought out, Guangzhou Auto bought an older Alfa Romeo platform from Fiat which they have put to good use within the Trumpchi brand and is now ready to sprout an SUV variant. One of Zhang Fans first concepts at GAC was the E-Linker electric concept car.
Cao Min is probably one of the more famous Chinese car designers, you just dont know him. Cao Min developed the Buick Rivera Concept car which went onto become the current generation Buick Lacrosse. When coming up with the Riviera concept car Cao Min had a big plate on his hands, the first generation Riviera was a truly beautiful car but came worse with age, the eighth generation model was a showcase of GMs design malaise over the past twenty years. Cao Mins Riviera concept was unveiled in 2007 at the Shanghai Auto Show and gave GM fans the world over a glimpse of what the company could do, the Lacrosse was launched in late 2009 as a 2010 model in a post bankruptcy GM, the Lacrosse went onto become a major seller for GM in China and the USA.
Cao Min may look overly youthful but his resume indicates that he graduated from Shanghai Jiao Tong Universitys School of Industrial Design in 1995, in 1998 he was hired by GM Asia Pacific Technical Center as one of the first group of local designers at the center.Whilst at GM Cao Min had a hand in the design and development of the last generation Lacrosse and the Cadillac SLS (STS elsewhere in the world), which was the first time that a Chinese designer had been given the chance to develop a facelift for an international model.
Shao Jing Feng
As with Cao Min, Shao Jing Feng is one of the more low key Chinese designers, although the majority of readers will know his works.In 1999 Shao graduated from Jilin Universitys school of automotive design, shortly after he entered Shanghai-VWs design center where he worked on models of new cars, from 2004 onwards he became the chief designer at the center and was responsible for all of SH-VWs car designs, including locally made models such as the VW-Lavida, Neeza and also breathed on the VW Tiguan for the Chinese market.
Part Two will come tomorrow.