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Gert Hildebrand on his new challenge at Chinese startup, Qoros

Thu, 05 Jan 2012 00:00:00 -0800

Qoros Auto, a new start-up luxury automaker which launched in China late last year, is poised to take on the established German firms in the increasingly competitive luxury segment. The company was formerly known as Chery Quantum Auto Co. Ltd (“CQAC”) and is a 50/50 joint venture between Chery Automobile and Israel Corporation. In a bid to find out more about the new automaker's ambitions and the people behind the new brand, Car Design News spoke to Gert Hildebrand, the startup company's design director.

"We are currently in the build up phase," the former Mini design director told CDN, explaining how the new automaker has already established design studios in three locations – Graz, Munich and Shanghai. The international team is working on the entire engineering and design for a compact car, a hatchback and an SUV, the first of which is set to launch in 2013.

"The Qoros design team slogan is ‘creating future history' and ‘fine automobiles from Shanghai," Hildebrand said, adding that the company and product goal is to achieve an "international standard of engineering" with "German design" and a "Shanghai spirit."

The team responsible for putting Hildebrand's plans into production reality includes 20 people in the design organization, consisting of 15 designers and CAS modelers. The headquarters in Shanghai has three full-time designers: Tim Pilsbury – a British designer who joined from SAIC in September 2011 – and two color and trim designers from Germany and China, led by Svenja Mai. Two more designers are set to join the organization in February this year.

Headed by chief designers Philipp Eberl (exterior) and Christian Crook (interior), the team in Graz, Austria, includes a small color and trim group led by Ela Berger. The team works closely with Magna Styr on engineering, while the company's own engineering facility in Germany runs programs in parallel with a team in Munich. The German studio, which has TTMS modeling capability and two plates for the constant development of models, is also set to expand into a second building this year.

While the company is currently sourcing the expertise of contract designers from Technicon, Semcon and Magna to get the first car ready for launch, Hildebrand is aiming to grow the team more than threefold – to 70 people – in the next three years. All of these designers will have a hand at fine-tuning the design of the as yet unnamed "realistic three-box package", which was handed down from Italdesign prior to the company's takeover by Volkswagen and revealed in Shanghai.

With the same basic dimensions as the VW Passat (4.7m long and 1.8m wide), the car's exterior design was camouflaged by removable black panels, which Hildebrand likened to the black spots of the Chinese white snow tiger. "[It's] a design-teaser, a message of the upcoming car we are still working on."

"The Qoros design language will be led by clean horizontal lines, nicely-treated positively shaped surfaces and intelligently incorporated details," Hildebrand said. "The elegance and simplicity comes out of our German-Bauhaus inspired design philosophy, ‘form follows function' and the automotive driven goal ‘emotion follows form'."

With the design studios spread over two continents and three different countries, Hildebrand spends much of his time traveling between each office: "My home is Lufthansa," he said jokingly. And while the goal of Qoros might appear a lofty one, it's also given Hildebrand the creative freedom that comes with establishing an entirely new car brand.

"We've created the logo, the entire car, the marketing communications and the naming campaign," he said, "On one side it's a dream to build a whole new brand from scratch, but on the other it's quite stressful. There's a lot to do – we're building a team in three places with limited resources.

"But having the chance to be part of the birth process of a new car company is actually the reason why I joined. It's the challenge and adventure of being part of something you get to do only once in your lifetime," Hildebrand concluded. "I am proud to be part of this extraordinary challenge – creating a new company, a new brand and, of course, the most important one: creating and designing the product."

Related articles:
Who's Where: Gert Hildebrand appointed Head of Design at Qoros Auto
Design Essay: China Design Now

By Eric Gallina