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Interior Motives China Conference 2011 – Day 2

Mon, 18 Apr 2011

Following on from the colorful discussions started yesterday, delegates returned to the Millennium Hotel in Shanghai for the second and final – and no less thought-provoking – day.

Again the context for the discussion was 'The challenge of being different: establishing a local design direction for China's maturing market', with the day segmented into three distinct topics.

David Muyres: As a car manufacturer, what's next?
Before the three main sessions began, David Muyres, co-founder of the consultancy firm OnGoingTransportation, opened with a paper which questioned the direction manufacturers should take next from a design strategy standpoint. Like many, he feels China is in the enviable position of being in charge of its own mobility design destiny. While Muyers touched on the design of the auto industry's products, his emphasis was on an holistic rethinking of mobility, stating: "What we need is more than just a faster better horse...instead of stumbling forward, we should plan our steps towards the end of the century."

Session 5: Luxury, Chinese style
As vehicle ownership becomes more widespread in China, merely having a car parked outside – whether imported or domestic – is fast losing its caché. Li-Chih Fu, Professor at the Tongji University School of Automobile Studies, chaired a discussion about how China could create its own sense of luxury in the automotive space.

Mike Ma, Vice President of the Geely R&D Centre, began by identifying two possible solutions. The first, more traditional approach is to develop a brand DNA, the nuances of which he admitted Geely is still trying to understand. He suggested design consistency is a very Western concept, and that Asian consumers prefer a second option, that of diversity and innovation. While inconclusive as to which path to take, Ma suggested that the Chinese traditions which many had referenced throughout the day as a source of inspiration are in fact too far removed from modern China to be relevant.

Flipping the coin and giving a Western perspective, Oliver Seighart, Head of Mini Interior Design at the BMW Group, explained how his company defies convention by packing luxury into a small car. While the quality of materials plays a role, he suggested that the key is non-material – it is brand. The cult status of the Mini is due to its contextual perception throughout its life up until the point it became a luxurious, heritage icon, he said. This ability to adapt itself to stay resolutely relevant is largely due to the Mini's customizable nature, which allows customers the luxury of a bespoke product. Seighart was the first of many to suggest that the ultimate luxury is not a product, however, but time.

Klaus Busse knows more than most about injecting products with 'luxury'. As Chrysler's Head of Interior Design he has turned the company's cabins from what he describes as 'grey coffins' into award-winners in just 12 months. Like Seighart, he suggested that context is a vital component of the luxury equation and that we buy products from specific countries because of their associated values. In his view, finding the values China can harness through its rich culture will be the key to reaching its own luxury.

Busse was followed by perhaps the most contentious and provocative paper of the day, presented by Daniel Darancou, Chief Designer of CH-Auto Technology Corporation. While others spoke of luxury in more pragmatic, social contexts, Darancou focussed on pure materialism, based on his experiences of living in Beijing where the sheer volume of super-rich consumers makes high-end purchases – "the low-hanging fruit" – boring and unimaginative. He proposed many possible new avenues for luxury, from super high-speed freeways on which Bugatti Veyron drivers can drive flat-out, to the purchasing of rare, exotic animals. While obviously suggested with a twinkle in his eye, his suggestion that elitist consumerism is the definition of current Chinese luxury is arguably the most accurate.

Some of Darancou's sentiments were backed up by the next speaker, Richard Chung, Vice President of Industrial Design, Craftsmanship and Consumer Research for Asia Pacific at Johnson Controls. Chung admitted that most of us desire more than we truly need – greed – and said that with the average age of an Audi driver being just 37, and that of a BMW driver only 35, the spending power lies squarely with the confident, extrovert younger end of the Chinese demographic. However, as well as materialistic greed, Chung latched onto a new, emerging sense of luxury based around 'LoHaS' – Lifestyle of Health and Safety, which draws on the Chinese traditions of physical and physiological wellbeing. This could manifest itself in super-private, office-like vehicles offering sanctuary from the sprawling masses and the ability to interact with friends and family while negotiating ever-denser traffic. Yet again, time was highlighted as the new luxury.

Continues →

By CDN Team