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New Magna: 'Nice' not right for design boss

Grilled: Magna makes a giant leap away from the TJ/KJ range courtesy of its distinctive divided grille with triple diamond and enormous headlights with polycarbonate lenses.

Mitsubishi world design boss says the TL Magna is intended to make a styling impact

26 Jun 2003

MITSUBISHI world design boss Olivier Boulay wants the new TL Magna to polarise opinion.

Liking it or loathing it are fine, but pleasant acceptance is simply unacceptable.

The range of new Magnas and KL Veradas, which go on sale early July, bear the Frenchman's stamp, the direct result of his decision to take control of the vital facelift design back in June, 2001, soon after he was transferred from Mercedes-Benz to MMC.

The result is a car that bears a strong family resemblance to new designs emerging from Mr Boulay's studios in Japan - the Colt mini-car, Grandis (Nimbus) people-mover and Lancer sedan - but the Magna is arguably the most controversial.

That's because it makes a giant leap away from the TJ/KJ range courtesy of its distinctive divided grille with triple diamond prominent in the centre, and enormous headlights and polycarbonate lenses.

In the conservative Aussie large car market, challenging styling can lead to sales disappointment - the most recent example being the AU Falcon. It's a risk Mr Boulay is aware of and prepared to take.

"I think it (TL Magna) will polarise opinion," he said at last week's launch.

"You either like or don't like and that's good because designers like that.

"If you reach that kind of stage where people say 'I love that or I hate that', then that's good, because you have provoked them and created a discussion, something to talk about.

"If everybody said 'that's nice' and then picked it up like this you can bet in one or two years time sales are down again because it is boring.

"Of course, if everybody hates it then it's absolutely wrong too, so how to find this balance?"And what's the story with those headlights? Mr Boulay says the extended lens back along the front guards is intended to give the car an impression of speed.

"In the lines the idea was to create a lot of speed and elegance," he said.

"And the eyes basically (it is) as if the wind were carrying them behind.

"I think it works very well. We maybe exaggerated it a little bit, but ... we wanted to make a break."One factor that convinces Mr Boulay the car will be accepted here is his belief that Australia has become a more diverse place over the past decade and accepting of new ideas.

"Australia has changed a lot in 10 years in a positive way - so I think in terms of cars that there must be also change happening here," he said.

"I think Australia is very capable to pick up this new age of products."Mr Boulay points out that even if he had wanted a design unique to Australia, he could not have afforded to do it anyway.

"This is a global machine, it is not only designed for Australia. You have to make sure it fits the market, but at the same ... you cannot make a design for each country because it represents a huge investment.

"But I think it's also very good to come up with something strong that you think you can go around the world with."

Boulay - and up she's rising

OLIVIER Boulay has been on a jet-fuelled ride since he went to Mitsubishi in April, 2001, uniting his far-flung empire into one team with a single goal.

Until his arrival, he explains, Mitsubishi Motors Corporation was an engineering-dominated company, where design was subservient with regional rather than global interests. Now that is changing.

"Mitsubishi has fantastic engineering but the design is a bit behind," he admitted. "So the big job now is to bring that forward."We are already seeing that push in the face of new Mitsubishi product including the Magna, with prominent triple-diamond grilles and large headlights a common theme.

"Design is communication," Mr Boulay said. "When you do the styling of a car you communicate the product philosophy to people, so if it is a very sporty company then the product should like quite sporty as a kind of overall picture.

"And the Magna is definitely one like this."Having worked in Japan previously for Subaru and set up an advanced studio for Mercedes-Benz at Yokohama (where the Maybach concept was produced), Mr Boulay also has strong and educated opinions beyond his specific brief about Mitsubishi's future.

"I dont think Mitsubishi is a company you have to compare with mass production, this time is over (because) they don't have the resource for that," he said.

"Mitsubishi will probably go step by step in a more premium direction. That doesn't mean the cars will be crazy expensive, but more unique - and I think there is a lot of room for that."

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