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Aussie to reshape BAIC design
Australian designer Peter Arcadipane to lead Chinese auto giant BAIC into new era
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7 May 2013
By TERRY MARTIN
RENOWNED Australian car designer Peter Arcadipane has moved to BAIC Motor and will lead the Chinese automotive giant into a new era by sculpting a full range of world-standard luxury vehicles.
After two years in Shenzhen designing an all-new electric vehicle for Denza, a joint venture between Daimler and China’s BYD, Mr Arcadipane has revealed exclusively to GoAuto that he has now moved north to Beijing to become director of design for BAIC, having been headhunted by the majority state-owned auto-maker to transform its model range to compete with luxury brands such as Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz.
The man who styled the acclaimed Mercedes CL and CLS coupes, not to mention the original M-Class, the still-celebrated Mad Max Interceptor movie car and hundreds of other vehicles over a career spanning more than three decades, heads an international team of more than 130 designers at a state-of-the-art new research and development facility.
He has arrived at BAIC Motor, the passenger car unit of the Beijing Automotive Group, just as Daimler has agreed to take a 12 per cent shareholding in the company and as the Chinese car-maker prepares to launch an initial public offering in Hong Kong by early 2014.
Its unveiling of the Concept 900 at last month’s Shanghai auto show, a stunning show car developed by Italian design house Fioravanti, has also succeeded in bringing BAIC back into the international spotlight.
While Mr Arcadipane did not rule out some design elements flowing from the 900 into the production models he is now creating, and said collaboration with Fioravanti and other design houses may continue, BAIC’s new design boss emphasised that the primary task now was to knuckle down and design a new family of world-class vehicles “with sophisticated styling and great proportions” that the company wants in the marketplace as soon as possible.
Mindful that short timeframes could put pressure on the design team – and in other Chinese brands has led to products that are ‘safe’ and all-too-familiar – the straight-talking Australian has made it clear that BAIC has given him enough time and resources to develop a clear and “carefully controlled” corporate identity.
This will then translate into a collection of cars that have a “pure DNA” and specific elements and components that are easily recognisable on the road.
“The overview from the company is that they want to go upmarket and they want to develop cars that are appealing to people who may be only looking at BMWs and Audis and Mercedes,” he said.
“If you want to compete with those cars you have to basically bring along a product that will compete with them on all levels – on engineering, on design, on quality, on features. And of course these days, styling is so important if the styling works for the customer, then sometimes they will forgive some of the other elements if it’s not up to the same level.
“So design is very important, and that’s where BAIC and myself, I think we are pretty much on the same wavelength that we want to do cars that will compete with all the big boys.”
GoAuto understands that a new rear-wheel-drive medium-large passenger sedan with Daimler underpinnings is among the first of these future models, and that entrants in all the key segments in the world’s biggest automotive market – including crossovers/SUVs – are part of the brief.
“The basic plan is to do a lot of products,” Mr Arcadipane said. “Any brand that wants to go upmarket and increase volume and profits, you have to more or less go in a lot of the very key segments.
“There are segments that you don’t have to be in, where perhaps the volume is very, very small, and there are segments where you must be in,” he said, pointing to highly popular long-wheelbase versions of the BMW 3 Series and Audi A4 as “classic examples”.
“We’re flat out, we’re trying to do things as quickly as possible, because the marketplace in China is very big and it’s growing still very strongly and it will for a number of years.
“You know, there’s the quick and the dead – there’s no time to waste and plenty of opportunities if you come in quick with a quality product that happens to have styling that people like. So (it’s) all systems go.”
Asked if SUVs were in the mix, he said: “The answer to that is very easy: they have to be.
“General SUVs, and in particular soft SUVs and crossovers, are big news in China, so, really, everyone has to be there whether they like it or not.”
The expat Australian is adamant the models to emerge from his studio will not have a distinctly ‘Chinese’ look but a sophisticated ‘international’ feel that, in turn, will not be shoehorned into a particular region, be it Germany, France, Italy or America.
“Many people keep pushing this thing that ‘we must do Chinese design’ but what has actually been proven by the customer is that in China, the majority of people that are buying new cars, and especially people that are buying the more expensive cars, are preferring an international look,” he said.
“You can have influences, of course. It’s always good to have an influence from the local area where you’re selling in, but the proof of the pudding is that most Chinese people are buying BMWs, Audis, Mercedes, Jaguars, Volvos, Lexus, Cadillacs and all these sorts of things, and they prefer that.
“So a sophisticated look that can have overtones that appeal to the Chinese market is good, but to go upmarket and give a quality, luxury look to the product is basically what they want and what I’m hoping to do.”
Mr Arcadipane admits BAIC has a “fairly low profile at the moment” but he will be working to change this and “push in the right direction”.
“You get a couple of good products out in the marketplace that people like, that have been well designed and have reasonably good quality, and you can be off and running in the right direction,” he said.
“It’s early days, and I will certainly do my bit to help as much as I can. I think from BAIC’s point of view, getting someone like me that has experience with a lot of other companies, and also having dealt with a famous brand like Mercedes, that should be something helpful for them at the very least.
“They appear to be giving me enough liberty to do what I think should be done, and as a designer I’m finding that good because it’s allowing me also to push some of the limits again, which I’ve done over the years – trying to give a unique look and not just copy everybody else.” This experience with Mercedes-Benz also ties in neatly with Daimler’s deepening involvement with BAIC, which the company has said will “go a long way” in accelerating the development of BAIC’s self-owned brand in terms of “capital, technology, management and brand”.
Mr Arcadipane said it was certainly not open slather at the moment in terms of BAIC having access to the full suite of Daimler technology, but highlighted the clear advantages that come with working off proven vehicle architectures developed by a leading German manufacturer. “They are using quality components, and all sorts of issues such as crash (worthiness), NVH, ride quality, performance, fuel economy, packaging – a lot of these things have already been established over a number of years, so that’s not necessarily a bad thing to have,” he said.
“Designing it, even picking up someone’s platform, if you don’t have to carry it over 100 per cent and there are areas that you can modify to suit your own needs, it still gives you a lot of design freedom.”
Time will tell how well BAIC management and the Chinese (and potentially broader) market responds to the products for which Mr Arcadipane is now responsible. But he has a positive feeling about his new role and the road ahead.
“In life, of course, everything is a bit of a crapshoot. We evaluate decisions at the time as best we can, based on what we know at the time. I feel good about it. I think the timing is right. They seem to be very supportive, and we seem to be on the same wavelength with what we want to do and where we want to go, so that’s all looking very positive.
“The proof is in the pudding, and we will see further down the line how everything is working. I think it’s going to go good because my gut feeling and the body languages with the people I’ve met and been involved with all seem to be good.
“We’ll do everything we can to try and help this brand move in the right direction and become a brand that people will take notice of and hopefully bring in good profits for the company.”
The Arcadipane-designed Denza EV will be shown at the Guangzhou Auto Show in November ahead of a sales launch in China early in 2014.
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