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Volkswagen design chief to step down

Body blow: Designer Walter de Silva’s departure from VW will leave a substantial hole after 17 years of service and more than four decades’ experience in the industry.

Global VW Group design boss Walter de Silva to retire after 17 years of service

Volkswagen logo12 Nov 2015

By TERRY MARTIN

THE beleaguered Volkswagen Group has been dealt another blow with the announcement that global design chief Walter de Silva will retire at the end of this month.

In charge of all passenger car brands across the German auto giant’s stable for the past eight years – including VW, Audi, Skoda, Seat, Lamborghini, Bugatti, Bentley and, since 2010, Porsche – Mr de Silva, 64, is credited with developing a “common design culture across all brands while retaining creative autonomy of each individual brand”.

A replacement for the Italian-born design legend has not yet been named and his departure could prompt a restructure of Volkswagen’s design operations.

As GoAuto has reported, Volkswagen Group chief executive Matthias Mueller is currently working on new management structures in the wake of the diesel emissions-rigging crisis engulfing the company – a scandal in which Mr de Silva is not implicated – that will give more independence for each brand and region.

“The key point is that group management will be decentralised to a greater extent in the future,” Mr Mueller said late last month, when detailing “five key steps to realign the group”.

This has also included the appointment this week of Apple’s Mac systems engineering director Johann Jungwirth, 42, as head of a newly established digitisation strategy department, while former president and managing director of Chevrolet and Cadillac Europe, Thomas Sedran, 51, has come on board as Volkswagen’s new head of group strategy.

The company said in a statement that Mr de Silva will continue his links with the group as an adviser, but his departure will leave a substantial hole after 17 years of service and more than four decades’ experience in the industry.

Mr de Silva was 47 when he joined the Volkswagen Group in 1998, having spent the previous 12 years as head of Alfa Romeo’s Centro Stile.

Earlier in his career, he spent seven years as head of industrial design and automobiles at the IDEA Institute (Institute of Development in Automotive Engineering) in Turin, three years with Studio R. Bonetto in Milan and another three years at Centro Stile Fiat in Turin.

His first role at VW was head of Seat design but in 2002 added responsibility for Audi – for whom he developed the brand-defining single frame grille – as well as Lamborghini. In 2007, he was appointed head of group design across Volkswagen’s entire stable (ex commercial vehicles).

Highlights include the Audi R8, A5 and sixth-generation A6, Volkswagen’s Up, Polo, Golf 7, and the latest Passat. Among his creations at Alfa Romeo were the 156 (1997) – a vehicle that introduced a new design philosophy for the Italian brand – and the 147 (2001).

In paying tribute to the designer, Mr Mueller said: “Walter de Silva epitomises creativity and the Italian sense of beauty and style on the one hand and thoroughness, a systematic approach and discipline on the other.

“Walter de Silva succeeded in establishing a design culture and methodology across all group brands that is unique in our industry. At the same time, he was the driving force in preserving a high degree of creative autonomy for the brands and their design departments.”

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