Editorial – Chinese Car Design

The automotive industry has changed drastically in China over the past few years. Numerous local car manufacturers in China are working on ways to produce and supply affordable cars to the public while providing a commendable standard of quality. Many regard China as a country marred by its disregard of copyright laws. Copies of big brands leave Chinas docks for distribution around the world. Items such as electronic goods and fashion items e.g. Louis Vuitton hand bags or Rolex watches are snapped up by the bargain hungry masses around the planet. Does design innovation exist in China? Is the car industry simply regurgitating ideas from leading car manufacturers? Are there any signs heralding the emergence of fresh attitude to motoring innovation?
The Chinese manufacturing industry has earned quite a reputation. China has been the pinnacle of breeching copyrights throughout the car industry. This is because in a gigantic manufacturing nation, items are made to be as cost efficient as possible, usually substituting cheap materials and taking quality shortcuts. A Poverty Headcount Ratio from 2008 showed that 71.6% of the Chinese population where surviving on less than $5 each day. This is clear evidence that citizens are not resourced to spend, resulting in the only possible option – to make it cheap.
From big name brands such as Rolls Royce to more affordable Fiat, China has the copies ready for sale. The icon of elegance and luxury, the Rolls Royce Phantom has its Chinese branded imitation named “Geely GE”. It reveals striking similarities yet still passing as legally ‘sellable’ in China. Another example is the Fiat Panda, a popular small Italian car. The Chinese car manufacturer “Great Wall” has released a noticeably similar featured design as the “Peri” model. Yet again we hear about ‘Geely’ vehicles, this time an extremely similar model to the C-Class Mercedes, the “Merrie 300.” The list goes on affecting other car maker names such as the Mini Cooper, Subaru, Honda, Holden, Smart, Daewoo and Toyota. Can China really get itself out of this copy-cat mentality or is it the end of the line for original design and innovation?
First rays of hope emerge from China’s most recognised car maker worldwide. The Great Wall is starting to change the trend. From around 2008 its company saw an exciting rise in sales as the company begun to make inroads countries around the world. However to complete in the First World countries a significant level of quality must be assured. In 2012 it was reported that the company would only permit the employees one day off per week and that each new recruit would have to undergo “military-style” training for months. While seemingly harsh one could argue that this is needed to build a firm culture and convey a strong message to the employees of the importance of quality standards of their vehicles if they are to compete in the western world.
Great Wall has been learning valuable business lessons in recent times. Competing car makers have become far stricter with copyright enforcement. Italian car maker Fiat prosecuted Great Wall for copying their Fiat Panda design. In the Italian Court of Turin they came to the verdict that Great Wall indeed did copy the design with only one major change of replacing the front end of the car. For Great Wall this was a costly and painful lesson. As a result the incentive for originality is higher and hopefully an encouragement to all other Chinese car makers to step up and adopt more original innovation.
China is a rapidly developing country with a government ready for change. Recently on the 30th of September 2013 the government established a ‘Lemon Law’ where the quality of cars would be monitored with strict regulations. As stated in an article by Norihiko Shirouzu and Samuel Shen:
The new “lemon law” gives Chinese consumers nearly as much protection as enjoyed by their counterparts in the United States to obtain free repair of faults or replacement of defective vehicles.
The Chinese government wants to see the automobile industry reach the high quality and fair standard of the 1st world countries such as Europe, USA and Australia. Under this law Chinese customers will have the right to a full refund or replacement car if it suffers from serious safety problems. Great Wall in 2010 had upgraded its own warranty policy which resulted in almost 1% of loss in revenue. Again this is a strong motivator to win customers and get quality right the first time. The Governments idea with this law change is to force the smaller car manufacturers to join forces and lift their standards.
China is emerging as a country with a huge potential for the vehicle industry. It already produces a significant amount of cars annually. The Chinese market is said to be the world’s largest. It is is Chinas interest to nurture the new infant of innovation and design that has begun to emerge. I believe that a new and exciting chapter has begun in the motoring world, one that will feature Chinese auto makers.

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