The 2007 China Automotive Design & Independent Innovation Conference marked the first gathering of independent Chinese (vs. joint venture) automakers getting together to discuss automotive styling. Taking place at the end of August, more than 140 design professionals from First Auto Works (FAW), Dongfeng Motor, Chery, Brilliance, Chana, Guangzhou Auto, Nanjing Automotive Corp. and newcomers like Lifeng from Chongqing and Neoplan from Zhejiang attended the event. Major suppliers Yengfeng-Visteon and local automotive design house Hidea and Ruifeng as well as Industrial Design education institutions like Tongji University and Jiangsu University were also in attendance.
With Nanjing being the geographical center for the automotive industry in China and SAIC, Chery and Geely all within three hours distance along the Yangtze river, the Jinling Hotel in the city center was the natural point of convergence. 'Independent Innovation', one of the hot topics pushed by the Chinese government in its recent five year plan, also influenced the decision to have professional designers participate in a four-day intensive automotive design workshop lectured by instructors from the Art Center College of Design.
The conference began with a presentation from Chang Bing, Chief Designer at FAW, who spoke about his work on the Hongqi concept sedan and how to apply Chinese elements into modern design language. FAW is one of the oldest Chinese automotive companies (established in 1958) and owns several independent brands: Hongqi, Benteng and Jiefang. Their designs cover everything from passenger cars to industrial trucks.
Zheng Su Lin, Design Director at Dongfeng Motor gave the second presentation. Widely considered to be the most prolific Chinese auto designers, with almost half of today's independent makers' production models having been designed by him in the past five years, Zheng's presentation included more than five production projects for Chery and the recent Geely sedan.
Nanjing Automotive presented a full-size hatchback concept, taking its design theme from Nanjing city's symbolic "Pi Xie" statue. Design Director Li-Chih Fu demonstrated an interesting way of blending negative surfaces with stylistic curved edges to create a balance between Chinese decoration and modern solidity. Besides styling development, his presentation also highlighted how the future Chinese youth market value expressive decoration and multi-functional space.
Yengfeng-Visteon's Shizuki Kajiyama presented a concept interior inspired by traditional Chinese dancer's costume and dance gestures. With modern material and lighting technology he attempted to achieve an "east meets west" aesthetic blend. Kajiyama also cited the importance of nurturing a creative atmosphere for young designers in his studio by showing some of the young talent's wonderful fantasy artwork.
Nanjing Arts Institute, a well-known Chinese Art school, was represented by Industrial Design Instructor Zhang Ming. Zhang drew his teaching idea from NAI's music school and asked students to design objects by musical influence. A whole series of product design—created under his guidance—was presented, among them a project which took inspiration from Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata to create a fluid and elegant 2+1 sports car for the typical one child Chinese family.
The central theme of the conference focused on how to create a suitable shape and image for the Chinese market, not only through interpretation of cultural values but also by creating designs that cater to a fast-paced modern lifestyle. Most participants agreed that carelessly utilizing Chinese elements could backfire but nevertheless, the country's rich cultural heritage is a great source for unlimited creativity. And with China's burgeoning automotive industry, we hope the conference will unleash some of this creativity onto future automotive designs.