Car designing – probably the most dangerous job in the automotive industry.
Car designers are tasked to make you like and want their brand’s vehicle lineup. They are also the ones who dictate the identity of the brand, spending time, effort, and millions in research and development to come up with a final, fool-proof design.
Simply put, these men and women in the design department are responsible for the desirability of vehicles, which is the very start of the tedious car-buying process. Marketing and selling vehicles are one thing; making people want a car they saw in an advertisement is another. Now, let that sink in because that certainly isn’t a walk in the park.
In a recent trip to China to visit several GAC Motor manufacturing plants, I and a handful of motoring media personnel had the honor to meet Mr. Fan Zhang, one of GAC Motor’s vice presidents and the chief of design. He’s the man behind GAC’s compelling and European designs – the man you need to thank for if you’re eyeing to buy a GAC this year.
Early years with GAC Motor
Zhang is a young designer with an illustrious career in automotive design. Prior to joining GAC Motor, he was with Mercedes-Benz design team for more than eight years, with the third-generation Mercedes-Benz A-Class as his latest project before leaving the German marque.
When asked why he chose GAC Motor out of all the offers he got when he left Mercedes-Benz, Zhang became nostalgic about his decision before. He chose GAC Motor for two things: he saw it as a challenge and GAC Motor’s deep experience in producing Japanese cars in China make for a good base for a company that wants to create its own identity.
Simply put, GAC Motor’s struggle in starting from scratch back in 2011 was something he took with great pride. He’s basically the man behind GAC Motor’s identity as a premium Chinese automaker.
The road to GAC Motor’s own identity
As mentioned, GAC Motor has a long history of manufacturing Japanese brands for China. Its portfolio includes Toyota, Mitsubishi, Honda, and Isuzu. It also produces FCA products, as well. With these brands decorating the GAC’s belt, the automaker was able to absorb and develop the best practices in making cars of high quality. As ironic as it sounds, Zhang believes that GAC Motor’s experience in manufacturing cars was essential in putting up its own identity.
But how? Zhang pointed out that making good designs is essential but without engineering expertise, it would be an effort left in vain. Think of it as a painter creating his or her masterpiece on a bad kind of canvas. The final product would certainly be of more value with a better canvas.
Zhang also introduced us to GAC Motor’s design language called Flying Dynamics, which is represented by its cars’ multi-slat wing grille. It’s obvious that Zhang’s long stint with Mercedes-Benz influenced him a lot, reflecting in the GAC cars’ European look. And that, for him, is GAC Motor’s identity – premium cars in a not-so-premium price point.
Standing out as a Chinese brand
Chinese brands are emerging and they are emerging fast. The quality of Chinese automobiles has also improved a lot from before, which is good for the country’s economy but would definitely be a challenge for young brands like GAC Motor.
So, what sets GAC Motor apart from the rest of Chinese brands? Zhang touts that they may not have the biggest R&D facilities in China, but they have the best, which makes GAC Motor among the strongest R&D team in the People’s Republic. With this laid out, Zhang sees GAC cars as standouts not only in the design department but also in quality – a point supported by GAC Philippines’ recent win at the Kalayaan Endurance Cup, in which the GA4 compact sedan was able to snatch the top podium under the manufacturer’s class.
A strong engineering team that backs up a compelling design language is a match made in heaven – Zhang thinks so too, and he believes that they’re on the right track.