Giorgetto Giugiaro has spent the past four decades helping emerging Asian carmakers establish themselves.
This first-hand experience gives him a nearly unmatched ability to analyze the potential of the Chinese automotive industry.
The chairman of Italdesign-Giugiaro, a design company he founded in Turin 36 years ago, got his first taste of the Asian market in 1961. That year he began work with Japanese automaker Toyo Kogyo, which later became Mazda.
Ten years later, Giugiaro, 65, penned the first true South Korean car -- the Pony -- which Hyundai unveiled in 1974. Since then he has designed a number of other Hyundai models as well as cars for South Korean rival Daewoo.
Giugiaro's work with Chinese carmakers started in 1997. His first project was the Zhonghua, a luxury sedan that Brilliance China Automotive Holdings Inc. introduced in 2001.
Giugiaro also has helped design a large minivan for Brilliance, and a heavy truck for Dongfeng Motor Corp. that will be introduced next year.
Named designer of the century by an international jury in 1999, the creator of the Volkswagen Golf, Fiat Panda, Lotus Esprit and Maserati Ghibli was inducted into the European Automotive Hall of Fame in March 2001.
Giugiaro spoke with Automotive News Europe's Luca Ciferri on the sidelines of the recent Beijing auto show.
What do you think of the Chinese automotive industry?
It is really impressive. No one in the world has the same dynamism and the same determination to make things as the Chinese. Every carmaker immediately wants to create an entire range of products that are good enough to export. Sometimes, it appears as though the companies are short of breath because they are rushing to do everything at the same time.
Giorgetto Giugiaro designed the first Golf for VW.
For sure. And very quickly. It took Japan 40 years to become a great automotive nation. It took South Korea 20 years. I think it will take China as little as 10 to 15 years.
How have the Chinese come so far so fast?
A nation's automotive industry grows at the same pace that the country's automakers gain automaking knowledge. China's great advantage is its joint ventures with American, European and Japanese carmakers. Those companies have installed technology and transferred know-how to China.
Instead of learning by trial and error, as happened in Japan and South Korea, the rest of the world showed China how to do it. Under such circumstances, it is much easier to grow much faster.
Some Chinese carmakers take more than just inspiration from non-Chinese companies, they copy entire vehicles.
Some small Chinese carmakers, in order to be quicker and to save on engineering and development costs, just copy foreign cars. For them doing this is not a moral or ethical problem. They just do it.
Giugiaro styled the Zhonghua for Brilliance China.
The first time I came to China, I saw a local version of the first generation Toledo I had designed for Seat in 1988. I thought the car was built by one of VW group's two local joint ventures. But I was wrong. It was a clone made by Chery.
Chery Automobile Co. really seems to like the cars you have designed. Their QQ is a just a copy of the Matiz you penned for Daewoo.
Yes, and this came as a big surprise to me. All the Chinese market experts I had spoken with told me that the Chinese public is only interested in lower-medium three-box sedans. I was also told that Chinese buyers didn't want a minicar with a hatchback body. But consumers in China are telling us the same thing as consumers around the world: A minicar at a competitive price is the key to providing mobility to the masses.