Sometimes an outside commission can change a designer's career path.
That's certainly the case for Luc Donckerwolke, new head of design at Seat.
While working as design director for the Italian sports car maker Lamborghini, Donckerwolke was asked to draw the design proposal for the third-generation Seat Ibiza due in 2007.
In July 2004 Donckerwolke did the work on the small-segment car at Lamborghini's styling center in Sant'Agata Bolognese, about 120km southwest of Venice.
Almost a year later, Donckerwolke's proposal was selected as the basis of the next Ibiza production model.
That's when Audi brand group CEO Martin Winterkorn and Design Director Walter de' Silva decided Donckerwolke had to move to Seat to guide the design development of the next Ibiza.
Moving from Italy to Seat's headquarters in Sitges, Spain, was a big change for Donckerwolke. At Lamborghini, he had four employees reporting to him. At Seat, he heads a group of 74 design department employees and 20 contractors.
He hesitated before accepting the job, debating whether he was ready to manage such a large department.
"I told my bosses I didn't feel I was the right person for this job," Donckerwolke said in an interview at the Tokyo auto show last month.
He finally accepted June 17, two days before he turned 40, and took over from de' Silva as Seat's director of design on September 15. He had been Lamborghini's head of design since 1998.
De' Silva has now added the responsibility of Lamborghini design director to his existing duties as Audi brand group director. Seat is part of Volkswagen's Audi brand group, which includes Lamborghini, Audi and Seat.
De' Silva's career path was similar to Donckerwolke's.
As head of Seat design, de' Silva proposed a design for the Audi A4 lower-premium car that was launched in 2004. And when that was accepted by VW group, de' Silva was promoted to head of design at the Audi brand group so he could oversee the A4 development.
Developing Seat's DNA
Donckerwolke's task at Seat will draw upon his previous experience of developing both product designs and changes in the brand.
At Skoda, he personally designed the first-generation Octavia and Fabia, the products that created the new, modern face of the Czech brand after the VW group took it over.
At Lamborghini, he was responsible for the Murcielago coupe and roadster, the first products created after Audi took over the Italian sports car maker in 1998.
Donckerwolke also penned the Spyder version of the Lamborghini Gallardo, which debuted in September at the Frankfurt auto show. The Gallardo coupe was designed by Italdesign Giugiaro.
But Donckerwolke sees Seat as a different situation.
"For the first time in its history, Seat now has a clear brand DNA," he said. "My work will be to design new products to interpret and develop [what was] born with the Altea and new Leon," Donckerwolke says.
Besides the next Ibiza, Seat is working on the successor to its Alhambra large minivan.
Donckerwolke refuses to discuss specifics of an Alhambra replacement, but acknowledges there is industry speculation about two possible directions.
The first is to parallel the current Alhambra approach: a Seat variant of the next-generation VW Sharan large minivan. The next Sharan will be based on the VW Passat.
The second is a vehicle similar in philosophy to the new Leon sporty hatchback. But it would be based on a larger platform so it would be about 4500mm long.
The current 4180mm Leon is based on VW Group's PQ35 architecture, which is also used for the VW Golf, Bora, Touran and Passat; the Seat Altea and Toledo; the Skoda Octavia; the Audi A3 and the next generation TT.