"The majority of Chinese consumers like to see a dignified look" in their car's interior, says Shizuki Kajiyama, design studio manager for Yanfeng Visteon Automotive Trim Systems Co. in Shanghai.
For Chinese, "dignified" translates as plenty of chrome and plastic wood.
Yanfeng Visteon worked on the LaCrosse interior with the Pan Asia Technical Automotive Center, a 50-50 design and engineering joint venture between GM and Shanghai Automotive Industry Corp.
Traditionally, dark redwood furniture is expensive and luxurious in China, says Yang Jie, executive director of EDI Automotive Technology Co., a local design firm founded by Pan Asia Technical Automotive Center alumni.
EDI redesigned the original European interior design of a car for a local automaker, adding more chrome and wood, says Yang. He declined to name the company.
Back seat diversions
Chrome typically surrounds electronic controls and other options that come standard on many Chinese cars.
The options are especially abundant in the rear seat of larger models, to entertain China's large number of chauffeur-driven passengers. The gadgets also help China's growing number of private business owners impress clients.
The LaCrosse offers a DVD player, and MP3 and computer hookups in the rear seat. There's a massage function, too.
"You want to make sure you have some toys" in the rear seat, says James Shyr, chief designer for GM China Group.
Getting to those toys with ease is also important. Shyr proudly shows off the size 9 shoe space between the entertainment center and the back seat. That allows a passenger to more comfortably access the various options by putting one foot in front of the DVD screen.
A chauffeur's needs figured into the design the GL-8 First Land van, a Shanghai General Motors model based on the Pontiac Montana but reworked for China by Pan Asia Technical Automotive Center.
The van has a special space to hold the container of tea that drivers nearly always carry in China.
There also is a spot for a box of tissue and a small box to hold a pen, both ubiquitous items that often clutter a van's front seat.
"In China, this is an executive transporter, not a soccer mom van," says Shyr. "You don't want stuff sitting on the floor."
Lan Xing, a 41-year-old private businesswoman, is looking at a Volkswagen Sagitar sedan in a showroom in Shanghai.
The Sagitar is built on the same platform as the European Jetta, but was designed in China for Chinese customers.
Lan is especially concerned with the finish in the car's console, closely examining the gaps and eyeing how smoothly the audio equipment fits with the surrounding plastic.
"I don't care that much how many options the car has," she says, "but the craftsmanship level has to be very high on whatever is there."
Such close attention to the decorative trim and door gaps is a change from just a few years ago, says Visteon's Shizuki. But as Chinese consumers see more cars, they are becoming more sophisticated. Automakers are now more mindful of those small details, he says.
GM's Shyr says he fought with the engineers to make the decorative trim gaps as small as possible in the LaCrosse. He proudly shows off the gap, or lack thereof, between the console and the front seat air conditioner vent.
Says Shyr: "We spent a lot of time on the vent design. Consistency in the gap is seen as added value."
You may e-mail Alysha Webb at [email protected]