BYD, China’s largest electric vehicle maker, will promote its focus on design to a strategic level following Tuesday’s opening of the company’s global design center in the southern city of Shenzhen, manned by an all-star team of industry veterans from Audi, Ferrari, and Mercedes-Benz.
“Technology is BYD’s hard strength, and design will become the soft strength of the company,” said Wang Chuanfu, president and chairman of the Warren Buffet-backed company, at the opening ceremony. BYD’s product strategies will shift from focusing on technology to also incorporating design, he said, adding that it not only sells cars to business clients, but also seeks a larger presence in the consumer-facing market as well.
The move comes months after BYD brought on-board two renowned designers from Ferrari and Mercedes-Benz. JuanMa López, former head of exterior design at Ferrari, joined as global exterior design director in December, while Michele Jauch-Paganetti, the former design center head at Mercedes-Benz, came in as chief interior design director earlier this year. Wolfgang Egger, previously chief of design at Audi, has been BYD’s head designer since late 2016.
BYD is ramping up efforts to snare customers from premium brands by evolving its utilitarian cars into more desirable models. The carmaker unveiled the E-SEED GT, the first joint effort from the new design team, at this year’s Auto Shanghai industry show in April. The futuristic design concept reflects the sleek lines of the Chinese dragon, and the company plans to feature more Chinese cultural symbols in future models.
The Chinese automobile market moved into a lower gear late last year and there are no signs of a catch-up so far in 2019. The country’s total sales of passenger vehicles slumped 17.4% year-on-year to 1.6 million in May, according to the latest figures from the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers (CAAM). May sales at top-tier domestic automakers SAIC and Chang’an fell 16.7% and 34.7%, respectively.
Chinese OEMs have also suffered flagging sales of EVs, reporting overall growth of just 1.8% last month, as the government scales back purchase subsidies to cool the overheated market. Sales at Chang’an and BAIC fell 53.5% and 49.2%, respectively, year on year in May in sharp contrast to BYD, which posted a rise of 53.8% to 21,899 units. However, BYD failed to halt sliding gasoline vehicle sales last month as they fell by almost half to 12,021.
BYD says it works with more than 200 designers around the world when coming up with models for local markets, including passenger cars, commercial vehicles, and urban railways. The company opened its first Canadian plant on Tuesday with an initial focus on bus assembly and has secured an order for 10 EV buses from Toronto Transit Commission, the country’s largest public transport agency, with an option for 30 more.