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Report: Interior Motives China Conference 2011 – Day 2
by CDN Team   
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Following on from the colorful discussions started yesterday, 297 delegates returned to the Millennium Hotel in Shanghai for the second and final – and no less thought-provoking – day.

Again the context for the days' discussion was 'The challenge of being different: establishing a local design direction for China's maturing market', with the day segmented into three distinct topics.

David Muyres: As a car manufacturer, what's next?
Before the three main sessions began, David Muyres, Co-Founder of OnGoingTransportation, opened the day with a paper which questioned the direction manufacturers should take next, from a design strategy standpoint. Like many, he feels China is in the enviable position of being in charge of its own mobility design destiny. While Muyers touched on the design of the auto industry's products, his emphasis was on an holistic rethinking of mobility stating, "what we need is more than just a faster better horse...instead of stumbling forward, we should plan our steps towards the end of the century."

Session 5: Luxury, Chinese style
As vehicle ownership becomes more widespread in China, merely having a car parked outside – whether imported or domestic – is fast losing its caché. Li-Chih Fu, Professor, Tongji University, School of Automobile Studies chaired a discussion about how China could create its own sense of luxury in the automotive space.

Mike Ma, Vice President, Geely R&D Centre began by identifying two possible solutions. The first, more traditional approach is to develop a brand DNA, the nuances of which he admits Geely is still trying to understand. He suggested design consistency is a very Western concept, while Asian consumers prefer the second option - diversity and innovation. While inconclusive as to which path to take, Ma suggested that the Chinese traditions many throughout the day suggested should be used as a source of inspiration are, in fact, too far removed from modern China to be relevant.

Flipping the coin and giving a Western perspective, Olivier Seighart, Head of Mini Interior Design, BMW Group, explained how his company defies convention by packing luxury into a small car. While the quality of materials plays a role, he suggests the key is immaterial – brand. The cult status of the Mini is due to its contextual perception throughout its life up until the point it became a luxurious, heritage icon. This ability to adapt itself to stay resolutely relevant is largely due to its customizable nature, which allows customers the luxury of a bespoke product. Seighart was the first of many to suggest that the ultimate luxury is not a product, however, but time.

Klaus Busse knows more than most about injecting products with 'luxury'. As Chrysler's Head of Interior design, he has turned the company's cabins from what he describes as 'grey coffins' into award-winners in just 12 months. Like Seighart he suggests that context is a vital component of the luxury equation. He suggests we buy products from specific countries because of their associated values.In his view, finding the values China can harness through its rich culture that will be the key to reaching its own luxury.

Busse was followed by perhaps the most contentious and provocative paper of the day, presented by Daniel Darancou, Chief Designer, CH-Auto Technology Corporation. While others spoke of luxury in more pragmatic, social contexts, Darancou focussed on pure materialist, based on his experiences of living in Beijing, where the sheer volume of super-rich consumers makes high-end purchases – "the low-hanging fruit" – boring and unimaginative. He proposed many possible new avenues for luxury, from super high-speed freeways on which Bugatti Veyron drivers can drive flat-out, to purchasing of rare, exotic animals. While obviously suggested with a tinkle in his eye, his suggestion that elitist consumerism is the definition of current Chinese luxury is arguably the most accurate.

Some of Darancou's sentiments were backed up by the next speaker, Richard Chung, Vice President of Industrial Design, Craftsmanship and Consumer Research - Asia Pacific, Johnson Controls. He admitted that most of us desire more than we truly need – greed – and with the average age of an Audi driver at just 37 and BMW 35, the spending power lies squarely with the confident, extrovert younger end of the Chinese demographic. However, as well as materialistic greed, Chung latched onto a new, emerging sense of luxury based around 'LoHaS' – Lifestyle of Health and Safety, which draws on Chinese traditions of physical and physiological wellbeing. This could manifest itself in super-private, office-like vehicles offering sanctuary from the sprawling masses or the ability to interact with friends and family while negotiating ever-denser traffic. Yet again, time was highlighted as the new luxury.

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