Profile: James Hope, corporate design director for Chery Motors, as a Canadian born British, has an impressive 20 years of automotive design experience, having worked at Ford, Daimler Chrysler and General Motors. He is on the way now of building Chery quickly up to the highest standard of international design.
About: China is currently the world’s largest automaker ranked the No. 1 in the world in terms of production and sales for five consecutive years. Chinese auto brands are at the stage of high-speed development that turn to be worldwide-renowned brands with gradually enhanced brand awareness and functionality. “Design” always plays a vital role in brand value, as it not only can effectively deliver the brand philosophy, but also can improve the brand value essentially. Many domestic brands like Chery have a very outstanding performance at home and abroad in recent years in the automotive market. On October 16-17, the Global Automotive Forum invited Mr. James Hope, the Corporate Design Director of Chery Motors, China to attend the event. Now, let’s look into the future of domestic autos from a design point of view via the Elite Interview of Mr. James Hope.
Mobile World: Among international brands, the designs of family style that can be recognized at the first glance are very popular, compared to the contrary in the domestic self-owned brands. Do you think Chery has obtained its designs of family style? If yes, could you please explain it to us?
James Hope: The international brands have been evolving for decades building the brand value and the design consistency. This is very strong for the brand identity and values that are reflected in the design; however, this can also pose challenges to keep the design progressive and fresh in a fast changing world of trends. Domestic brands in China are in comparison quite young and still maturing although the rate of maturity is encouraging. Regarding Chery specifically we have a very clear vision and award winning design language integrated into the development process with a strong focus on creating a solid link to the brand identity through design. This philosophy is set up to enable consistent cross vehicle brand recognition while ensuring a level of flexibility. The aim is for consumers to recognize our vehicles as a family born under the Chery logo with certain flexibility so the family doesn’t look identical through balancing consistency with flexibility. This is established within Chery and will become more evident as new products come to market.
MW: As we know, the Tiggo Series account for high percentage of Chery’s total sales, with nearly 20,000 vehicles sold every month by the types of Tiggo 3 and Tiggo 5. However, the sales of Arrizo 7 are relatively unsatisfactory. From a design point of view, how do you look at this phenomenon?
James Hope: Clearly SUV trend is growing and proving to be very popular in domestic and global market. Sedans in the domestic market on the contrary represent the most competitive market segment and are not enjoying the same growth trends as SUV. The Arrizo 7 represents a foundation vehicle for Chery sedan under the new logo and reflects a commitment to develop vehicles that can compete head to head with the western brands in this segment. From a design point of view we have been encouraged by the feedback from press and consumers that we have a solid sedan foundation with the Arrizo 7 to support increasing the brand value. With the Arrizo 7 Chery has managed to produce a very competitive global sedan. As we continue to develop high quality, high design vehicles, the brand value will follow, and then the sales progress ideally. It is a process where stronger products reflect on stronger brand value step by step. It takes time and we are confident we are on the right path.
MW: What do you think about the preference of SUV in the Chinese market? How long do you suppose the turning point will appear? Also, which direction you think the trend is going to change?
James Hope: The domestic market is very interesting and complex with the differentiation between tier 1, 2, and 3 cities. Also the size and diversity in the Chinese market on a regional level. The SUV market as mentioned is very strong and growing and I believe this links strongly to image and functionality. There are certain potential indicators that could steer the SUV market in the future as environment and efficiency becomes more important. I don’t think the SUV market will slow down any time soon; however, it will adjust to the market. I do see high potential that SUV will evolve to accommodate these indicators as they become more and more relevant while still maintaining the image that resonates with consumers. Necessity is the mother of invention.
MW: As a “foreign face” in the self-owned brand, how do you and your Chinese team to adapt to each other in the daily work, to understand different cultural backgrounds and the meaning of different designs?
James Hope: Of course there are cultural differences and challenges, however, I have had the privilege to work in many countries during my 22 year career and this experience supports my adapting to life in China and at Chery. The design team is majority 90% of Chinese with a handful of foreign experts to support the development and expectation. As Chery is a truly international company with number 1 domestic brand export to over 60 countries globally, it is important to keep in mind we are a Chinese global brand with global vision and markets. We developed for Beijing Auto show two concept studies, the Concept Alpha and Concept Beta that adopted elements inspired by Chinese cultural icons and adapted these to details that proved unique and symbolic. This was inspired by our Chinese designers to convey a Chinese spirit into the design, a cultural signature.
MW: The year of 2014 has been past more than a half, how do you evaluate the performance of Chery in this year?
James Hope: Chery has gone through a strategic direction change to focus on quality and brand image vs. quantity. This direction is symbolized by our newly designed logo. We planted the seed, watered and nurtured and now start to see the tree beginning to bear fruit. Encouraging signs in the market that the strategy is beginning to reward us with 18% sales increase last month vs. the previous year monthly sales. The Tiggo sales have been strong and I see big potential in the Arrizo 7 gaining support in the market as a vehicle being recognized for its quality and content as an exceptional value for money.
MW: Finally, if you are asked to use three words to summarize the brand characteristics of Chery (future), which three words will you choose and why?
James Hope: Confidence – from the inside looking out there is a strong sense that we are on the right track and creating vehicles we can stand behind and be very proud of. Chery has made big strides and you can feel there is a new sense of pride within the organization resulting from the hard work and dedication.
Quality- This is something you have to prove to the customer. We are focusing on quality in every aspect of the process and it is essential to compete in today’s market.
Vision – We have a clear vision for the future and are moving quickly in this direction, avoiding distractions to reach our ambitious targets.
-Published on pages#42 & 43 , November-2014 edition of MOBILE WORLD Magazine