DESIGN IS AN INTERNATIONAL LANGUAGE
Winterkorn and de Silva are now inside the Audi A5 Sportback and are inspecting the interior. They don’t need to waste words on the outstanding importance of design in the Group: “Design is a language in which we communicate first and foremost with our customers.” A language that must be understood anywhere in the world: “Our design conveys timelessness and high quality – it can be recognized at the very first glance. It is evident right away and doesn’t require any long explanations.” That does not rule out the option of tailoring solutions for customers in the various international markets: “In Russia, India and other important emerging markets, customers have different needs – for example for a Polo with a notchback,” explains Winterkorn, “and naturally we will meet these needs.” A new Volkswagen plant is currently being built in Chattanooga, Tennessee, where – among other things – a new midsize Sedan will be produced specifically for the US market. One of the distinctive features of this market is the local patriotism of US car buyers: “Many prefer to buy cars that are built in their country.” However, Walter de Silva is well aware that all customers the world over are looking for the same thing: emotion. “Owners want to love their cars – ultimately, the cars must appeal to them on an emotional level.”
In the automotive industry, there is enormous pressure to change – pressure that also has an impact on design. New legal requirements, changing social attitudes and new technologies all need to be factored into the design equation. Winterkorn describes the trend towards “downsizing” as “offering more while using fewer resources.” Innovative lightweight, ultra-compact components benefit customers and the environment by reducing fuel consumption and emissions while increasing comfort, safety and driving performance. “Traditionally, luxury and prestige have always been associated with size,” explains de Silva, “but that will change to a certain extent.” In the future, a larger number of small, compact vehicles will venture into the luxury segment.
ALTERNATIVE DRIVES: EVOLUTION RATHER THAN REVOLUTION
Alternative concepts such as electric drives throw up new challenges but also open up new opportunities. However, the fundamental architecture of vehicles will only change when new possibilities are offered by components such as drives, wheel suspension or battery positioning. And this stage is still some way off. De Silva predicts that cars “will always have four wheels and a face with two eyes, otherwise they would look impersonal. To start with, everyone wants to show that they drive a completely different car – but I firmly believe that we could have a roadster with an electric drive that would look no different to our Bluesport show car, and would be as much fun to drive as a car with a regular combustion engine.”
The Head of Group Design reads the signs of the times as follows: “We are going through a phase of insecurity; people are looking for reliable values and responsibility.” Volkswagen’s design philosophy is ideally positioned to respond to such an outlook. “Purity, clarity and simplicity are all enjoying something of an esthetic renaissance.” Martin Winterkorn sees this as giving rise to a strong trend towards sustainable mobility: “An innovation is only truly good if it generates genuine added value for the customer while being compatible with the environment.” He is confident that future Volkswagen models will transport many new ideas but will still remain instantly recognizable as Volkswagens. Walter de Silva agrees: “The secret is to remain true to yourself.”