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Zhiji Motor IM L7.jpg

Design shyness; how the many designs from the Shanghai Auto Show were wasting the value of design by being shy

The Shanghai auto show is still very much at the front of our minds; we are still in the midst of presenting our synthesis of what was important from the show to clients. There was one huge, but quiet, design trend to have emerged that we will likely publish an article on soon, but Shanghai 2021 was perhaps most marked not so much for the designs it showed, as for the designs it didn't show.

As well as many brands not opening the doors of their most exciting designs, they were not telling the stories of these designs either — companies’ media presentations relayed the headlines of their technology and sales ambitions, they didn’t describe unique qualities of what they offered customers, or tell of how these new design derived from a particular ethos that the brand has (except for Polestar’s ‘design towards zero’, and Nio’s battery swapping approach perhaps). It's as if they were bing shy - not confident or happy to tell their story, and show themselves off. 

FAW Hongqi L concept.jpgFAW presented three concept cars at Shanghai, they only published one (low quality) image of each; here’s the one of their exuberant and ambitious Hongqi L concept:

SAIC and Alibaba — two huge companies — joined forces to form Zhiji Motor and announced the new brand IM and its flagship large sedan design (see main image, above), the L7, but told us almost nothing about the car beyond some headline technical details https://www.saicmotor.com/english/latest_news/saic_motor/54428.shtml

Chery presented the rather handsome Exeed Stellar concept that perhaps shows the direction this still young premium brand from this huge car company is taking, but we found just six renders of the design on social media, and there was no information about the design at all on the dedicated Exeed website https://en.exeedcars.com/brand
 
Dongfeng announced the Aeolus e.¶–2021 — a rather dramatic show car that only media in China seem to have noticed
https://chejiahao.autohome.com.cn/info/8392907#pvareaid=28086821202

Even Lincoln elected to publish only five images on their luscious Zephyr Reflection concept on their media site (compared to 68 for their Nautilus...)
https://media.lincoln.com/content/lincolnmedia/lna/us/en.relatedmedia.viewmore.image.html/content/lincolnmedia/lna/us/en/news/2021/04/19/lincoln-china-zephyr-reflection-preview-car/jcr:content/rightRailPar/relatedmedia.html

When a good show car can cost a million dollars and create publicity worth ten times that (and reaping even more value in other ways), this lack of communication was not just a frustration for the design community, but a significant commercial oversight.  

We don’t know exactly why this 'design shyness' happened in Shanghai, but have an idea that there are at least three contributing factors: a lack of awareness within many car companies of the immediate value that design brings to brand; break-neck development schedules and a lack of resources that precluded the ability to create communication collateral; individual designs lacking a considered design narrative or reason-to-be — and so having no story to tell. And maybe a fourth reason too: we think that several companies produce show cars mostly for the status their senior managers perceive they convey to them in the eyes of executives from their competitors, if not in the eyes of the (local) government representatives too — so they have no ambition to communicate them to the media and wider global audience at all.  

Design is the most powerful of commercial tools to bring customers to the brand, to evidence the ethos of the organisation, to gain premium standing, to differentiate in the market relative to competitors, to make technology tangible to customers. In today's international but still much locked-down market, the need to communicate and curate design to its audience has never been more important. Yet it has never been more overlooked.