China's Geely cars think big with Volvo makeover

Tue May 17, 2016 8:55am EDT
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By Helena Soderpalm and Mia Shanley

GOTHENBURG, Sweden (Reuters) - The Briton who smoothed out Volvo's boxy lines and put signature radiator grilles on Lincolns for Ford is aiming to give China's Geely range global appeal by ditching its utilitarian image.

Peter Horbury is central to efforts by Geely - long seen as a cheap, no-frills brand in China and unknown in the western world - to push upmarket and go international by tapping European design and technology.

Zhejiang Geely Holding Group (0175.HK: Quote)'s purchase of struggling Swedish carmaker Volvo from Ford (F.N: Quote) in 2010 has helped it leapfrog a decade of research and development.

The tie-up has enabled Volvo to sell more vehicles in China than anywhere else and produced a common platform for Geely to widen its range. But at seventh place in China's light vehicle brands, it has a long way to go in a sector suffering from overcapacity and stiff competition.

Horbury, who headed up design at Volvo in the 1990s and oversaw it for Volvo, Jaguar, Aston Martin and Ford's other brands from 2002, says carmakers should play up their roots, citing what he called the "Hi, I'm Dave" all-American appeal of his Lincoln grille.

"I'm not suggesting we'll do cars with pagoda roofs, but all new cars have a little signature somewhere that's Chinese," Horbury, Geely's chief designer since 2011, told Reuters at the Swedish design studio where he spends three weeks a month.

That means dashboard curves which he compares to a famous Chinese bridge in Hangzhou where Geely has its headquarters.

"Here at a Chinese company, I think there is something special to sell, and if you just become anonymous, that's what you remain," said Horbury, 66, who spends a week each month in Shanghai.   Continued...

Geely car’s chief designer Peter Horbury pose for a photo in Stockholm, Sweden April 29, 2016. REUTERS/Mia Shanley