Why Coventry and Geely Design UK are the perfect fit and can benefit from one another
“Coventry has had a variable past but at the moment it is resurgent, having won the bid for UK City of Culture 2021 and it is still very much the UK’s motor city. It is a very historic city with quite a few medieval buildings in the city centre, plus you have the fantastic cathedral with very mid-century architecture, which resonates very strongly with me. I think the way they annexed it to the bombed out ruins of the old cathedral has been done very sensitively,” says Geely’s UK head of design Wayne Burgess. In 2018 Geely chose Coventry as the site of its third full scale design studio.
Although the city has origins dating back to Roman times and is home of the legend of Lady Godiva riding naked through the street in the 11th Century, the city really came into its own with the dawn of the industrial revolution. Starting as a centre of watch and clock manufacturing the ever-changing market led to Coventry growing via bicycles and then motorbikes into the United Kingdom’s Detroit. Much like the American city, Coventry befell the same fate and car manufacturing in the city reached its peak in the 60s and 70s. Today the only car plant left in the West Midlands city is the £325 million LEVC plant opened by Geely in 2017 to manufacturer the new electric London taxi and commercial vehicles.
Despite the decline in car manufacturing in Coventry, the city remains very much embedded in the car industry and in particular design – the West Midlands area as a whole still though boasts considerable car production. The University of Coventry can trace its roots back to the Coventry School of Design founded in 1843. Its reputation as one of the foremost locations in the UK to study automotive design has been cemented by the 2017 opening of the state-of-the-art National Transport Design Centre. Functioning with a cross-disciplinary approach it brings together diverse groups including designers, coders, artists and material experts. Facilities include 3D printing and 3D projection mapping.
“A lot of the creatives here, along with me have graduated from Coventry University with the BA in Transportation Design. We are keen to establish stronger links with the local education community,” says Wayne. “It’s about linking into the community and tapping into their skills and resources but ultimately it is also about giving something back.”
Geely can do this by giving students projects to work on. This not only benefits them directly with real world projects but allows Geely to spot emerging talent, which can be backed up with sandwich year placements and sponsorship. “They benefit from exposure to the real industry and getting projects that are very realistic and we benefit from seeing new talent rise and playing a part in developing them,” explains Wayne.
There can also be a beneficial sharing of knowledge and technologies with the National Transport Design Centre. Already there have been some meetings and Wayne describes the centre as a ‘think-tank’ organisation looking at the world of autonomy and new production approaches – areas that are also very much the focus of Geely.
Situated in the city centre is the Coventry Transport Museum. Consisting of in excess of 240 cars and commercial vehicles, 100 motorcycles and 200 bicycles it is the largest publically owned collection. Most of the vehicles on display were produced in the city. Other notable cars in the collection include the current and previous land speed record holders Thrust SCC and Thrust 2 respectively. Thrust SCC was the first land vehicle officially to break the sound barrier.
MotoFest is Coventry’s annual celebration of all things motoring and is the UK’s fastest growing motoring festival. Held the first weekend of June it involves events such as racing, drifting, stunt bikes and parades of everything from classic cars to supercars. “What they offer is a very accessible form of motorsport for people that aren’t in Formula 1 and are not born into families that can afford to do that,” says Wayne. The festival relies on sponsorship something that Geely aims to give. “It is a good way of exposing Geely Design UK to a much broader audience of people who don’t know we are here,” says Wayne. “If you want to build a centre of excellence you have to put the word out. This is who we are, this is what we are up to and this is why it would be good to work with us. ”
“Geely choosing to locate here has really supported and bolstered Coventry’s resurgence,” says Wayne. One huge advantage with the area is the supplier base for designing with facilities such as 3D printing of parts and companies able to manufacture show cars. This along with Geely existing investment in the city through LEVC and Emerald made it a logical choice for the site of Geely new design centre.