“If you don’t define yourself, you will be defined by others.” For nearly half a century, one man has helped to develop the distinctive identities of world-renowned auto brands. Peter Horbury, Executive Vice President of Design at Geely Auto Group has been reinventing the identity of Geely Auto and its family of brands since 2011.
When Peter Horbury joined Geely Auto Group in 2011 from Volvo Cars, he was already a legend in automotive design for ‘re-Volvo-lutionising’ Volvo’s boxy image in the 1990s with sleeker more stylish designs, and later leading Ford’s Premier Automotive Group, which included Jaguar, Land Rover, Aston Martin, Lincoln, and Volvo, including rejuvenating Ford’s North American styling with added ‘Americanness’ in the 2000s. At Geely, Peter faced a completely new challenge – instead of having to fix or update an existing brand identity, he had to essentially create one from scratch.
“When I came to Geely Auto Group, there was only one brand, Geely Auto, and one without any design direction, not even a real independent studio. Starting with a team of six people in a borrowed office space in Gothenburg, today we have six dedicated studios across the world with over 900 design staff.” – Peter Horbury
Geely Auto at the time was a brand in transition that was still largely focused on meeting the basic transportation requirements of Chinese consumers. On the horizon was a rapid change in consumer trends; Chinese consumers would begin to demand premium as standard, built around a strong connectivity offering. Geely Auto knew it had to re-establish itself as the industry leader in each segment it operated in, and of course future segments that it would enter. Geely saw itself as a brand on the up, and Geely Design had to meet that goal.
In the early days, Geely’s models were one-off designs, some done by contracted studios, others that were led by engineers which led to a somewhat inconsistent line up.
Geely Auto Models Before Peter Horbury
“At the time, the products Geely Auto offered were like an animal kingdom. There were styled around a variety of animals including pandas, eagles, and leopards… all different species with nothing tying them together. At a management meeting, I showed the ‘zoo’ to the executives and removed all the animals but one, a cat. But if you look at the cat family, we have lions, pumas, cheetahs, and even domestic household cats – each of which have their own personality and distinct characteristics, but looking at them, you immediately know they’re part of the same family. They’re the same brand.” – Peter Horbury
Geely Auto Models After Peter Horbury
With Peter’s guidance, Geely Auto has developed a distinct visual identity with feline inspired shapes, expanding cosmos grille, and subtle Chinese design elements. The first Geely model designed by Peter’s team was the Bo Rui sedan which was named “China’s most beautiful sedan” by the media and consumers in early 2016.
“The Chinese elements in Geely Auto’s brand identity were purposely included. Geely Auto is a Chinese brand and should be proud of that heritage. Now that Geely Auto Group has expanded globally with brands around the world, this distinction is more important than ever. Just as Volvo is distinctly Swedish, Geely Auto should be proud to be Chinese, Lotus British, Proton Malaysian, and Lynk & Co international.” – Peter Horbury
Today, as a global automotive group, Geely Auto Group has developed a global design network to match. With studios in Shanghai, Gothenburg, Barcelona, California, Coventry, and Kuala Lumpur, the Group is able to create world-class designs befitting each of their brands unique cultural heritages.
“Being in charge of a global network of studios and brands is different from being in charge of a single brand. My job is no longer like being the captain of a single ship, but rather an admiral of a fleet.” – Peter Horbury
Each brand within the wider Geely family of brands has their own identity and position. Ensuring each brand maintains their distinct identities while effectively sharing resources is a juggling act which previously only the top players in the world have managed to accomplish. With his past experience as design head of Ford’s Premier Automotive Group, Peter has first-hand knowledge of managing the design direction for a diverse group of brands.
“A good design director is not a design dictator. Trusting the talented design heads for each brand, I mainly lay out the design vision and goals for them. New design ideas today don’t come from me, they come from the collaboration within our global design network. Particularly during the conceptual stages of product design, I like to open up projects to all our studios and have them pitch their best ideas. This friendly competition not only opens up new points of view for each brand’s design teams, it also helps cultivate new design talents.” – Peter Horbury
The cultivation of talent has been the foundation for Geely’s impressive development, including in design. From Peter’s initial team of six, Geely global design network has grown to over 900 design-focused staff. Peter’s team in China is headed by Guy Burgoyne, who is working hard to develop and raise up the next generation of automotive design talent in China, whom have gone from supporting design activities to leading full car development under Guy and Peter’s collective watch.
In under a decade, Geely Auto Group has gone from a follower of trends to a trendsetter, with sales going from under half a million vehicles in 2010 to over 1.3 million in 2019. The achievement is partly due to its revolutionary global design network led by Peter, who recently received a Lifetime Achievement Award from Autocar, Britain’s leading automotive publication, for his outstanding contributions to vehicle design in the past 40 years. With this accolade, Geely Auto Group will further be inspired to create iconic new products that customers desire.