Expert opinion: Development of the world's safest car - applied Design Thinking?

Car design expert Chris Ebbert, of the School of Architecture, Design and the Built Environment, reflects on the significance of Chinese manufacturer Qoros making the world's safest car.

Car design expert Chris Ebbert, of the School of Architecture, Design and the Built Environment, reflects on the significance of Chinese manufacturer Qoros making the world's safest car

China has had to put up with plenty of unfair, western cynicism as a car-manufacturing nation. It is necessarily hard for a newcomer to the sophisticated game of automobile manufacturing to tick all the boxes, and few are willing to acknowledge China is actually doing remarkably well at it, considering how recently it only began to participate.

Perhaps some of the cold shoulder reception Chinese cars have been receiving so far is simply down to the uncomfortable feeling by the west that a highly capable contender is on its way; a contender from a nation with a longer run time of civilization than most, and with decades of steeping in western manufacturing know-how, having served as the workshop of the world for quite some time now. A contender which may, therefore, conceivably be expected to get very good at the game rather quickly - if it hadn't been for the persistently flawed safety image of Chinese cars. Up until very recently, the Chinese car onslaught seemed to have been thwarted in the west by the commonly held notion that Chinese cars simply won't meet western standards.

Things may have been left to take their natural course of development, with prognoses predicting another ten years to pass before Chinese automakers would stand any hope of being able to compete with western and Asian competition, when, seemingly out of nowhere, a Chinese car achieved the maximum five-star rating in the Euro New Car Assessment Program crash tests, and earned the title of "world's safest car".

It is the compact Qoros 3 saloon, which has officially been confirmed by the safety organisation as the best performing 'Small Family' car of 2013, a hatchback version of which also just made its debut at the Geneva Motor Show.

So how did that happen?

I am of the opinion that we are seeing an example of applied Design Thinking.

The field of design thinking is a relatively new export of design industry and design academia into the world of business and management. One might describe it as the art of thinking like a designer, with a typical ability to combine empathy for problem context, creativity to generate insights into it, and out of these, distill solutions which provide an intersection of the desirable, the viable, and the feasible in an altogether innovative outcome. In other words, convergent thinking with the purpose of overcoming certain resistances.

The main resistance Chinese car manufacturers face these days is caused by a weakness of image. This is true both within, and outside China. The image is weakened by a general perception of Chinese cars as being unsafe, and low in quality and technological standard. What would a design thinker do to overcome this predicament?

When Chery Automobile and Israel Corporation outlined the strategy for the development of the Qoros 3, they may well have had architect John Chris Jones's famous quote in mind: "Designers… are forever bound to treat as real that which exists only in an imagined future and have to specify ways in which the foreseen thing can be made to exist."

The challenge must have been clear; in a world where Chinese cars were perceived as unsafe and low quality, the only way out would be a supremely safe car of premium quality. From the point of view of where the standard was at the time, this was an abductive mode of thinking, which resulted in a brand and a product now known for cultivating a human-centered image.

Chris Ebbert
Car design expert
School of Architecture, Design and the Built Environment

Nottingham Trent University

Expert opinion: Development of the world's safest car - applied Design Thinking?

Published on 9 April 2014
  • Category: Press; School of Architecture, Design and the Built Environment

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