Volkswagen Design Chief Walter de’ Silva on future Volkswagens

Walter de’ Silva is the former chief stylist for Italy’s sexy Alfa Romeo and head of the Audi design studio, where he influenced the sporty design of the Audi A5 coupe, dramatic R8 sports car, second-generation TT and A4 sedan. He now is head of design for the Volkswagen Group. Volkswagen is Europe’s largest auto producer. Dan Jedlicka interviewed de’ Silva about “The New Face of Volkswagen” at the automaker’s headquarters in Wolfsburg, Germany, during the media introduction of the 2010 Volkswagen Golf.

Q. Does Volkswagen have an especially exiting car coming for the U.S. market?

A. It will be a sleek, but practical, sedan. However, we’re not showing more than an approximate sketch of it at the preview here.

Q. The sketch makes it look somewhat like the very stylish Volkswagen CC, which I found some Americans think is one of the sleeker Audi, Mercedes-Benz  or BMW sedans?

A. The new model will be somewhat along the lines of the CC. However, we respect Volkwagen’s DNA and don’t want to imitate cars from other automakers. We want our cars to be a normal evolution from their predecessors. Our DNA determines our brand.

Q. Volkswagen is anticipating much higher U.S. sales. Will cars that are more stylish help it reach its sales objective?

A. We are slowly taking a more active role in design, combining cosmetics with function. Volkswagen wants its cars to be more dedicated to American customers.

Q. Is that because there is a lot more competition now for Volkswagen?

A. Thee is more competition for every automaker.The world has changed dramatically in the last ten years. Simplicity has become more important,so we must transfer that that to our products. We want them to be universal, logical, unique and solid. There are many sources of inspiration.     

Q. Americans  prefer cars with regular trunks more than those with a hatchback body style. That’s perhaps because they remember inexpensive Japanese hatchbacks once sold in America and associate “hatchback” with “cheap.” They buy far more VW Jettas, which have a regular trunk, than VW Golfs, which are hatchbacks. On the other hand, Europeans favor hatchbacks.

A. For one thing, Americans generally own more cars per family than Europeans, who often own only one car and thus favor the hatchback’s versatile design.

Q. Do you see hatchbacks becoming more popular in America?

A. Yes, especially among younger buyers with active lifestyles who feel that a hatchback is sportier and males a good versatile, entry vehicle. The (very sporty) Golf GTI hatchback is especially popular in America. Also, young American families, who can afford only one car, want a hatchback’s versatility.

Q. How would you briefly descibe the latest Golf’s design?

A. Well-balanced, with design heritage.