Back to basics for VW, says Walter de Silva

Published: 25 June 2008

It was an odd place for an inside line into what future Volkswagens will look like, but when head of VW Group design Walter de Silva invited CAR to the old Fiat Lingotto factory in Turin – now a conference and shopping centre – we could hardly say no.

Go on then, spill the beans…

De Silva described VW as being immersed in a ‘process of defining their design language’ which could be read as ‘we’re still sucking our designer thumbs to see what happens’. Audi, De Silva said, had already been through that process and its design DNA was ‘understood by everyone in the company, right down to the smallest details’. Although when you’re struggling to tell the difference between a new A4 and an A6, perhaps that defining has been refined a little too far…

Hmm. I’m falling asleep in the back row already

Hold on – there’s interesting stuff coming. According to De Silva, VW’s styling will ‘return to simple design language that’s easy to understand – a clear hierarchy of grilles and rear-end treatments’, perhaps taking a swipe at some of the more recent and less successful efforts from Wolfsburg.

Key words and phrases had been coined during the process, he said, such as ‘timeless, consistent, unique, responsible, history, quality, solidity, simplicity and coherent design transmitting responsibility’ which sounds like a pure design bunk. There was talk of VW design reflecting social evolution, although De Silva frustratingly didn’t expand further on this.

Click ‘Next’ below to read more of about the future of VW design

Enough verbosity. Any pics to illustrate his point?

Yes, but too briefly flashed up on screen for CAR’s cameras to whirr into action. They knew we were coming armed, see. De Silva reinforced his design talk with a series of sketches showing VW greatest hits – an original Beetle, various Golfs, a previous generation (v5.0) Passat – focussing on their key elements such as the arc of the roof or the C pillar (highlighted with a dash of VW blue) in a kind of corporate reverence.

So VW is going all retro?

No, it’s going to draw on its design heritage more than before, said De Silva, as he showed a sheet of thematic sketches. These weren’t actual cars, just shapes showing a development trail of generic VW proportions: strong, rounded forms with a Germanic heft best illustrated by the Mk4 Golf and previous Passat. ‘There should, de Silva said, pointing to the aforementioned Passat to illustrate, ‘be a balance and elegance in the VW architecture – a clear relationship between the mass of the body and of the greenhouse, especially in profile’.

But what does this all mean for the next few years of VW design?

Reading between the primary-coloured lines of De Silva’s felt-tipped pens, expect the next generation of VWs to have spiritually more in common with the late 1990s range of cars rather than the current set. There’s evidence already of the process: the Scirocco losing the glitzy grille of the concept for a more sober treatment (see picture far right) and Georg Kacher’s recent reveal on CAR Online that the next Passat will simplify and de-chrome the car. It all points to VW no longer chasing Audi, and looking to produce solid and straightforward cars of the people rather than flashy cars for the more well-heeled people…

Click ‘Next’ below to find out what de Silva had to say about Lamborghini

De Silva is the VW design boss  – what did he say about Sant Agata?

Tidying away his snappy blue sketches, de Silva said ‘I should feel a Lamborghini before I see it. I hear a sound – a dream.’ Obscure, but understandable. He rattled off design keywords like ‘closed front end, angular surfaces, provocative, extreme and extrovert’, words backed up by Lamborghini design boss Manfred Fitzgerald, who strongly hinted that the recent Reventón – the design of which predated the recently launched Gallardo LP560-4 – would continue to influence future product, specifically the arrow nose and forward projecting air intakes.

Any more news on the Murcièlago replacement?

It will be lighter. Affable Chief Engineer Maurizio Reggiani was unwilling to say anything about its construction other than ‘composite materials will be most important in the future – especially cheaper ones. The power-to-weight ratio is key, and everything we can do to get the weight down is vital to the project. This reinforces the belief that Lamborghini will finally abandon its traditional welded steel chassis in the pursuit of added strength with lightness.

Will it drop all-wheel drive in pursuit of this lightness?

No, in a word.’Four-wheel drive is in the Lamborghini DNA and will form the basis of all future development,’ insisted Reggiani, quashing predictions from some quarters that the much-rumoured forthcoming Murcièlago SV will be two-wheel drive only. As for what type of transmission the car might use, he claimed the e-gear transmission still had plenty of development potential. But what of a dual clutch transmission like so many other brands in the group? ‘We have top performance in 0-100kph with our cars, I don’t understand why we’d want to change anything’ was his chipper reply…

Is VW right to leave the glitz and glamour to Audi and return to its design roots? Click ‘Add your comment’ below and have your say.