This interesting article from FastCompany.com follows the story of Joe Qiu, known as "Shanghai Joe" within General Motors where he works at the company's Pan Asia Technical Automotive Center (PATAC) in Shanghai as a car designer. Qiu and a relatively small, inexperienced team of designers were responsible for the current version of the Buick LaCrosse sold in China (shown above). This year the car is expected to sell 110,000 units in China, while it's counterpart in name only sold just 71,072 units in the U.S. during 2006.
The story of GM's Chinese-based design team is certainly a rags to riches one that will culminate in the next few years with PATAC's designing the world's next Buick LaCrosse, due out in 2008 or 2009. As is the custom at GM these days, design chief Ed Welburn pitted his 11 design centers from around the world against each other for the privilege of penning the next LaCrosse. The favored North American team and the underdog Chinese team were clear favorites with the majority of good ideas, so Welburn chose to have both work on the design. The North American team will handle the exterior, while the smaller Chinese team will design the interior. The Chinese designers, though, will also have significant input on the car's exterior since it's expected that China will quickly be Buick's biggest market worldwide.
We think that's just fine, as we reported last November that the Chinese LaCrosse is way cooler than ours. Indeed, the PATAC team's designs are world class compared to the derivitive and downright ugly designs coming from many of China's young automakers. Will the Chinese market one day set trends for the world market? It's a scary though, but who knows? If Joe Qiu becomes the next Ed Welburn at GM, however, things will likely be alright.