Detroit 2013: Top-down design with Volkswagen AG’s Walter de Silva

Volkswagen Group’s head of global design, Walter Maria de Silva, wearing a dress shirt with his initials stitched into the front of it and pair of Harry Potter glasses, makes it clear that he’s not going to talk to us about new product. “Let’s focus on design,” right after we ask a question about the Phaeton. He doesn’t understand that we are talking about design.

He preaches a top-down design strategy, which means that the flagship or “executive” model’s design characteristics must trickle to lesser models. For example, the Touareg’s design elements are in the Tiguan (the Touareg’s place as “executive SUV” might change if the Cross Blue concept, which debuted here at the show, makes it into production.) We only asked about the Phaeton because America doesn’t really have a flagship sedan to take queues from. We’re stalled there, so we start talking about de Silva’s day-to-day grind.

There’s a design studio for each of Volkswagen Group’s brands, including newly acquired Ducati, and Walter de Silva heads up each of them. Not to mention a number of satellite studios around the world, including one in California. To keep all of these studios in line with de Silva’s thinking, Volkswagen Group puts out a book called “design criteria” every two years, alternating between exterior and interior motifs and features for each brand. Volkswagen has a lineup that is very geometric and minimalist, inside and out, while sister brand Audi prioritizes swoopy exterior lines and asymmetrical interiors. De Silva wants each brand to have “a family feeling, a family face.” Then, out of nowhere, de Silva shifts from design to future Porsche product.

He says the group is looking for ways to expand Porsche. Including the coming Macan and 918, there will be seven Porsche models. Past that, de Silva sees the potential for two or three more Porsche models but gives no more details. Using the moment to jump on small cars, like the Volkswagen Up!, and their U.S. potential, we’re, again, stonewalled.

After de Silva walks back onto the show floor, we’re told that there are talks about the Phaeton’s return to our market going on every day, but they’re only talks. No one knows what will happen. If it does make it stateside, you can bet its design would be in line with Walter de Silva’s minimalist philosophy for Volkswagen, and that its stylistic elements would make their way into cheaper vehicles.

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