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Stefan Sielaff – Geely’s ace up the design sleeve

Designer Stefan Sielaff

He didn’t have to take the plunge. Stefan Sielaff started his new job as Vice President of Global Design at Chinese carmaker Geely rather gently. Although the Munich native began his position a good six months ago, he was unable to make it to the People’s Republic during the first few months of his new job due to strict quarantine regulations.

But there weren’t any major issues. The global design headquarters is located in Gothenburg anyway. Sielaff now also has his office there. Here, 500 employees work in design, 500 more are located in Shanghai, and 15 each in Barcelona and California. Geely has invested vast sums in digitization to unite this global team. The pandemic may have sped up this process, but it was not the catalyst. Geely sees itself as a global and modern corporation and wants to operate accordingly. When Sielaff presents a car to the board, he does so in virtual reality. There, avatars stroll around the vehicle and express their opinions.

Calmness is a quality

It quickly becomes clear why Geely wanted Sielaff at all costs. He was previously Chief Designer at Bentley and was responsible for the global interior design of the entire VW Group. The result speaks for itself. Bentley radiates monolithic calm, and the interiors of the Wolfsburg brands are considered well-composed benchmarks. Sielaff: “You have to try to calm the design and introduce a clear design language. Chinese customers recognize when the quality is right. And you achieve this effect with a calm style, organic surfaces and clear lines in the exterior and the interplay of materials in the interior.”

Sielaff is considered well-organized and works structured. These are qualities that Chinese executives value, but which are rare, especially in creative professions such as design. China’s work ethic also suits him. “The first thing you notice is the pace – how fast things are decided. I’m a demanding person, I want to see results fast, and I can’t stand it when decisions drag on for months. That’s why I’m also a proponent of working digitally.”

Zeitgeist plays into his hands

In his 35 years of experience at almost all VW Group brands – including a stint at Daimler – Sielaff has learned not to simply design cars. He thinks of them holistically. In his opinion, workmanship quality begins with the first sketches. Sielaff knows when a design is too playful and can lead to manufacturing problems. “You can always argue about design. But not about whether it’s top quality. Everyone notices it right away, even if they may not be aware of where the effect comes from. My job is to get that message across.”

The zeitgeist is also working in his favor, he believes: “The Chinese like luxury that is not over the top, but discreet. And that will come in the next few years. That’s why I’m in the right place at the right time.” Christian Domke-Seidel


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