THE DIFFERENT designs of the new VW Golf, Opel Astra and Ford Focus refute the popular belief that all cars are going to look the same.
The new Golf is evolutionary.
The new Astra is refreshing.
The new Focus is advanced.
Hans Herman Wirth, chief designer of the Astra, said he and his team created the new Astra following a briefing from market research.
'Astra customers liked fresh design,' said Wirth. 'After four million Astras, we did ask ourselves: Does the customer expect evolutionary design? But with market research, we found out that we did not have an earlier model ruling the design direction.'
Volkswagen discovered the opposite for the Golf. Loyalty was a key aspect of its customers.
'A certain continuity played an important role in this project,' said Horst Koenig, project leader of Golf development until the end of last year. 'The functional shape and the wide C-pillar have been characteristic since the first Golf of 1976.'
Hartmut Warkuss, Volkswagen design director, said hints of the sharp lines of the first-generation Golf were featured in the new, fourth-generation Golf.
Ford designers had more of a free hand to create the Focus.
From market research, Ford had already learned that customers appreciated the New Edge design approach of the Ka and Puma.
'But it was Jacques Nasser who has very much committed himself to the innovative and advanced styling approach for the Focus,' said Paul Schinhofen, PR manager for strategies and programs at Ford in Cologne.
Market research played a key role for all the companies.
At Ford, 'especially the three-and five-door models have been received very well during clinics,' said Schinhofen. 'The attending public was 80 percent positive. Their main comments were: 1/8finally something different,' and 1/8strong individuality.' They particularly liked the front end.'
Focus sedans and wagons being prepared for later introduction are more traditional in appearance, said Schinhofen, 'and 50 percent of our cars in the segment are wagons.'
At Opel, the designers were constantly working with colleagues from market research. 'We did quite a lot of early clinics and had a good working relation with market research,' said Wirth.
Volkswagen's Koenig said clinics gave the Golf design very high ratings. 'We had two sessions. First, when the models' shapes had not yet been frozen. Without badges, almost everyone attending recognized it as a Golf. For the finished product, we counted 600-700 people, and 90 percent of them were in favor of the design.'
The press likes the Golf.
'By the way the Golf is selling you may conclude that the design is right,' said Peter Frey, deputy editor of AutoMotor und Sport magazine. About the Astra, he said, 'Opel has made a clear point designwise with a successful development of the outgoing model.'
Fulvio Cinti, editor of Auto & Design magazine from Turin, rates the Golf design highly. He also likes the Focus, but he said it is a risk: 'For many elderly or middle-aged, it could be too modern.'