Walter de' Silva's design responsibility embraces a true empire of brands: Audi, Bentley, Bugatti, Lamborghini, Seat, Skoda and Volkswagen cars, and light commercial vehicles.
The Italian designer has created highly praised product lines for Alfa Romeo, Seat and Audi -- including the German premium automaker's “single-frame” grille, which is probably the most copied design feature in recent years. But de' Silva is particularly proud of the smallest vehicle among his most recent creations: the new VW Polo.
“The new Polo is a simple and honest shape -- and designing simplicity is much more difficult than overdesign with decoration,” he says.
De Silva, 58, has led Volkswagen AG group design since February 2007, after eight years working though the group's ranks, beginning at Seat and later at Audi.
Like most designers, de' Silva is focused on the future.
He won't spend much time discussing the five most influential production cars he has designed in his 37-year career -- the Alfa Romeo 159, Seat Altea and Leon and Audi A6 and A5 -- because he's fully involved in what he believes will be his greatest challenge: the seventh-generation VW Golf.
De Silva had only a minimal influence on the sixth-generation Golf, introduced last year, because he received groupwide design responsibility after the Golf's design was approved.
“When I think about the Golf VII, I do not sleep at night,” he says, admitting he never imagined that one day he would be designing from scratch a new generation of Europe's best-selling model. The seventh-generation Golf is due around 2012.
Overseeing design for eight brands means following roughly 100 projects at the same time.
“In the past two years,” he says, “I have spent more time with (VW group CEO) Dr. Winterkorn than with my wife.”