Will there be a Russian styling theme?
Russia is all about contrasts. There is a strong contrast between the long cold winter and really warm summers and also in the way the wealth is divided. There is a contrast between the countryside and the city. I wanted to capture contrast in the design.
How will contrast show up in Ladas?
Contrast can be dictated by the shape or color. This can be seen in the X-Ray concept. The vehicle has a face with a contrasting shape compared to the rest of the front. The simple body side section was in contrast to the X-shaped sculpture on the side around the wheels, which was very technical and gave a robust strength to the design language.
How much of the X-Ray concept's design will appear on future Ladas?
The basic execution and the shape of the grille and front end will be the face of Lada cars in the future. Also, a lot of the body sculpturing on the side is something you will see in different interpretations on different vehicles.
Will Lada design traditions be carried over to new vehicles?
I'm here to make a break from traditions.
How much input and feedback do you get from Renault design chief Laurens van den Acker?
I go to Renault three or four times a year. Each time I am there, I meet Laurens and the rest of his management team. I'm on the Design Policy Group, which previews works from the different brands, so I get to see what Renault and Nissan are doing, and they get to see what we are doing. We exchange feedback. The most important issue is that we have our own unique design language and enough differentiation between the products and the brands.
Will Lada's product lineup change, perhaps with an increased focus on crossover vehicles or by introducing a minicar?
One of the reasons to do the X-Ray concept was to show that we are moving to expand with crossover- and SUV-oriented vehicles. If you look at Russia's fast-growing segments, crossover growth is very strong, especially in C [compact] and B [subcompact] segments. A minicar is not our focus at the moment.
Are you working on a new Niva?
I can't tell you at the moment. Of course, when you have such an iconic product, you have to continue that. It's an important vehicle for us in the future.
Are you designing cars that will appeal outside Russia?
We are designing for the Russian market, but I think they will be very appealing outside of this country because of the modernity, because of the change in proportions, and because of general product improvements.
Is modernizing Lada's design department a big task?
Anthony Grade from Renault initiated modernization as acting design director before I arrived. He was working on and off for a five-year period. Now the whole team is working with the latest digital technology, modeling digitally and sketching on electronic tablets. I think we have a reasonable facility which is, just like the team, being developed and improved all the time.
Which brands have exciting designs?
Brands that have made a big impact in the shortest time are very interesting. No one was taking Kia seriously 10 years ago and now they have success in all segments. They really put a focus on design, making a huge impact by changing their image. That's the sort of step we need to make at AvtoVAZ.
Why did you open a new design studio in Moscow?
We needed to expand our team, and the easiest way to bring new creative talent to the company was to open a studio in Moscow. Not everyone wants to go to [Lada's headquarters in] Togliatti. Moscow is a more inspiring place from a cultural standpoint. If changes happen, they start in Moscow.
Did you recruit Russians or non-Russians for the Moscow studio, or both?
Everyone working in the Moscow design studio is from Russia or one of the surrounding countries. We also have a Belgian designer, Thomas Bigwood, who is on contract from Renault. He is an experienced foreigner who is responsible for running the studio.
Does Russia have a good pool of talent?
There are a number of good Russian designers but a lot of them work abroad because they are inspired to work for foreign brands or gain international experience and have an international lifestyle. Now that Lada is changing so much, we have a really interesting future ahead for automotive design talent here in Russia and a new reason for those Russian designers to come and work for us. You can make a bigger impact at Lada than you can at foreign brands because we are at a point of change and it's a small team.
Is it difficult to attract people to work in Russia?
It's not always easy to find foreigners who want to live and work here. The country has a specific image but it's very different when you are here. You need to be an open person who wants to take the challenge of coming to a new country, culture and language with all of the complications are connected with that. I also have one other French designer working for me in Togliatti on contract from Renault.
Have you come across any unexpected challenges?
One thing that is frustrating is bureaucracy. That's not specifically AvtoVAZ related; that's [because of] Russian bureaucracy. Sometimes, the things you think will be simple to organize become very complicated because of paperwork and signatures.