GWM Ora will stay funky for new SUV

Steve Fowler

16 May 2024

​Chinese car maker GWM Ora’s design boss has confirmed that its unique, wide-eyed design language is set to continue and that it could find its way on to a new SUV.

Speaking exclusively to Electrifying, Brit Andrew Dyson, Design Director for GWM, revealed how GWM Ora’s distinctive look is set to stay. “There is a trend in any particular time when you’re designing cars and I think you’ve noticed with new energy vehicles – not just electric – a desperate change to almost eliminate your grille which has been the main graphic element in a lot of traditional car design,” said Dyson. “And there has been a jump, particularly in China, to get very slim, LED lamps on the two sides of the car, horizontal and as slim as possible, with the main headlamp unit disguised underneath in a lower area, rather like a fog lamp.

“With a lot of them it ends up looking like a sea of sameness - it really is. You can't distinguish is it that brand o that brand; you've got to go and look at the logo.

“But I saw the opportunity that following this distinctive look [with GWM Ora] where it doesn't have a grill, it's a smooth, integrated front end with the rounded elements of the lamps being quite large and inclined on the surface. I saw that as a big differentiator and not many brands do that at all. There are the obvious ones like Porsche, but they’re kind of moving away from it now a little bit. And the only other one are you could say is the Fiat 500.

“We're trying to get this look across our brands and keep the headlights quite circular, so the front-end design gets a distinctive appearance in the sea of sameness. It was an important thing and something that I said we should really hold onto and obviously keep updating it, make it look more advanced, more integrated, beautifully proportioned and keep that look for the future.

“We wanted to maintain that feeling that you've got that friendly appearance, less of an aggressive appearance, and we thought that fits with the Ora brand. Ora is not trying to be super sporty; we've tried to differentiate the brand to something that gives you a calming effect.

“What I promote inside the company is you've got these very stressful lives, and the car is sometimes a haven of peacefulness. You can get in after work, you can get away from all the noise, you can be in an electric car and the whole interior of the car, the exterior design should portray a sort of a calmness feeling, a bit like you are meditating or you are doing yoga. 

“The exterior relates to that as well because when you look at the cars, they don't look aggressive, they look calm, they look peaceful, we're inspired by nature, the rounded shapes.

“What I hope to do in my role, and what we are doing in the studio right now, is to hone the new cars to make sure that the proportions in the future maybe more sexy, that the cars sit on the wheels really well and have a great stance and that the surfaces are beautifully controlled and that the cars don't end up being too feminine." 

"Now I don't mean that in a bad way, what I mean is that there's a bit more muscle on the shapes, a little bit more sexy kind of shapes where you can say, oh, that's just drop dead beautiful.”

With the GWM Ora Funky Cat hatchback rapidly renamed as the 03 and the Lightning Cat saloon coming to the UK soon as the 07, the obvious gap in the line-up is an SUV – something buyers across the globe continue to crave.

“The cars that are on the market right now, it's just a small section of what the potential could be. And we certainly, since I've been working the company, have worked on lots of different types of Ora, experimented with almost all Oras that you could possibly imagine,” said Dyson.

Asked directly whether the next model would be an SUV, Dyson replied, “You can imagine that there'll be several new vehicles coming, several more car lines, but I can't put a number on it. I can’t confirm anything but the obvious cars you can imagine, they're obviously a priority to get onto the market next.”

So, could the softer design language of GWM Ora translate well onto an SUV shape? Dyson thinks it won’t be a problem. “Let's say if you were to design a vehicle which is taller, you can still control taller vehicles with rounded shapes; you can still make them look beautiful,” he said.

“Let's say an off-road vehicle in its lower body has a lot more protective areas, let's say we call cladding around the wheels, large extensions, spoilers, diffusers, underbody protection, things like that. There's a way to design that as well, which is not necessarily hard edged, it can still be quite soft, quite integrated, and you can get that color contrast between body color, contrast colors, gloss black, dark grays or textured materials. So there's ways to develop cars such as an SUV that still retain those natural shapes.

“The most growth is always with an SUV so it's the obvious thing to do for any brand. And it's the same in Europe; I think it's the same in China too actually. The SUVs are obviously outselling nearly everything else because they’re so multipurpose.”

Electrifying has taken Dyson’s words on a softer design approach and applied them to an exclusive rendering of an SUV to show what a potential Ora SUV model could look like, with prominent round headlights and softer curves rather than hard edges, blending in with the necessary cladding that an SUV has to have.

Although Dyson wouldn’t be drawn on when a GWM Ora SUV might be on sale, he did admit that the first car he has worked on in the two years he’s been with GWM won’t be too far away. “I think the first cars that I've worked on specifically should be on the market sometime in 2025, but the exact month I can't say,” he said.

There’s also no word on what name or number a new SUV would wear either, with Dyson saying, “We've got a bandwidth of ideas. The actual naming is something that I wasn't personally involved with, so I can't really answer whether it allows us enough models in between three and seven, I guess somebody just said, let's just do three and seven and we can always put something in between. But to my knowledge, there's not any sort of specific cars coming in with those numbers.”

However, Dyson did admit that cars larger than the 07 are possible, even challenging the likes of the Kia EV9 with its £70,000 price tag. “We've investigated vehicles which are considerably larger and could command that kind of price,” he said, “And it's just a matter of whether those cars will get into production or not. Some have been developed at quite high levels actually, which go up to that kind of luxury segment. But let's say the 07 certainly isn't necessarily the flagship, but what that car could be in the future, whether it's a sedan, SUV or a sports sedan or whatever, I can't say because we've done so many studies.”

Dyson has clearly been blown away by the scale of the operation at GWM, with the Haval, Wey and Tank brands coming under his responsibilities and the ability to go from sketch to a full-size clay model in just five days. And in just two years, he says he’s developed more new cars than he did at his previous employers, Opel, in 14 years.

“It is just mind boggling how many proposals you do,” he said. “And when I mean proposal, I don't mean just a sketch. I mean full size models, fully engineered and considered how you could sell this, what business case you could do, what would be the marketing, which would be the markets.

“The pace and the amount of resources that we have is quite outstanding. I mean, the design department alone has over 700 people just in design styling. So, you can imagine it's just huge. What you see in Europe and what you see with the Ora brand is quite minuscule as to what the potential could be.”

GWM also has a hands-on chairman, who Dyson is enjoying working with. “We have direct contact with Chairman Wey, the owner of the company, and he just loves design,” said Dyson. “He is a real car geek, basically. He built the company in the late nineties from nothing really. And he's one of those hands-on guys. He used to take motorcycles apart and build them up – so he's a hands-on car guy. 

“What that means is that for us in a weekly business, he has two design reviews on Thursdays and Fridays every week, every single week. Each one takes about an hour and a half where he looks at designs, he brings his whole program team, his CEOs of each brand, the bosses of engineering and all the key people with him. So, it's almost like a business review where they look at the models, look at a full size type model, and you get an idea of the car, how do we sell it? How do we engineer it? Why? Because you're looking at it, it's not an excel spreadsheet or a PowerPoint. It's the car that stood in front of you.

“He often challenges the engineering himself saying, ‘I want a shorter overhang, I want a better proportion, I want a lower roof line or I want a higher roof line. He likes to use people like myself as let's say an experienced designer to help him, help his vision go forward. And he makes decisions quite quickly and sometimes he thinks, no, this is something I need to see several times. I need to keep making changes, keep making improvements.

“I've never seen the owner of a car company ever before have so much engagement with the development process and particularly design. And because he's trained in looking at those things every week, he's quite an expert at it. He has a good taste, he has a good idea, and his standards are extremely high.”

Andrew Dyson, GWM's Design Director, said an SUV is "the obvious thing to do for any brand"

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