Do car companies really understand customer preferences in China? According to designer Hao Jiang, the answer is “not enough”. He therefore sought to address this question in his Audi Palanquin proposal — an F-segment vehicle for the East Asian luxury market.
Jiang’s project adopts a new interior layout for a rear-driven limousine, which adheres to the Chinese market’s sense of luxury based on the differences in cultural cognition.
In a Feng Shui study, Chinese people believed that having something or someone in front of them visually created an aura of higher seniority and reputation. This was the case in 1903, when Empress Dowager Cixi of the Qing dynasty was presented with a Benz automobile for her frequent tips from Beijing to her Summer Palace beyond the walled city. Annoyed by the seating accommodations, it is said that she never rode in the vehicle – she found it unconscionable that the ‘cart handler’ would be seated in front with his back to her.
The Audi Palanquin concept’s interior — accessed through wide sliding doors — addresses this cultural issue. The concept features a single high-mounted seat for the driver at the rear and generous accommodations for two passengers at the front. The stepped up layout and large glazed area in the roof enable greater outward visibility for the driver, who operates the vehicle via a touchscreen device. “It’s like he’s playing a game,” notes Jiang.
The exterior design “is a more futuristic take on the brand’s design language”, says Jiang, with a tougher, angular aesthetic.
The problem was not that the Benz wasn’t good enough for the Empress; it was merely a reflection of cultural differences between east and west. Though her behavior could be seen as overtly arrogant in today’s modern society, some of this thinking is still present in China. And with automotive companies selling a large number of cars in the market each year — all using the same platforms and interior layouts in order to reduce production costs – perhaps it’s time for greater differentiation in products.