Walter de’Silva is set to retire at the end of the month, leaving his role as VW Group head of design and his newly announced position as President of Italdesign. The news comes following the ‘dieselgate’ scandal and the resignation of Volkswagen AG CEO Martin Winterkorn, as well as the resignation of Giorgetto Giugiaro and his son Fabrizio from their respective positions at their eponymous company, Italdesign Giugiaro.
De’Silva has been with the VW Group for the last 17 years and been responsible for overseeing design for the Group’s 12 disparate brands — ranging from premium Audi and ultra-luxury Bentley to mainstream SEAT, Skoda and Volkswagen and including supercar brands Bugatti and Lamborghini, Ducati motorcycles, and MAN and Scania truck lines — since February 2007. He is expected to continue his links with the Group in an advisory capacity, Volkswagen said in a statement.
Prior to his appointment as head of VW Group’s design empire, de’Silva led the now defunct Audi brand group, which included Audi, Lamborghini and SEAT brands — a position he was appointed to in 2002 following three years as head of VW’s Spanish subsidiary SEAT’s design center. Audi’s new design language was epitomized by the Typ 4F Audi A6 (2004) and the A5 coupé (2007), penned by Satoshi Wada in 2001 and 2003, respectively.
Though widely criticized for creating vehicles that were cut from the same cloth — causing the more mainstream brands to look similar to one another — de’Silva saw the main focus of his work as design chief in establishing and nurturing a common design culture across all brands, while still allowing each brand to retain a high degree of creative autonomy.
“Walter de’Silva epitomizes creativity and the Italian sense of beauty and style on the one hand and thoroughness, a systematic approach and discipline on the other,” said new Volkswagen AG CEO Matthias Müller, acknowledging de’Silva’s achievements. “[He] succeeded in establishing a design culture and methodology across all Group brands that is unique in our industry. At the same time, he was the driving force in preserving a high degree of creative autonomy for the brands and their design departments.”
De’Silva began his professional career at the Fiat Design Center in Turin in 1972. He joined Studio R. Bonetto in Milan in 1975 and was head of the Industrial Design and Automobiles Area at the Instituto Idea in Turin from 1979 to 1986.
After a short stint working for Trussardi Design Milano, he joined to Alfa Romeo in 1986, where he was head of design until 1998. De’Silva established a new design philosophy for the brand with the Alfa Romeo 156 (1997), which was followed by the successful 147 (2001). He is also credited with the design of the Volkswagen up!, Polo, and 6th and 7th generation Golf models, as well as the Audi R8 and A5.
De’Silva has received numerous design awards for his work over the course of his career. He was awarded the ‘Design Prize of the Federal Republic of Germany 2010’, the highest official distinction awarded for design in Germany, for the design of the Audi A5, and he received the ‘Compasso d’Oro’ (Golden Compass), one of the most prestigious design awards in Italy, in 2011. An international expert panel described de Silva as the “undisputed main protagonist of Italian design” and awarded him the prize for a career spanning over 40 years.
It is unclear who, if anyone, will be appointed to replace de’Silva as head of Volkswagen Group Design.
Founded in 2012, Form Trends tirelessly covers the automotive design industry in all corners of the globe to bring you exclusive content about cars, design, and the people behind the products.