The long interview with Gilles Vidal about a future that will change our driving habits.
Reading advice : switch to the large screen of your computer, rather than your Smartphone : some style illustrations provided by Peugeot Design are new !
You can be a native of Auvergne and not be stingy with creativity, genius and a know-how that others envy… Gilles Vidal, who began his career in Citroën design in 1996, will celebrate his tenth birthday next year as head of Peugeot design. What an evolution in the style of the Lion who has regained his fangs, especially since the renewal of the range with the 3008 of 2016. But this is only one step….
In this long interview, you will learn that Peugeot is debauching at Canal+, that the 2008 is not a copy of the 3008 and that the latter surprised many people internally with its success. Let’s start with the students, the designers, the team…
LIGNES/auto: before talking about drawings, sheet metal and creativity, let’s talk about the men and women of Peugeot design. How to keep them in your team after a success such as the 3008/5008 duo ?
Gilles Vidal: “A designer will look at three things : the atmosphere of daily work as well as the pleasure he feels in working in the team, the salary but also the place where he lives. Of course, everyone puts their priorities where they want to go ! But we are lucky to be in Paris, and that means a lot. Of course, we play on the excellent atmosphere in the design office, on the family spirit that reigns in the studio. It remains a place where there are ultimately few people.”
In concrete terms, how many pure creatives does the studio have ?
G.V.: “We have about fifteen external designers, a little less in the interior style. It’s very few but of course, we must add all the staff of 3D modelers or physical modelers, the color and trim studio and then the entity that has almost as many people and is dedicated to HMIs and screens, a new cell that has interface designers….”
… but these are designers who do not come from training as transport designers ?
G.V.: “It is a cell that we had to create. We invented this new profession for the automotive industry. It didn’t exist before and we crossed different talents with web designers, graphic designers, motion designers…”
Are you going to look for them in the video game world ?
G.V.: “Yes, and in other universes as well. For example, we have recruited a video jingle and motion design specialist from Canal+, or a special effects specialist from Pixar ! We also have some rather strong “coders”, knowing that when you dive into Peugeot’s world through the graphics of the new digital instrumentation, you can view up to 600 different pages ! It is then necessary to create a coherent and above all intuitive design.”
We don’t have 600 pages in a small 208 !?
G.V. “If, but obviously, the customer never experiences this amount of information or adjustments, but the richness is there…”
To go back to the creative designers of the ‘external’ or ‘inter’ style, are you currently hiring ?
G.V.: “No, we are rather stable, just like at DS, Citroën or Opel. But there may be turnover. So we will be looking for young talents rather than hiring experienced designers.”
Young recruits are leaving schools that may be overly formatted ?
G.V. : “Precisely, we anticipate by identifying the potential and especially the participatory state of mind of the student as early as the 3rd year of study (5-year studies ). In our company, the designer’s goal is not to win a personal project, but to participate together in the project. If the student has this open-mindedness, we can follow him in Grades 4 and 5 and then we are pretty sure of our move.”
Let’s go back to the starting point of the new identity and range renewal : the 3008. It was studied in a complicated context, in the early 2010 and the PSA crisis. With negative waves…. Was it difficult to work calmly ?
G.V. : “In design, we are well aware of the challenges facing the company and each of the projects we carry out. We are not in our bubble, hermetic to pressures… But it never affects us negatively. Designers are enthusiasts, positive people with a constant desire for progress ! So we have conducted this program to the best of our ability.”
Maxime Picat, then owner of the brand, was doubtful after the first tests where the car seemed too aggressive. What state of mind were you in ?
G.V.: “In tests, you have to make a distinction. When you ask a customer what they want tomorrow, at best, they answer about what they like best today. We learn a lot during these tests but something that may seem daring, even “too much” will probably not be so much when the product is released two or three years later. So don’t be afraid of these comments.”
There was no questioning ? The change between 3008 first generation and 3008 of 2016 is huge !
G.V.: “No, no questions following these tests. There have been some for some colleagues in the company, but with Maxime Picat, we have taken these remarks in a positive way. So much so now that in our tests, if nobody finds anything daring or “too much”, it is because our proposal is too bland and we have a problem! “
3008 was born in 2016, three years ago and has been successful. Since then, we have had the impression that everything is easier to run the new programs !
G.V.: “No, we know that today we have to change the style every time. We can’t just copy and paste ! Moreover, the new 2008 has more SUV codes than the previous one and as such could look like the 3008, but in style, it has nothing to do with it ! Its proportions are not the same as 3008 and in terms of style, if you put them side by side, 2008 and 3008 are very different…”
But their belonging to the range, their identity makes them look alike….
G.V.: “It’s not quite the same thing. There are necessarily common language elements, brand specific signatures. But in style, the themes are different. I would not mention some competitors who actually play the game of “Russian dolls”. Our style evolves with each new product, without necessarily making a giant leap every time. We are renewing to bring something new to each model. Because we present a new product almost every year and there are many changes in the world in a year ! And the style of a 208 is not that of a 508 or a 3008 because above all, they do not address the same customers.”
You mentioned the 2008. What characterizes his style are these lateral triangles. Is this a theme that will be found on other models in the range ?
G.V.: “No, this effect is exclusive to the 2008. Replicating it on a low sedan would make no sense.”
In timing, the 2008 follows closely the 208 ? Was it an easy program ?
G.V. : “Nothing is easy in the automotive industry at the moment ! Of course, it wasn’t that complicated because we had developed the 208 with the 2008 in mind at the same time, especially for the interior style program, which is very similar between the two cars. The range manager, Yann Beurel, was the same for both programs. Only the style ‘exter’ team was different.”
You are not repeating anything from the previous generation of 2008, as for 3008 or 508. This strategy of starting from scratch is the opposite of Volkswagen’s strategy, which changes everything in substance and little in form. Who is right ?
G.V.: “It is not written that we will do this every time ! It is not impossible that for the next generation of 208 – we have not yet started, rest assured – everything leads us to design the same one better, without any break in terms of proportions or morphology. Or maybe we’ll be told that the thermal B segment to which the 208 belongs no longer exists, and then we’ll start on something completely different. You have to move fast because the world moves fast !”
It’s more exciting for your designers, compared to their Volkswagen colleagues who have to give birth to yet another Golf !
G.V.: “I don’t envy my colleagues in charge of the design of the Golf, not because it’s boring, but on the contrary, it’s a very big challenge. In this case, it is necessary to create something new in style, to know which levers to use to create modernity – the famous next move – while remaining in the spirit of the Golf !”
For 2008 and 208, your strategy to start from scratch is also very risky ?
G.V.: “For me, it’s not risky at all, or it’s a very measured risk. With the new 208, we have brought more desirable codes than the almost one-box proportions of the current one. We have returned to a 205 type morphology – without redoing a 205 – that generates more desires, without a doubt. It’s not a risk, and I’m sure it will work better than the current one.”
We are starting to hear about SUV bashing. Are you going to go back to… MPV ?
G.V.: “No, I don’t think so ! But you have to take into account the SUV bashing. This is surprising because, in the end, an SUV is no worse in ecological terms than a MPV : same size, same habitability, same fuel consumption and same interior functionality. There is no difference, except that there is a negative image inheritance for the SUV. He’s the “bad guy” while the MPV is family, he’s the “good guy” !”
The 208 and 2008 grow and leave a chasm to accommodate a small car in the range. Is it still profitable to design a 3.70 m car that has to be produced at low cost ?
G.V.: “It is true that there is room and opportunities… When we look at the evolution of the automotive market, designing much smaller, lighter and more efficient cars is obviously not stupid. There is a societal dynamic that is galloping towards such devices. But I am not sure that designing a small classic car, by which I mean one produced with the current industrial means, would be the right way forward. I think we have to think of a very strong break-up….”
We can imagine this break with a small car taking up the themes of the SUV as above with the HR1 study ?
G.V.: “It’s no longer necessarily a question of style or silhouette. It must be said that it will no longer be the same industrial format that will produce this type of car if we want this product to be viable and affordable, and if we can sell them at low prices.”
How could this little car of the future look like ?
G.V.: “We could imagine producing it with the companies that manufacture bicycles, why not ? Remember our 2010 BB1 concept car (above) which was a breakthrough concept. There may still be a way to make a small car “normal” in industrial terms, but when we look at ourselves in two generations, this concept of the small “classic” car necessarily becomes less viable. So, probably, the factories of the future will produce a product that will break with what we know today. But then customers will have to accept these products, perhaps ‘non-automobile’, and assume responsibility for driving these offbeat objects.”
Let’s go back to your designers. Are they frustrated, for example, with those of Volkswagen, who have to deal with a classic range and now a parallel ID range (above) ?
G.V. : “The company is not there to please designers. We have a mission in this company, we are having a great time on this mission and we think we will be competitive ! So, no, our designers are not frustrated ! PSA has a strategy that is based in particular on a multi-energy platform. It must be understood that there will be room for everyone in the electrical universe. The craziest silhouettes will have an impact on a certain customers, while buyers who are reluctant to use electricity but who feel the need to do so will move towards more reassuring, more appropriate silhouettes. For at least one generation, or even more, the two strategies (platform dedicated to 100% electricity and multi-energy platform) should coexist. And if we want to make a dedicated platform, we know how to do it !”
Interview by Christophe Bonnaud at the ADN, September 16, 2019
Gilles Vidal often refers to the team spirit that characterizes the Peugeot design office. Here is a part of this team that worked on the Peugeot 208.
From left to right : Antoine Ayreault, inter CAD pilot – Christophe Pialat, inter designer – Kevin Goncalves, exter designer – Pedro Miguel Afonso, exter CAD pilot – Eric Dejou, inter silhouette manager – Bruno Coelho, inter designer – Benoit Morin, head of the Colours and Materials studio – Yann Beurel, range manager 208 – Gilles Vidal – Bertrand Rapatel, inter design studio manager. Sébastien Floutier, the designer Couleurs et Matières, is missing.
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BONUS, THE INTERVIEWS WITH THE 208 DESIGNERS, IT’S HERE :