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Great Wall SUV only auto to win top design award

Recently, Great Wall Motors' Haval H6 SUV won the golden prize for industrial design at the 15th China Patent Awards.

Jointly selected by the World Intellectual Property Organization and China's State Intellectual Property Office, it is regarded as the nation's highest award in terms of industrial design.

Haval H6 was the only automobile among the five golden prize-winners this year.

The award-winning model's monthly sales have exceeded 20,000 units since August.

According to the company, the development of the Haval H6 began in July 2007 and took four years before it was released on the market. In the process, numerous discussions and three large-scale meetings were held to assess the designs. Hundreds of suggestions were made to improve the proposals and ensure engineering feasibility.

The company's executives said they wanted to create a modern, fashionable, urban SUV that is both strong and sporty.

Like the Great Wall, many domestic carmakers have worked to improve designs to move up the value chain and shed the reputation local brands have for producing cheaply made knock-offs.

It is becoming increasingly common these days for local companies to open design facilities overseas and employ international designers.

Chang'an Automobile Group is a pioneer in this field. The company set up its first overseas design center in Italy in 2003, and now it has R&D facilities also in Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States.

Its European design center in Turin now has more than 100 designers. The international team has contributed to the creation of many of its new models in recent years, including the popular EADO.

"It is a very common and reasonable way to build an international design team. It creates a good environment for local designers to learn and is helpful for their rapid growth," said Ethan Wang, a lecturer of Art Design and Architecture at Monash University who specializes in industrial design.

"Car design represents a consensus on certain features of a certain brand or a certain model, which helps forge the loyalty of its fans," he said. "It is the designer's work to continue and evolve the DNA of a model or a brand."

Having observed the development of domestic cars in recent years, Wang said that these brands are still so young compared with their foreign counterparts, and they should really work hard to collect the important features in every generation of a model.

"It appears that some brand characteristics are gradually taking shape in the design of the Haval H6, and I think it is why the model could win the award. It also sets a good example for other domestic carmakers."

Wang also said that although customers can easily find "borrowed elements" on some domestic cars, homegrown car brands have generally made a great leap forward in recent years in terms of R&D and design, largely thanks to the rapid growth of China's car market.

The progress of domestic brands can also be shown in a recent JD Power report, which found that Chinese domestic auto brands have narrowed the gap with international brands to its slimmest level since 2003 in terms of the appeal of new vehicles.

Now in its 11th year, the study examines customer satisfaction on 82 attributes across 10 vehicle performance categories, including the vehicle exterior and interior design.

Although it has no separate evaluation on vehicle design, the overall score among Chinese domestic brands averages 772 points (on a 1,000-point scale), compared with 816 among international brands. The 44-point gap is the smallest in the history of the study, down from a 58-point gap in 2012.

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