Q&A with Carl Gotham, Advanced Design Director, SAIC Design Advanced London

As told to Anand Mohan
Carl Gotham believes India is an important market, and developing quickly over recent years
Carl Gotham believes India is an important market, and developing quickly over recent years

1. Can you tell us about your role as the Advanced Design Director at SAIC Design Advanced London and your involvement in shaping the design direction of MG cars?

As the European Advanced Design Director for SAIC MOTOR, I’m responsible for exploring the overall design language of future direction across Exterior, Interior and UX design for the MG brand and other self-owned brands under SAIC Motor.  My team consists of a cultural mix of designers whose role is to bring fresh and innovative perspectives to the future portfolio of MG, and seek new opportunities as our brand expands across the world. Over the past 5 years at our studio I have lead the team to develop initial concepts for MG5 Sedan, MG4 and of course the MG Cyberster, a significant car for the building of our brand, which have all played a role in shaping the production cars on the road. We’ve also explored more advanced studies around future mobility and user-experience with projects such as the MG MAZE, which was awarded the prestigious Red Dot Design Award in 2022 for its unique and highly innovative concept.

Our most recent design philosophy ‘Emotional Dynamism’ reflects the spirit of MG that attempts to create a connection between the personal values with the modern sporting DNA of the MG brand recognised around the world.  We focus on creating forward thinking designs that can be developed into new models based on the market trends. We understand consumer requirements vary from one geography to another and our work explores design language and vehicles that are attend to the needs of specific regions. It is our mission to establish MG as a modern global brand whose design connects both the heart and mind across all ages and demographics.

2. MG has gained significant popularity in India. How do you approach designing cars that resonate with the Indian market's preferences while maintaining the brand's global identity?

MG is celebrating its 100 years anniversary, and one enduring aspect of the brand has been its ability to connect with people across the world from very beginning through to today. We design cars that still express an emotional language, bring European flavour to the style whilst answering the needs of consumers around the world. 

Our design philosophy evolves with the changes in consumer demographics. We understand that customers in India like intelligent products with bold designs. In the last 4 years that MG has been in India, we have seen the evolution of MG design, enhancing the combination of smart, modern and practical design that the market requires, and we are always trying to deliver this through our exciting car models. 

3. The Indian automotive market is diverse. How do you incorporate cultural nuances and local design elements into MG cars to create a personalised and relatable experience for Indian consumers?

India is a distinct market with unique and varying tastes, consumer preferences, diverse topography and climatic conditions. This requires a good understanding of what makes this market so special and unique when compared to other parts of the world, and especially Europe. Understanding and considering these attributes allows the brand to develop products that are appropriate to the particular market. India is an important market, and developing quickly over recent years.

4. Could you share insights into the design philosophy that underpins MG cars, particularly those targeted at the Indian market? How does this philosophy align with the brand's global image?

 MG is a brand that has been in existence for a century and is still gaining in prominence day by day due to its relevant design, futuristic attitude and next-generation technology. Of course the brand has always been synonymous with open-top two-seater sportscars which have created a romantic and passionate impression with audiences across the world. 

Based on classic British aesthetics, the MG design philosophy echoes the emotional demands of the automobile in the era of technology, bringing a sense of passion and allure to our products, sometimes as a counter to the less tangible aspects of trends like artificial intelligence.  Our designs are a clear representation of ‘Future’ whilst reflecting the Sporting DNA of the brand MG, none more so than our new all electric sportscar, which arrives at the very moment MG turns 100.

5. The MG Hector and other models have distinctive design features. How do you strike a balance between futuristic design elements and a timeless aesthetic that ensures longevity in a rapidly evolving market?

As custodians of a brand such as MG carries, a great responsibility and shifting a brand that has such an illustrious history is not an easy task. However, we try to capture the spirit of the brand in our products which is conveying many elements from the front identity to the surface language and the interior ambience. Curating designs that are timeless is a challenging task but should be the core of a designer’s job to ensure a lasting legacy and avoid designing for the moment. 

6. Can you share the thought process behind making a car like the Comet? It’s the most unconventional car to have come out of any car maker since a long time. Tell us the inspiration and conviction behind designing a micro car?

Micro cars, sub-compact cars etc. have always been a great opportunity and challenge for designers to create a combination of bold personality, practicality and innovation. As EVs, these compact cars are even more flexible in terms of packaging and connectivity, allowing us to maximise the usable space in the cabin and offer more feature and functionality. These little cars have huge personalities, and stand out amongst the other larger vehicles on the road, bringing an aspect of confidence and presence that is needed for safety as well as to convey a certain personality of the user.

The Comet EV certainly represents the Future-tech world and provides mobility at a segment where users do not require excess or flamboyance but a practical commuting option.

7. MG ZS EV has been a significant player in India's electric vehicle segment. How do you approach designing electric vehicles to communicate their eco-friendly nature while also appealing to a wide range of consumers?

MG ZS was and remains an important product in the modern MG portfolio. The brands first compact SUV was challenging to design, it had to do the job of delivering the expected aspects of an SUV with the style and flare of the MG brand. The ZS EV was the first car in our portfolio to adopt a distinct EV identity; this was largely done by removing the front grille, traditionally present for cooling larger internal combustion engines. The lack of this requirement with EV powertrains meant that the front facia could be cleaned and made more distinctive, a trend now prevalent across the EV landscape. It’s important for many customers to feel something fresh when they are adopting a new technology, something that shows that they have the confidence to embrace something that might be challenging for others, but equally we didn’t want people to feel too alienated and awkward.

Carl Gotham wants MG to be recognised as a modern brand, with British legacy
Carl Gotham wants MG to be recognised as a modern brand, with British legacy

8. Can you share insights into the process of translating conceptual designs into production models? How do you ensure that the essence of the initial design vision is retained throughout the development process?

The design process involves many steps and even before pen is put to paper there are many discussions and considerations made to set a target. Once a direction is established, we must find ways to retain the essence of the idea through to the very end, which is a lengthy and involved process that requires a string resolve and dedication to the execution of the idea. No one can do this better than the designer who has penned the design, they will have the drive required to follow the process and face challenge and fight for every millimetre. Of course, there will be areas where a compromise must be met, either to reach an engineering or cost target for the product.

9. MG cars often blend elements of heritage with contemporary design. Could you elaborate on how this fusion is achieved and how it resonates with consumers in India and beyond?

Our role is to explore the design language of the MG brand, as it continues to grow and become a more significant player in the automotive world. The cars have to balance the need for modernity whilst expressing an inherent value that might be associated with the MG brand. We are not producing retro designs, but there is a retained feeling of a more European language, something expressive, and curvaceous rather than cold, product like or austere. As the brand becomes more prevalent there is a continual need to strengthen the core values and address the specific needs of customers around the world. In India the MG brand legacy is known to some extent, and certainly there is an understanding of what it means to be a British brand, or identity, which I believe is appreciated there. Marking 100 years of the brand, it is the perfect opportunity to look ahead and mark significant moments of the history to help inform the future, bringing a synergy between the heritage and contemporary requirements of modern day mobility.

Carl Gotham says that last 4 years that MG has been in India, they have seen an evolution of design
Carl Gotham says that last 4 years that MG has been in India, they have seen an evolution of design

10. Sustainability is a growing concern. How does the design team incorporate eco-friendly materials and practices into the creation of MG cars, aligning with the brand's values and the preferences of environmentally conscious consumers? 

As designers there is a fundamental care for the world, and the responsibility placed on us to produce products that are meaningful, impactful and responsible. The focus on sustainability has grown significantly in recent years, and is a key agenda for the long term future of our world. As a pioneer in EV technology, the transition from ICE and the accessibility of our products, we are at the forefront of the industries commitment to lowering emissions and the carbon footprint.

For us, sustainability is not just a trend; it is an ongoing journey and an exciting challenge to utilise new materials and thinking when designing cars. It is the role of designers to push these bold ideas and concepts, and that of our engineers to find ways to deploy into the complex system of making and delivering vehicles at volume. Our global design team continues to explore new technologies and materials to stay at the forefront of ecological automotive innovation and we are committed to searching new solutions in sustainable vehicle design.

11. The Indian market is highly competitive. What unique design features or approaches do you believe set MG cars apart from their competitors in terms of aesthetics and user experience?

Our cars are positioned to be dynamic, stylish, practical and feature-rich, which is quite a challenge to combine successfully to offer a unique value proposition. The design language is more expressive, as is the expectation of a European brand, which adds to a more emotional design language and help to carry the sporting DNA that defines MG both worldwide and in India. These designs eloquently help to make MG a desirable brand, that speaks to the heart and engage the mind. I think our cars will become more impactful in the market in future as we grow and define the brand in an ever stronger direction, built on the foundations of the past few years and creating a brand story to define MG’s future legacy. Our cars should be a harmonious blend of modern heritage, appealing to a wide range of customers who appreciate both aesthetics and functionality.

12. Looking ahead, what trends in automotive design do you anticipate shaping the future of MG cars in India, and how do you plan to integrate these trends into your design philosophy?

 India is a diverse market with unique preferences and the customer response and acceptance towards our designs has been phenomenal. As far as I have witnessed, Indians like bold, big and intelligent designs. In the last 4 years that MG has been in India, we have seen the evolution of design, it’s like the fusion of smart, modern, and practical design that Indians long for and we at MG have always tried to render this through our design excellence which is high on comfort, space and finesse. 

As an eco-conscious brand, sustainability is integral to our design philosophy. We're dedicated to minimising our vehicles' environmental impact by utilising recycled materials, lightweight components, and energy-efficient designs. Our goal is to create cars with a timeless aesthetic, promoting long-term ownership and reducing waste. One of the most significant trends in the automotive industry that has gained momentum in India market is the shift towards electrification. As a part of our design philosophy, we are committed to creating visually compelling EVs with futuristic design elements such as sleek profiles, innovative lighting, and a focus on sustainability through eco-friendly materials.

The future of automobiles in India is undeniably intertwined with connectivity and autonomous driving features. As technology continues to advance, Indian consumers are increasingly seeking vehicles that offer seamless connectivity to their digital lives, providing not only entertainment but also safety and convenience. Our design approach involves creating vehicles that seamlessly integrate these technologies which includes designing user-friendly, tech-savvy interiors with intuitive controls and infotainment systems. While we embrace innovation and advanced technology, our design philosophy will continue to incorporate elements that pay homage to our classic MG models, ensuring that our cars evoke a sense of nostalgia and brand loyalty. As we introduce new products in the India market, you will get to see these new design elements seeded in our new products.  

13. Finally, could you share an upcoming project or design innovation that you're particularly excited about, especially regarding MG cars in the Indian market?

We are currently working on some exciting projects that are looking to both celebrate the milestone moment of MG’s 100 centenary and taking into the next chapter, its future legacy. The brand is at a pivotal moment in its journey of re-establishing itself as an experience brand, delivering fun, technology and good design to the mainstream global car market. The impact of our work will help to propel MG into the future and help to communicate an ever stronger design DNA related to the core aspects of the MG brand, which we hope will connect with audiences and markets across the globe. We want MG to be recognised as a modern brand, with British legacy, that can adapt to the diverse market trends and answer the needs of the discerning future customer.

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