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Walter de Silva: Walter de Silva in portrait

Hans-Dieter Seufert
Walter de Silva
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N one, he's definitely not about the VW - Exhaust gas scandal stumbled upon. Walter de Silva can't help that. But with the departure of CEO Martin Winterkorn, a lot of stones got rolling. One of them is, symbolically speaking, Walter de Silva. The scene knew that he longed for more peace and quiet.

Walter, as everyone called him, often felt tired. No wonder: Being head of design for all VW group brands is a tough job. Working alongside Martin Winterkorn is another challenge. Because Winterkorn only trusted him when it came to design - and therefore didn't let him go. Although de Silva wanted to. More time for the family, more time to spend in Italy.

Hans-Dieter Seufert
Only Winterkorn trusted him in terms of design.

The inventor and the design genius

Winterkorn and de Silva - that was an unusual couple. One in which one would have assumed from a purely relationship point of view that this constellation would have to go wrong. But on the contrary: this professional marriage lasted. Often the two sat together late into the night, fanatically discussing details, rubbing every imaginable line until a good glass of red wine was poured over it.

Winterkorn, the Swabian inventor, de Silva, the elegant one , sensitive Italian, who never felt at home in Wolfsburg. Who surrounded himself with Italian designers and never wanted to speak German during interviews. But English or Italian - although he worked for the VW Group for 17 years. 'In everyday life I get by with German. But I will never speak German like a German. I also told Professor Winterkorn quite clearly: Either I learn German - or I designCars. I don't have time for either. 'Basta.

The craft of his language was pen and paper. If de Silva could explain his ideas by drawing, then he was in his element, and these almost delicate ones came to life Man whose eyes either glowed or looked sad. There wasn't much in between. He inherited his talent from his father: 'My father was an architect, artist and genius. He kept making wonderful toys out of wood and cardboard lids for my brothers and me. '

Italians with clear design principles

De Silva was probably the most recognized designer on the scene for years, especially as Former Renault design chief Patrick le Quément, as a lateral thinker with a penchant for unusual studies such as the Avantime, lost more and more importance. De Silva, born in Lecco (Italy) in 1951, first earned his fame at Alfa, where he did the 156 in 1997 and 2001 created the 147.

Finally the Italian brand had a new line, the beauty that had previously distinguished it flourished again. De Silva was always straightforward, not one line too many: 'A car has to come with two , a maximum of three lines can be defined. Otherwise it's overdesigned. There are cars that have so many lines that you could make three cars out of them. '

Career in the VW Group begins at Seat

This attitude fit in with Martin Winterkorn's strategy and also from VW patriarch Ferdinand Piëch, who became aware of him through the Alfa models. In 1998, de Silva, who once described the Citroën DS as the absolute heroes of history, went to the Spanish VW subsidiary Seat. At that time, the brand looked stylistically boring and offered a model program that nobody could really do anything with.

Martin Winterkorn and VW Patriarch Ferdinand Piëch became aware of him through the Alfa models.

'Auto Emotion', the brand's slogan for years, almost came from Walter de Silva, who developed the blueprint for the next one with Ibiza and Altea Career move marked: Audi needed de Silva - and not the other way around. From 2002 he was responsible for the brand group including Lamborghini and Seat, and left a new design studio in Munichand was able to easily combine the lively, inspiring life of the Bavarian metropolis with the job in the main studio in Ingolstadt. Both are just an hour's drive away from each other.

De Silva was in his element and played a key role in transforming Audi into a real premium brand alongside Mercedes and BMW. His merit? He developed the single-frame grill, the hallmark of Audi. What else? He designed the A5 - and received the design award of the Federal Republic of Germany in 2010.

In 2011 he received the 'Compasso d'Oro' (Golden Circle), one of the most renowned Italian design awards, in Italy. His role models? 'My reference person is Giugiaro. Then Sergio Pininfarina and Nuccio Bertone. In terms of design strategy, I see great similarities between myself and Bruno Sacco (long-time Mercedes design chief, editor's note),' says de Silva. He himself described the A5 as his most beautiful car. His design colleagues around the world bowed symbolically in front of so much sheet metal elegance.

More artists than managers

When Martin Winterkorn rose from Audi boss to VW CEO in 2007, de Silva with - and the then head of design at the VW Group, Murat Günak, gave way overnight. The chemistry between the two creatives wasn't right anyway.

Head of Corporate Design - how should you imagine this work? De Silva: 'I basically work on three axes: the classic model series, for example at Audi from A1 to A8, the crossover projects between the series and the specific models for the markets in China, India and South America. Working on these three levels makes it very complex. ' Twelve brands, 1,500 employees, studios around the globe - quite a burden for de Silva to keep this network apart.

Especially since he saw himself much more as an artist than a manager: 'Creativity and the exchange of ideas play a major role 'Rationality takes a back seat,' he once explained the work of the creative pool. 'This part speaks to me a lot.' And what else distinguishes it: its simplicity. 'I don't think you can live ten years in advance. You don't need advanced design studios in exotic places like California with a view of the beach. The most beautiful cars in the world were made in ugly places.'

The advancement of golf Line was one of de Silva's life tasks.

The further development of the Golf

And he had to criticize VW live - with the fact that the Golf is only evolving. Accusations that his predecessor Hartmut Warkuß was exposed to. De Silva found it difficult to understand: 'I am a bit surprised. If we were to design a Golf that looked different, one would say: You destroyed the golf image, destroyed the Golf. The Golf is real a special case. Together with the Porsche 911, it is the only modern car that can afford this natural evolution. '

It was de Silva's strength not to allow himself to be worn down by this criticism. He showed consistency, even when the single-frame grill of the Audi series was perceived as too similar: 'It's like with luxury watches. At first glance you have to recognize a Rolex, at the second the model. The Mercedes star is 125 years old. And the BMW kidney, how old is it? You don't have to change a successful model, you just need to develop it, 'he described his strategy in an interview in 2011.

De Silva prefers the exterior Design

The small, emotional roadster as a Mazda MX-5 competitor that de Silva would have wished for - he was never allowed to make it as a production model. To do this, he worked intensively on the Polo and Beetle and also developed the design of the E-Bulli, which will premiere at the Consumer Electronic Show at the beginning of next year and give an outlook on the Internet of Things - a world in which de Silva does not necessarily find himself felt at home.

His love was in particular the exterior design - and he also put it into the further development of the Polo: 'In Italy the Golf is the queen, the Polo more like the Cinderella,' said de Silva at the last major model change in 2009. 'Now we have a beautiful, elegant vehicle. The two-door has become a more fashionable car. I hope that we will primarily appeal to young, design-oriented customers with it.'

His next Project? Designing shoes!

What spoke for de Silva: He allowed other strong designers in his environment. Stefan Sielaff (formerly Audi, now Bentley's head of design), Wolfgang Egger (ex-Audi head of design), Klaus Bischoff (head of design at VW), Marc Lichte (now Audi head of design) and Jozef Kabaň (head of Skoda design) worked on their brands good jobs. Skoda is sometimes seen as the stylistically more attractive variant of VW. The Italian allowed it.

De Silva left behind a life's work. He belongs to that generation of designers who were able to combine art and strategy. The fact that he walked in the shadow of the emissions scandal is actually also a scandal. But now he has time for his wife and children. Andone of his most important hobbies: 'I can't imagine spending a day without drawing.' As soon as he had the time, he added to the record a few years ago, he would also like to design a women's shoe because 'a well-made shoe makes a beautiful, well-built woman's leg even more aesthetic'. Walter de Silva took his fine spirit with him into retirement. The car scene will miss both.


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