Styling a car that looks Chinese is the challenge facing British designer Peter Horbury. He was head of design at Volvo when the company was taken over by Geely and now divides his time between Sweden and China.

Now heading Geely design, his task is to establish a brand identity as well as to put together a new in-house team based in Shanghai with the goal of establishing the Chinese automaker’s own design capability rather than relying on outsourcing to styling houses around the world.

Horbury said: “The disadvantage of outsourcing is that you have to teach new people all time about the brand heritage and ambitions. There are definite advantages in having an in-house team.”

First, that brand heritage has to be established and Horbury’s ambition is to make the cars ‘look’ Chinese.

“I’m not talking about having pagoda roofs or anything radical but there is a certain subtlety I am looking for. I want to introduce some Chinese inspiration into the design language. There is a huge history in the country in terms of art and architecture going back 5,000 years.

“I want to be able to give Geely a design Chinese people can be proud of.”

What does that design involve?

“It’s quite difficult to quantify,” said Horbury. “For example there are certain curves in the architecture which are unmistakably Chinese. I say to my designers that if they draw a line with a brush stroke rather than a marker pen they will get a very different effect, almost like the ancient Chinese caligraphers. The result can be exquisite.

“Chinese people tend to prefer rounded rather than sharp designs that are in harmony. That is an effect I am looking for and it is a very exciting prospect. I want people to be able to look at a Geely and see it as a Chinese car, pretty much in the way you know a German car or a French one.”

Read the full exclusive interview with Peter Horbury