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Former Ford, Volvo Designer Peter Horbury Heading to China

Horbury will head styling for aspiring Chinese maker Geely.

by on Nov.02, 2011

Peter Horbury shown here at the 2006 unveiling of the Lincoln Mark S.

He’s already got plenty of stamps in his passport but Peter Horbury will soon add another as he trades Sweden for a new base in China.

The long-time director of design for Gothenburg-based Volvo, Horbury has been named the new styling chief for aspiring Chinese automaker Geely.  But he won’t entirely cut his ties to the land of the midnight sun, as he will also continue overseeing operations at Volvo, which was purchased by Geely in 2010.

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The move underscores the global ambitions of the Chinese maker, considered one of the most promising of that country’s domestic brands.  While it is relying on Volvo as the spearhead in its worldwide assault the Geely Group clearly also wants to build up its original Chinese brand name, as well.

“Peter Horbury has played a very important role for Volvo’s design during a long period of time and has a legendary position in the automotive world. I wish him all success in his new role within Geely Group,” said Volvo CEO Stefan Jacoby.

Horbury has been credited with transforming Volvo from the maker of stodgy station wagons into a more modern, stylish brand that has pushed the envelope with such offerings as the XC90 crossover and little C30 coupe.

Trained at the Royal College of Art, in London, the 61-year-old Horbury started out with Chrysler UK but soon migrated to the Netherlands, where Volvo was running a joint venture with Japan’s Mitsubishi Motors.  He put in a brief stint with Britain’s MGA before joining Volvo’s corporate staff in Gothenburg, Sweden’s “motor city,” as design director in 1991

Horbury was behind the dramatic transformation at Volvo, which long viewed design as an after-thought, offering a variety of all-but-identical sedans and wagons.  His design for the original XC90 was the first sign of a new direction – drawing in new buyers that had never before considered the brand.

Horbury moved to the U.S. following Ford’s purchase of Volvo.  Starting in 2002 he served as design chief for the short-lived Premier Automotive Group, originally based in California, which gave him control of styling at a mix of European brands including Volvo, as well as Jaguar, Land Rover and Aston Martin.

He was subsequently moved to Detroit as executive director of design and played a central role in the nascent effort to turn around the struggling Lincoln brand.  In 2009, Horbury was reassigned to Volvo, which was going through its own turnaround effort in the wake of sagging sales.

The British designer stayed on when the Geely Group purchased Volvo for $1.5 billion – barely a quarter of what Ford originally paid for the marque – early last year.

“I am delighted that Peter Horbury has accepted the offer to lead the design development of the Geely Group brands into the future,” said Li Shufu, chairman of both Geely and Volvo. “His vast experience in the industry will be key for the future success of Geely Group’s products.”

Geely is one of the rare Chinese brands to eschew the need for a foreign joint venture partner to focus on growing organically.  While it sees the chance to use the Volvo brand as its entry into the worldwide market it eventually plans to take the original Geely nameplate global, as well.

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