Interview with Philippe Holland

GCD met Philippe Holland recently at the RCA Interim Degree Show in London last week.  Listening to his passionate account of the ups and downs of the project and his unabashed passion for the development and design of electric cars.  A quarter French, a quarter Italian (the quarter that keeps beckoning him to ‘go to Italy!’), and half English Holland is a true European living in Paris and is in his 9th year with Citroen.  His very French title is Responsible Style Graphique, and he tells us what that involves later and how he, a confessed petrol-head, envisions the future for our children and grandchildren.

GCD : Where are you coming from to the eco table, you are quite passionate, are you trying to push Citroen to make a statement, to become electric?

Holland : Its more than that, for 100 years we have been refining the principle of the automobile, four wheels, motor, transmission, seats, and the bodywork.  With the architecture and the technology electric vehicles can give us we can do whatever we want.  We have the electric motors in the wheels, we can have four wheel steering, we can have flat floors, we are at the point where we can reinvent the automobile.  And for a designer who’s stuck doing sports cars he or she should wake up to the opportunity to do something fantastic.

A little anecdote for you, a little before Christmas we had a huge snow problem in Paris and the design centre, on the technical side we have about 5,000 people, on that evening we had about 3,000 people couldn’t get home and had to sleep at their desks.  I said ‘I am not sleeping at my desk, I am going to walk home’, which was about 14 km away…and it was beautiful!  It had stopped snowing, it was white everywhere, and it was silent.  And that just made me realise that when our cities have transportation as silent as that and we can hear the birds chirping and children laughing it's a whole quality of life that we have lost over the years by acceptance and the invasion of the automobile.

Now I love cars, I am a huge car collector, I am probably the biggest petrol-head at PSA but I also love the opportunity we have now to do something really different.

GCD : Why do you think the get-go has been so ugly?

Holland : The get-go? What do you mean?

GCD : Now that we are in the process of having EVs, or designing them, why has it started in such a clumsy looking way?

Holland : We are hopefully coming to the end of a period of hyper consumerism, the accountants who do the mathematics see there is no money yet in electric cars.  You use the word ugly, there are a lot of start-up companies that have had local funding and are trying to produce cars but they don’t use design.  Because the basic technology of electric vehicles is very simple and very accessible its it easy to make but they produce these vehicles that are damn ugly and are conveying this image already that electric cars have to be ugly.  Some companies, the Nissans and the Toyotas of this world, the global players, PSA is not global, have taken the risk and put the money there and tried to jump one step ahead.  PSA is a very family, the Peugeot family, run company and they are traditionally protestant from the East of France, very conservative.  Very careful with their money, and when they are sure about something, and when the market is established then they do it.

I am a designer, and I am a dreamer.  As I said before our budget has been reduced because of the current crisis so this here (pointing to the student works) is a great way to get good ideas in a cheap and effective way.  I severely hope that for our children and our grandchildren we will be able to have clean transportation.

GCD : For you, do you think that electric is the way forward?

Holland : Take a city like Paris it would be absolutely perfect.  In Paris we have the Velib, the bike sharing scheme, and now we have the Autolib, the car sharing plan.  The Autolib is a car designed by Pinifarina and produced by Bollore as you know, but it looks like a car!  That (pointing to by Richard Bowen’s work) looks like a French Art Nouveau flowery canopy that you can imagine looking at the Eiffel Tower and admiring the Seine, and interacting, its no longer a car per se, it's a transportation object.

GCD : Do you like the word mobility?

Not really, it's a little bit, well, a little bit, built.

GCD : What is your role at PSA?

Holland : Ok, the title is a French title, Responsible Style Graphique, which basically means I manage the designers.  37 designers 11 nationalities, I am their boss, I am their big brother, I don’t necessarily manage them for styling, there are chief designers for that, but I am there to make sure their lives are good, everything works, and they have the right tools…when they break up with their girlfriends they come to see me.  It's as much human resources as it is design…but I am a designer.  I have been with them (PSA) for 8 years, I am in my ninth.

GCD : Where are you going to take this project?

Holland : I am hoping that people like yourselves will make some noise!  I am hoping it will stimulate our team to think of a better future.