As if dealing with the biggest automotive scandal in history isn’t enough on its plate, the Volkswagen Group is also set to lose its design boss, now that Walter de Silva announced his retirement from the grind. The 64-year old has been the driving force behind the designs of models under the Volkswagen brand since 2007 and his upcoming retirement at the end of November 2015, is going to leave a gaping hole in the company’s design department.

Volkswagen has yet to name a successor to De Silva, but it is widely believed that the company will not look for a replacement in the short-term as it tries to re-organize its design studios once De Silva tucks away his design pens for good. The Italian designer is known in the automotive industry as one of the sharpest designers in the last 40 years. He cut his cloth with Fiat back in 1972 before moving to Alfa Romeo in 1986. It wasn’t until 2002 that De Silva joined the Volkswagen Group, taking the design helm at Seat before moving to Audi in 2002 and developing the designs of models like the sixth-generation Audi A5 and Audi A6. De Silva’s greatest work with the Four Rings is without question the Audi R8, the brand’s resident exotic and arguably one of the most popular supercars in its segment today. De Silva eventually moved to the mothership and has been largely responsible for the designs of a lot of the current Volkswagen models in the market today, including the Volkswagen Up!, Polo, and the sixth and seventh generations of the Golf.

De Silva’s retirement is another huge blow to Volkswagen, which has yet to dig itself out of the now infamous DieselGate scandal. Sure, it’s two different things entirely, but at a time when VW needs as much positive news these days as it can get, this is the one that drops on its lap. De Silva will be leaving huge shoes to fill within the company and should the time come that Volkswagen decides to bring in a successor, that person will walk in with a whole lot of pressure on his hands.

Continue reading for the full story.

Why it matters

Walter De Silva is an institution in the industry, so news of his of his upcoming retirement is deservedly getting a lot of attention. I, for one, am still shocked to wake up to this news. I’ve always been a fan of De Silva’s work, and while he gets credit for his work on the Audi R8 and A5, my personal favorite remains the 1995 Alfa Romeo 156, a car whose poster I had on my wall when I was growing up. I didn’t know then that De Silva was the one who designed it, but finding out years later made me appreciate his work as arguably one of the best car designers in history.

While I do think that he’s going to leave a huge shadow when he leaves Volkswagen, I’m of the mindset that the company’s design outfit can move forward seamlessly once he exits. It’s too big of a team to fail in his absence and Volkswagen is going to make sure that it puts the right people in place to take De Silva’s position and steer it in the right direction. Besides, the designers who worked under De Silva in his time with Volkswagen should have gained the proper knowledge that they can use in the future.

His absence is going to be felt, that’s for sure. But, once Volkswagen has everything in order, the German automaker should still continue to design some of the best cars in the market. It just won’t have Walter De Silva’s design imprint on them anymore.

Press Release

Walter Maria de Silva (64), Head of Group Design, is retiring with effect from the end of November. De Silva assumed design responsibility for all passenger car brands within the Volkswagen Group in February 2007. Walter de Silva will continue his links with the Group in an advisory capacity.

Walter Maria de Silva was born in Lecco (Italy) on February 27, 1951 and joined the Volkswagen Group 17 years ago when he became Head of the SEAT Design Centre in 1998. He was put in charge of the design of the Audi brand group, including the brands Audi, Lamborghini and SEAT, in 2002. His new design language with Audi was epitomised by the 6th generation of the Audi A6 and Audi A5 Coupé. He was appointed Head of Group Design at Volkswagen Aktiengesellschaft in 2007. Walter de Silva saw the main focus of his work as design chief in establishing and nurturing a common design culture across all brands, which nevertheless allows each brand to retain a high degree of creative autonomy.

The CEO of Volkswagen Aktiengesellschaft, Matthias Müller, paid tribute to Walter de Silva’s work with these words: "Walter de Silva epitomizes creativity and the Italian sense of beauty and style on the one hand and thoroughness, a systematic approach and discipline on the other." Acknowledging de Silva’s definitive achievements for Volkswagen, Müller said: "Walter de Silva succeeded in establishing a design culture and methodology across all Group brands that is unique in our industry. At the same time, he was the driving force in preserving a high degree of creative autonomy for the brands and their design departments."

The outstanding vehicles created by de Silva include the Alfa 156 (1997) and 147 (2001), the Volkswagen up!, the Polo and the Golf 6 and 7, the Audi R8 and the Audi A5, about which de Silva said that it was "the most beautiful car" he had ever designed.

Walter de Silva received numerous design awards for his work, including the "Design Prize of the Federal Republic of Germany 2010," the highest official distinction awarded for design in Germany, for the design of the Audi A5. He received the "Compasso d’Oro" (Golden Compass), one of the most prestigious design awards in Italy, in 2011. An international expert panel described Walter de Silva as the "undisputed main protagonist of Italian design" and awarded him the prize for a career spanning over forty years.

De Silva began his professional career at the Fiat Design Centre in Turin in 1972. He joined Studio R. Bonetto in Milan in 1975. De Silva was Head of the Industrial Design and Automobiles Area at the Instituto Idea in Turin from 1979 to 1986. After a short stint working for "Trussardi Design Milano," he switched to Alfa Romeo in 1986, where he was Head of Design until 1998. De Silva established a new design philosophy of the brand with the Alfa Romeo 156 (1997).

View the full press release Hide press release
Press release
What do you think?
Show Comments
Car Finder: