Get four of China's leading car designers into one room and the topic of conversation will quickly turn to 'copycat' design.

It's an image that has plauged China's domestic manufacturers for years - and isn't helped when high-profile cases, such as the Land Wind X7, make headlines.

Still, these designers are keen to move forward, although as Changan design boss Chen Zheng told the Global Automotive Forum today, some similar designs are inevitable. "We have a lot of copycats but we also have a lot of audacious designs," he said "Globally there are also disputes and arguments over similar designs. 

"The truth is that car designs are becoming more and more homogenous. The situation is chaotic."

Chaotic is an apt term to describe China's domestic market, where Western brands appear to out-perform the country's home manufacturers. "The winner will be the brand that can provide the best user experience," noted Zheng. "It used to be the case that the brand with the largest number of dealerships would sell the most cars.

"I believe that innovation is about breaking boundaries. You have to extend the boundaries. People want to stay inside their comfort zones as always, and change can bring fear.

However, Zheng described some homogenous designs as inevitable. "In China we have a Golden era of design," he said. "In the past, people did not appreciate what design was. Now people can understand the added value that good design can bring to a company. We can still provide a unique user experience."

As for the future of the country's design, change in this fast-paced market is hard to predict. However, Great Wall design chief (and former BMW M design boss) Pierre Leclercq hopes the country can move on from its current 'made in China' motif.

Likening the car industry to Apple, whose products carry the 'designed by Apple in California, assembled in China' adage, Leclercq wants to build pride in vehicles that are not only manufactured in China but also designed in China.

Even with a new-found pride in car design, however, nobody is underestimating the difficult road ahead to build 'brand China' in the automotive world