Japanese and Korean cars only became interesting, big-name car designers will tell you, when they stopped trying to produce copies of European and American cars and started focusing on design styles of their own.

Now the same challenge confronts China's cars, which are making huge progress in mechanical and safety engineering, but have made very little on brand image and emotional appeal.

Who's going to change things? Well, having encountered Geely-Volvo design chief Peter Horbury on the Ford stand at the Detroit motor show (where cars created during his time in the Dearborn hot-seat continue to appear) I'd invest quite a decent sum in the chances of the high-achieving Brit who has spent so much of his career understanding the souls of disparate marques and turning them into a visual language.

He did it twice with gat success at Volvo, and interspersed those years with vital work on Ford's US cars and trucks, which promptly gained a cohesion and a desirability they had previously lacked.

The last many of us heard of Horbury is that he went off to China to design cars for Geely. This turns out not to be quite right: he actually got promoted. Horbury's official position is now senior vice president of design, Geely Holdings, a position that installs him as head of all Geely group design, which continues to include Volvo.

However, his most challenging mission looks like being to begin to discover and identify the elements that can make Chinese cars unique, instantly identifiable and desirable to a worldwide audience. It's as big a job as any design boss ever had, but the whole thing is enthusiastically backed by Geely's famously enterprising owner and inspiration, Li Shufu.

The first move, Horbury says, will be to hold a series of seminars involving Geely senior people to announce and define the project. It will probably plug into the creativity and vigour of Chinese university students: Geely backs a university with more than 20,000 students.

"China has a unique, wonderful culture which is more than 5000 years old," says the designer. "It has to be possible to represent it in ways that makes its cars unique. It won't be easy, but it is a big ambition of mine not merely to pour copies of European or Japanese cars into export markets. That won't work."