DETROIT – Volkswagen’s California design studio is increasing its workload with more practical assignments, says Walter de Silva, head of VW Group Design.

“I changed philosophies four years ago with the California studio,” he says. “Much of what they did was dream cars, flying-carpet cars. I moved them to more concrete ideas. That’s what we need.”

The facility began in the Simi Valley and relocated to Santa Monica as it grew. At first, it limited its efforts to the VW and Audi brands. Now, it can work with other brands in the group, de Silva says.

The California studio, employing 65 people, also is expanding its design work to include motorcycles.VW Group makes motorcycles under the Ducati brand.

VW is a global company based in Wolfsburg, Germany. De Silva manages 18 styling centers around the world. VW holdings include Porsche, Lamborghini and Bentley.

“We are the only (automotive) group in the world with design studios for each of our brands, even Bugatti,” he says, referring to the low-volume ultra-luxury Italian nameplate VW bought in 1998.

VW doesn’t design cars specifically for the U.S. or any specific country, he says. “But we want ideas from the U.S. because it is such an important market.”

VW Group Design work currently involves interiors and exteriors of 200 models worldwide. Several studios work on different elements and sections of the same vehicle. Not all work is up for grabs. For instance, the U.S. unit would not get involved in assignments for Skoda, a VW-owned brand based in the Czech Republic.

VW promotes “healthy competition” among its design centers and a certain amount of democracy, de Silva says at a roundtable discussion with journalists here.

“If you have an idea, you can discuss it,” he says of VW designers. “We are very democratic in that way. But the final decision is not democratic.”

Ultimate design determinations rest with a few top executives, de Silva among them. “You can imagine how many steps go into it,” including considerations of costs and production adaptability.

“One of the best compliments I got on the Polo (a European small car) was from a production guy who said he liked the design because it was easy to build,” de Silva says.

VW has a “book,” updated every two years, containing design principles guiding the various brands. “Designers must stay within the design criteria of the brands,” de Silva says, using the VW Passat sedan as an example.

“You look at its dimensions, size, luggage compartment, the clean surfaces, good proportions, the few yet elegant lines. This car represents Volkswagen design philosophy.”

Not naming names, he says VW vehicles stand out from competitors “that have lots of lines, lots of complicated surfaces.”

Automotive styling is “complicated yet simple,” says the Italian who began his career with Fiat in 1972.

sfinlay@wardsauto.com