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Holden flat-chat on global designs

Lion design: Holden featured its Cruze Hatch (left) at this year's Australian International Motor Show.

Chevrolet and Opel beat a path to Holden Design for more Aussie style

Holden logo5 Jul 2011

By RON HAMMERTON

GM HOLDEN’S Melbourne design studios are working on multiple international projects for Chevrolet and Opel, adding to Aussie design credits that include no fewer than five current General Motors global vehicle designs.

The secret international projects – thought to include a new Cruze wagon that is due by 2013 to capitalise on the runaway success of the global small car – are consuming up to 70 per cent of the workload of the Port Melbourne studios that are working to capacity.

Design themes penned by Holden stylists working here and in overseas GM studios have lit a fire under GM’s staid image, particularly in the United States, with head-turners such as the forthcoming Malibu mid-sizer, Cruze hatch, Barina light car (also known as the Aveo and Sonic) and Buick LaCrosse all attributed to Holden talent.

GM’s executive director of international design operations Michael Simcoe, who returned home to Australia at Christmas after six years in Detroit where he was in charge of GM’s North American exterior design and global architecture strategy, told GoAuto that the designs being done on global architectures at Holden were “significant projects”.

Asked about the potential for a new Cruze wagon, Mr Simcoe said: “It seems a natural, doesn’t it? The Cruze is doing so well in so many markets…”

13 center imageLeft: Executive director of design for General Motors’ International Operations Division, Mike Simcoe. Below: Chevrolet Malibu and an artist's impression of the Cruze wagon.

But Mr Simcoe declined to be drawn on American reports of a Cruze coupe under development, saying he had seen the reports but “I can’t go there”.

GM Holden design director Tony Stolfo said that within the space of a year, Holden’s design focus had shifted from Holden products – probably the VF Commodore and its derivatives such as the Caprice – to international programs.

“In 2010, the majority – probably 70 per cent – was Holden work,” he said. “In 2011, the majority has shifted to global work.”

Mr Stolfo and Mr Simcoe both said the Holden studios had more offers of work than they could handle as GM cranked up its new-model activity.

Mr Simcoe is one of at least three senior design personnel to return to Holden from overseas postings to oversee the design projects at local, regional and global levels.

Mr Simcoe’s responsibilities cover the Asia-Pacific studios in South Korea and Australia that are the respective design ‘homerooms’ for Chevrolet small vehicles – such as the Cruze, Barina and Captiva – and the rear-drive Commodore and its derivatives such as the Chevrolet Caprice.

The designers were front and centre at the Australian International Motor Show on Friday as Holden celebrated its local talent when it wheeled out three upcoming models, the all-new Barina hatchback designed by Holden’s Ondrj Koromhaz while on assignment in South Korea, the Cruze hatchback done in Australia by Martin Love and Leigh Mitchell, and the 2012 Colorado pick-up sports concept, done by 26-year-old Ben Last.

Mr Koromhaz could not be there to share the spotlight, as he is working on yet another project overseas, this time in China.

Mr Simcoe said the Czech-born Mr Koromhaz was one of at least 15 Holden designers who had made a major contribution to GM design in GM’s studios around the world in recent years.

As an example, he cited the work of Holden’s Justin Thompson, who went to China where he drew the theme for the current Buick LaCrosse – the Buick mid-sizer based on the Epsilon II platform that underpins the Opel/Vauxhall Insignia – and then on to Detroit where he was one of two or three designers credited with the acclaimed new Chevrolet Malibu that is set to debut in Australia late next year.

Mr Thompson is now back at Holden’s Asia-Pacific design centre at Port Melbourne, as is Sharon Gauci, who was director of colour and trim for GM North America until recently.

Apart from Mr Koromhaz, those still overseas include Matthew Davis, who is in charge of global quality appearance for GM design, and Kirsty Lindsay, who is working on the colour and trim of the all-new Colorado at the GM design centre in Brazil.

One who will not be returning any time soon is Max Wolff, whose efforts in overseeing a brace of successful new Cadillacs that are now coming through the pipeline in the US caused Ford to poach him to do the same at the Blue Oval’s Lincoln brand.

Mr Simcoe said that apart from international projects, the Holden designers were also contributing “theme” designs – concept drawings to be considered by lead designers in charge of projects at other GM studios.

As GoAuto reported this week, these themes include one for the next-generation Cruze.

Mr Simcoe said the Holden design centre and its designers worked at three levels – global, regional and local.

The Commodore was an example of local work, while Holden also serviced the region – regional product and regional studios – working hand-in-hand with the GM Korea design centre, he said.

Mr Simcoe said the Australian influence on GM design permeated around the world.

“Pretty much every vehicle that’s around now on the road and coming has had an (Holden) influence, or we have sketched on,” he said.

As well, Holden designers did the production execution of the Camaro in Australia, where the muscle coupe was also engineered from the Holden Zeta rear-drive platform.

At the Geneva motor show in March, GM vice-president global design Ed Welburn told GoAuto that Holden was working on Chevrolet design projects on behalf of GM.

At the same show, Opel vice-president of corporate and product planning Frank Weber revealed that Holden was also working on a vehicle design that would appear in the Opel range.

Mr Simcoe said the global projects that he had mentioned were separate from the Opel program.

He also confirmed that no Holden-designed vehicles were expected at this year’s Frankfurt motor show in September.

This appears to rule out the Opel Astra GTC coupe as the aforementioned Holden design job for Opel, as that is expected to appear at Frankfurt after a brief appearance at Britain’s Goodwood Festival of Speed in the UK.

However, Opel has two more upcoming products that could fit the bill: a small SUV called Junior based on the Corsa platform and an all-new four-seat cabriolet that are both due within two years.

The cabriolet – said to be slightly bigger than the Astra, slotting in between the small car and the Insignia – might also spawn a coupe version, like a latter day Calibra.

Mr Simcoe said the presence of Holden Design at a global level was ensuring that Holden customer needs and tastes were being built into new products at the earliest stages.

“With Tony’s (Stolfo) team here doing either global work here, on global architectures, or alternatively having people travelling into regions or doing theming from this region into another, it is all influencing the product,” he said.

“So the customer needs and tastes down here, the stuff that the designers here know the customers like and appreciate, is all fed through.

“Holden will have an input into cars designed all round the world. GM can’t afford to do individual products other than trim base, for individual markets.

“But as long as we maintain the customer input through design, through marketing into the base vehicle in development, as is what happened here, we are capturing customer needs when the product comes back to us.”

Holden chairman and managing director Mike Devereux said GM had improved its design and product planning processes so that views of the different markets were taken into account earlier.

“I don’t think the GM of old was as good as we are now at making sure inputs were upfront in the right time frame of the vehicle development,” he said.

“So we have a Holden and Chevrolet plan that takes in the needs of both as we design. And that’s the only way – from an economies-of-scale standpoint – to do it.

“So we don’t have to compromise on ride and handling, or on features or comfort, if you get in early enough.

“I think that in the past, we were late in getting our requirements into the vehicle development cycle and then unfortunately you get a product that you might not be as happy with.”

Mr Simcoe said the changed system had engendered products with greater passion, such as the new Barina.

“In the past, you would not have seen an enthusiast’s product in a small car class out of GM,” he said.

“Passion is starting to come through in all of the products, and this (Barina design) has taken something that could have been quite ordinary to something that is going to be a stand-out on the road.”

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