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Simcoe defends South Korean design

Premium player: GM Daewoo will introduce a premium vehicle in South Korea from early next year. It is based on the Holden Statesman and Caprice and built at Holden's Elizabeth facility in South Australia.

Mike Simcoe jumps to the defence of car design in South Korea

5 Apr 2004

FORMER Holden design boss Michael Simcoe says South Korean car design doesn’t necessarily deserve the bum rap it often gets.

The reason? Because South Koreans have often not had that much influence over the cars that have appeared with Hyundai, Kia and Daewoo badges on them.

Mr Simcoe, who still keeps a watching brief over Holden’s design direction in his role as GM executive director Asia Pacific design, is now spending most of his time developing a visual identity for GM Daewoo.

Mr Simcoe has played a key role in bringing the styling of Daewoo vehicles back in-house.

In the bad old days of debt-laden Daewoo Motor Company, exterior design was usually out-sourced to independent design houses.

For instance, the Daewoo Lacetti/Nubira sedan was designed by Pininfarina and the Kalos mini by Italdesign. And Daewoo has not been alone in this trend. Hyundai/Kia has its studios in California and Germany and Samsungs are rebadged Nissans.

"It is a bit of myth that Korean-ness comes from being in Korea, it’s almost an interpretation of what Korean tastes are which is creating Korean vehicles," Mr Simcoe said.

"It’s not something that they’ve invented, it’s almost been invented for them by experts.

"The nicest thing to say up to this point in time is that Korean design is very expressive. There’s certainly nothing out there from any of the makers that are vehicles that push the envelope."

 center imageCrucially, Mr Simcoe has wrested control over GMDAT styling away from the company’s engineering division and also installed the company’s designers in a new studio within the company’s gigantic Bupyung property.

"It’s safe to say it’s been a bit of a shock to the traditional organisation here, design having balls and for the first time standing up for itself," Mr Simcoe said.

"That has been an issue and people who don’t normally get emotional can get very emotional. I’ve had some good exchanges."Mr Simcoe has also secured significant investment in equipment and training for the staff, including shuttling plenty of Holden talent through the facility, including emerging star Max Wolff.

GMDAT’s role is far more than simply regenerating the Daewoo nameplate in South Korea – the third largest market in Asia – it must also be the provider of cheap entry level cars to the entire GM world.

Already, GM Daewoos are sold in 120 countries or more around the world as Chevrolets, Buicks, Pontiacs and Suzuki. That means it is up to Mr Simcoe’s design team to engender different visual characteristics across a slew of different models and naemplates.

At the moment there’s minimal differentiation, but that will change quickly with substantial changes for future models, inside as well as out.

"The intention is to be able to do enough work so … a Daewoo branded vehicle and a Chevy can sit in the market and be differentiated to the point where if a customer wants to go and find out - yeah he’ll know it’s the same car - but passing down the street he won’t be offended by one parked next to him," Mr Simcoe said.

"We’re looking for as much differentiation as we can get for the dollar."Mr Simcoe has not had any influence on Daewoos and the spin-offs that have hit the market, but that will come soon. The first all-new product he can lay claim to will be a Daewoo SUV codenamed C-100 that will be built on the Theta architecture that also underpins the Chevvy Equinox and Saturn Vue.

Holden will take a version with a HFV6 engine for Australia and it is expected to be adapted for European use as an Opel and Vauxhall as well. It should go on-sale by the end of 2005.

"When you see the SUV you’ll understand that we have had a good go at proportion," Mr Simcoe said.

"We haven’t totally changed the world because we can’t yet, there are too many manufacturing issues, things related to how fast GMDAT build cars and how they build them."

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