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GM ‘facing inwards’ on design – for now

More where that came from: The Holden-designed Buick Avenir made a public splash at the 2015 Detroit motor show, but the Australian team’s latest concept is a hush-hush affair, to be seen only internally at GM as it distils new design directions for its brands.

Latest concept car from Australia part of GM global design direction rethink

22 Aug 2018

GENERAL Motors executive vice-president of global design Michael Simcoe has revealed the reason for a recent drought in concept cars from America’s biggest motor company at public motor shows: it is busy producing internal concepts behind closed doors as part of an extensive design direction analysis for each of its brands.


The Australian former Holden designer also confirmed that he wants to establish a new design studio in Europe to replace the Opel design centre that was sold off with the rest of the Opel and Vauxhall operations to French motor company PSA Group last year.


Speaking with GoAuto after flying into Melbourne from Detroit for the announcement of an expanded role for Holden in GM Advanced Vehicle Development, Mr Simcoe said the GM Design Australia studio in Melbourne had contributed both virtual and physical concepts for future vehicles for potential new brand directions.


He said that over the years, Holden designers have sent about 10 concepts to GM’s main design studio in Warren, Michigan.


“So there is always models that the guys have created either virtually or physically, in the States,” Mr Simcoe said.


“The specific one we have in place at North America at the moment – the most recent one sent – is a concept vehicle, an internal concept.”


Mr Simcoe said GM had not done any motor show concept cars for a while because it was creating these internal concepts.


“We are in the middle, right now, of sorting out where we are going from a brand perspective,” he said. “At the moment it is all facing inwards because we have got a job to do to work out where we are going before we start telling the world.”


Asked if any concept car from the Australian studio would appear at an international motor show in the foreseeable future, he answered: “That would be telling.”


The Australian designers created a sensation with their stunning Buick Avenir large sedan that was voted the best concept at the 2015 Detroit motor show and went on to influence all new Buick models since.


Mr Simcoe said the latest decision to hire150 engineers for an Advanced Vehicle Development (AVD) team in Melbourne would create a partnership with the local design team for a stronger voice in GM product development.


Mr Simcoe said the design studio in Australia had gone from working 99 per cent of the time on designs to support local product when Holden was a manufacturer, to working 100 per cent on projects for GM global brands.


He said some of this work was on specific models, but much of it was advanced work, including designs for autonomous and electric cars.


“The work the guys are doing here now is going to grow,” he said. “The influence they have had has been pretty strong within the design community in concepts and vision work and that sort of stuff.


“With growing AVD here, you create a stronger partnership on the ground in Australia to have a bigger influence on global product.”


On Europe, Mr Simcoe said GM’s design studio in Germany had gone to PSA as part of its purchase of Opel and Vauxhall, leaving a void in the GM design sphere.


He said that while GM had sold off its European operations, he thought it necessary to still tap into design there.


“I have a desire to be back in Europe,” he said. “If you think about why we are down here (Australia), not only are we engineering and designing down here, we are after a very specific local opinion.


“Australians are very hooked into what is happening in the region. We have an opinion coming out of here and we have obviously an opinion coming out of the China studios.


“To miss out on something in Europe means a missing piece of the puzzle, so one day I might be back in Europe with a studio.”


Apart from the US and Australia, GM has major design studios in South Korea and China.

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