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Holden designers penning new Buick

For our next act: GM design chief Ed Welburn presents the Buick Encore, which is set to be joined in Buick showrooms by a future model with Holden input.

GM design chief confirms Holden is working on Buick, as well as Chevrolet projects

Holden logo17 Jan 2012

GM HOLDEN designers have added at least one Buick model to the line-up of vehicles being crafted at their Port Melbourne studios, alongside those for Chevrolet and Holden.

Existence of the confidential Buick design project was revealed to GoAuto at last week’s Detroit motor show by General Motors vice president of global design Ed Welburn, who was typically effusive in his praise of his Australian design team.

While Mr Welburn declined to elaborate on the model or nature of the project, he said “some very interesting assignments” were in progress at Holden Design.

“They are doing work for Holden, but they are also doing work for other brands as well – some terrific work,” he said.

“They are doing some work for Chevrolet, they are doing some work for Buick, and certainly they are doing work for the Holden brand.” Mr Welburn indicated that the Chevrolet and Buick projects were still in their early stages, but that nothing designed by Holden for Chevrolet or Buick was expected to surface this year.

Buick is GM’s mid-range brand, aimed at North America and China, with the latter accounting for more Buick sales than the US.

 center imageLeft: Buick Encore. Below: Chevrolet Mi-Ray.

Mr Welburn disclosed that he would make one of his periodic visits to Australia in about three months – presumably to check on Holden Design’s progress on the international projects and the upcoming VF Commodore due in about 2014.

He declined to discuss the VF, saying he could not talk about future Holden products.

The Commodore was a hot topic at the show, where its long-term future and Holden manufacturing in general was discussed by Australian government representatives and GM heads.

The VF Commodore is expected to be the last all-Australian rear-drive large car, retaining the Zeta architecture of the current VE Commodore and its stretched iteration, the WM Caprice, but with a new lightweight skin and other enhancements.

The current Caprice is the basis for the Buick Park Avenue that is assembled and sold in China, and it is conceivable that the Buick project mentioned by Mr Welburn might be a fresh Park Avenue based on the next-generation Holden Caprice.

However, the Park Avenue is selling in tiny numbers in China compared with other GM models – just 3300 units last year out of total GM China sales of 2.55 million vehicles – and it remains to be seen if GM will take the trouble to continue the model line when the new Caprice appears in about 2015.

Apart from the VF Commodore and derivatives, Holden brand design work at Port Melbourne includes ‘Holdenising’ Chevrolet-based models such as the upcoming mid-sized Malibu sedan and Colorado 7 SUV, replacing the Chev bow-tie grille with signature Holden lion-badged fascias.

A project to turn the just-revealed Buick Encore small SUV – shown for the first time at Detroit last week – into a sub-Captiva Holden, or even a Chevrolet as well, might also be a candidate for local design attention.

On the Chevrolet side, one or more variants of the next Cruze small car – thought to be due in late 2015 judging by comments by Holden chairman and managing director Mike Devereux – are possibly under design at Holden, following on from the local execution of the Cruze hatch. One of these might be a Cruze wagon.

Holden Design, headed by Tony Stolfo, is part of the Asia-Pacific GM International Operations Design group, led by Melbourne-based GM executive director Michael Simcoe.

This group also includes the GM Korea Design Centre, whose Advanced Design Centre made waves at this year’s Detroit show with the first US appearance of the mini Chevrolet Mi-Ray (pronounced mee-ray) concept hybrid sports car.

Penned in South Korea by a team headed by Australian Andrew Smith – a former Holden designer who is now managing director of the Advanced Design Centre in downtown Seoul – the Spark-size Mi-Ray surfaced at the 2011 Seoul motor show to pump up the Chevrolet brand in South Korea, before being wheeled out again at Frankfurt and Detroit.

Mi-Ray – meaning ‘future’ in Korean – took a back seat to Chevrolet’s fresh concept ‘youth’ cars shown for the first time at Detroit, but the exposure of the Korean concept over three major shows in nine months speaks volumes for the esteem in which it is held within GM, especially by Mr Welburn, who is quick to talk up its breakthrough design and potential for re-shaping Chevrolet.

Mr Welburn told GoAuto that one unusual design element of the Mi-Ray that could well make it into production was the line of light illuminating the vehicle’s flanks.

This concealed electrically-lit light tube shines down the vehicle’s surfaces on the side of the car, spilling over the panel surfaces.

Another innovation is the fabric dash material that has back-projected images in place of conventional instruments and screens.

These innovative fabrics were developed by Holden Design colour and trim chief designer Sharon Gauci and her team.

The two-seat Mi-Ray, which has a mid-mounted 1.4-litre turbo four-cylinder engine from the Cruze driving the rear wheels, and two electric motors powering the front wheels, was built in Italy in double time to be ready for last year’s Seoul show in April.

Mr Smith and Ms Gauci both went to Italy for the construction phase, which they described as “hands on” by a small team.

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