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Warrack Leach Rethinks the Pickup

“I am working on cars for an international audience and I did not expect that would happen in my career, especially having grown up in regional Victoria in Australia.” —Warrack Leach.

The international limelight is about to shine on Warrack Leach, a lead designer at GM’s Holden unit responsible for the Holden Ute and the GMC Denali XT concept pickup. Based on this work, he was tasked with developing a new interpretation of U.S. pickup trucks in the age of 35-mpg fuel economy regulations; he tweaked his Ute design to create what might best be described as a “modern day El Camino,” the Pontiac G8 Sport Truck.

The 31-year-old joined Holden’s design ranks in 1999 as a co-op student while attending Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in Design. During his tenure at Holden he has designed the interiors of the 2002 Holden SSX concept, VE Commodore sedan, and the Holden-powered 2003 Elfin Clubman/Streamliner before moving over to the exterior side in 2005, where he designed the aforementioned trucks. His approach to design is straightforward: “I concentrate on the dimensional limits of the platform that I’m designing from to figure out how far the package can be stretched: how big I can make the wheels, how wide the track can be, how long the overhangs have to be, and how low I can make the roof,” he says. This requires a lot of interaction with the vehicle studio engineering team, a relationship that can be somewhat contentious if approached the wrong way. “You have to remain true to the architecture, especially at Holden, because we are very production focused.”

Leach tends to take design influence from classic automobiles, particularly those penned by Bill Mitchell, GM’s design chief from 1958-1977. “One of my favorite Mitchell designs has to be the ’66 Oldsmobile Toronado. That was an inspirational vehicle to me because it has a lot of modern cues that still stand out today, even though Mitchell designed it more than 40 years ago,” he says. Leach adheres to Mitchell’s penchant for designs with sharp, razor-like edges, and enjoys developing vehicles with “dramatic, yet realistic, proportions. I tend not to over-wheel a car or cut the roof to limit headroom; my goal is to develop great proportions within production dimensions based around real-world engineering and I think that adds credibility to a design.”

Design’s resurgence within the past decade at GM has instilled a renewed sense of confidence in Leach, who happily notes that Holden’s design ranks have grown to more than 200 from the mere 70 when he started. He says it’s no longer a question of which automaker does good design, but more a question of which doesn’t: “It’s good to see the industry focus on design, as opposed to regulation and cost, which was the focus a few years ago.”