Good design also requires out-of-the box thinking and a commitment to invest in the creative spirit that provides the impetus that generates good, profitable ideas. This mindset is one that has been lacking in the U.S. auto industry for more than a decade as purchasing organizations reigned, demanding cost cuts that crippled the creativity of the design brain trust. Thankfully, some automakers—GM in particular—are beginning to realize the only way they can stem market share declines is through innovation, especially when it comes to design. Arguably, design has saved Chrysler more than one. And in other industries—think of Apple and Target—design makes a profitable difference.
Vehicle design is much more than just the sheet metal we see on the road. Consumers don’t spend the majority of the time sitting in their driveways admiring the curves—it’s inside that matters. In recent years, GM has been paying closer attention to what it takes to design high-quality, appealing interiors that will delight buyers while keeping the purchasing and engineering ranks at bay. The task of choreographing the relationships between the various constituencies when it comes to building credible interiors has fallen to David Rand, GM’s executive director-Interior Design Quality and Brand Character. During his nearly 30-year history with GM, Rand has worked on such notable concepts as the Buick Wildcat and Pontiac Sunfire. Having served as director of Design for GM’s Brazilian operations, he was instrumental in designing the Chevrolet Celta, Corsa and Meriva. Since taking on his latest position in 2003, Rand and his team have been credited with developing award-winning interiors, including the Saturn Sky and Aura, Pontiac Solstice and the GMT-900-based sport utility vehicles—GMC Yukon, Chevrolet Tahoe and Cadillac Escalade [the Yukon was recognized by AD&P, receiving the Interior Design of the Year Award in 2006]. He admits that a few years ago GM leadership acknowledged that the interiors being produced “were not as competitive as they should be,” resulting in a prioritization shift. Rand knew that it would take an infusion of resources (as in money) to improve the interiors. But because cutbacks were occurring seemingly everywhere he was surprised to discover GM’s upper management was willing to provide his team with the financial resources it needed, as long as it could prove the added dollars would result in improved perception, sales results and residual values. “Believe me, we were not given a blank check. We knew we had to be smart with where and how we spent the money. But we had a history of doing some interiors that were cheap and looked it,” he says. Most of GM’s additional investment went into improved cluster graphics and center stacks, which are among the key focal areas for most vehicle buyers. While the coffers opened for Rand and his team, he says the battle between design and purchasing remains “the bane of my existence.”
As with most new endeavors, GM’s new interior design ethos has progressed in various stages, but Rand says the 2008 Cadillac CTS marks a milestone in GM’s plan to build world-class interiors. “It’s really the homologation of a number of initiatives coming together. It is the first vehicle with our new integrated center stack which forms an aggressive flow via one continuous, sweeping line. It’s finally an example where we can show the public all the hard work that has been going on the past couple of years,” he says.
Plans are on tap for GM’s interior design team to develop global interior themes for each of the automaker’s brands. Chevrolet will utilize the new symmetrical cockpit found on the upcoming Chevrolet Malibu as its global influence, while Buick will follow in the theme set by the Enclave. “Instead of developing separate vehicle interiors for each region we are developing one,” says Rand, who will soon leave the interior design studio to ascend to the post of GM executive director of Global Advanced Design. Those individual themes will include specially-designed ambient lighting and new concepts for linking external infotainment devices.
In an effort to align its design organization alongside previous changes in engineering and product development to develop a more global focus, GM switched several designers around. Rand will assume the advanced design position previously held by Anne Asensio, who has decided to leave the automaker and return to Europe. Rand’s interior design position is going to be taken by Dave Lyon, who is going to move back to the U.S., having been executive director of Design for Asia Pacific. Bryan Nesbitt was named vice president of Design for North America, having been executive director of Design for GM of Europe. Nesbitt will be responsible for assuring future designs are in lockstep with brand themes, while working alongside engineering to assure design intent remains intact. Mark Adams was promoted to vice president of Design, GM Europe. Kenneth Parkinson is named Asia Pacific vp of Design and Michael Simcoe will become executive director of Exterior Design for North America.