GM Europe Design

I’ve just been reading Anders Tunberg’s sensational book on the development of the 9-5.  I’m up to the chapter on design.  It struck me how little I knew about all the demands that designers have to cope with.  I’ve typically just glossed over the details and thought about the glamorous side of the design job.  The thrill of releasing a new concept like the Aero-X or even a new production model, say the 9-3 Sport Sedan of a few years ago.

I’ve got a great deal of faith in the belief that the next Saab released will hold true to the recent design trends we’ve seen from Saab.  When that vehicle comes along (most likely the 9-4x), consider the design work that’s gone into it.  Designers have to combine the specifications of engineers and the desires of a buying public.  We want TV, CD, DVD and MP3.  We want safety all around us, enough room for the right engine in front of us and the ground moving swiftly beneath us.  We want leather, wood, carbon fibre and soft touch plastics.  And we must have stable, voluminous cupholders.  We want everything automated, powered and preferably with memory.  And we want it all to go faster than the last model whilst handling like a Lotus.

Design.  If they get it right, we won’t even notice. 


Now that that particular little thought piece is over with…..

Many of you will already have heard that GM have opened a new design centre in Russelsheim.  The lion’s share of GM’s design work for Saab will be done there, though Saab retain a Brand Centre in Sweden that will be focussing on design as well as marketing and other bits of product development.

The original press release from Saab is here, but BusinessWeek have fleshed it out into something that’s a little less ‘company’.

Reflecting a new emphasis on interior design, the new building houses the interior design and advanced design studios, while the existing design center building and outdoor viewing area will be dedicated to exteriors. Ed Welburn, GM’s global vice president of design, commented that vehicle interiors may be changing more in future than exteriors, with the increasing influence of new digital functionality and increasing capability for personalization.

Previously at GM Europe Design the exterior and interior design had been handled by each car-line studio. Recently exterior and interior development were split into seperate studios, partly to harmonize with GM North America design operations, which then enables design staff to be more easily moved as needed within the global design organization on a project-by-project basis.

The emphasis on interior design is definitely welcome.  I’ve always thought Saabs had fantastic interiors.  The old ones may seem pretty basic by today’s standards, but compared with equivalent Australian cars of the same period they were pretty sophisticated.  And they were funky.  My old red 99E had a deep red interior like a Parisian house of ill-repute.  The newer interiors are more functional and better designed, but have lost a little of their character.  I think the challenge for the future of interior design might be to marry the function and the funk.

I’m looking for a funktional interior. 

If you’re up for a little more design thought-material, there’s also been a recent interview with Brian Nesbitt, head of design for GM Europe.

The full interview is available in pdf form here, but here’s the Saab bits:

The new Design Center in Rüsselsheim looks after Opel, Vauxhall, Saab, and to some degree, the American brand Saturn. Could this integrated work structure lead to an identity problem for the brands?

Absolutely not. The brand will always be the cornerstone. In a large organization like GM, worldwide research and product development is organized by model families and their technical architecture. Sales and marketing is organized by brands and countries. Because the designer works with both of these worlds, he must always wear both hats, one for architecture and one for the brand. Young designers learn at a very early stage in their training to find their place in the brand worlds and to actively commit to brand values in their work.

Is there a rulebook governing how Opel and Saab designs should look?

Targeted customers have certain appearance expectations. However, identities necessarily evolve, so design must constantly progress, presenting an ongoing challenge for the company’s engineers and production people. Good design drives a company forward.

Does (Opel’s) internationalization also apply to Saab?

Saab is a completely different brand from Opel, with a completely different customer expectation. Its Scandinavian origin is very important, so we will nurture that. However, the next generation of Saab models may well be more striking, without being overtly loud. We have to be mindful that these customers value artistic refinement. The Aero X show car provides a good sense of Saab’s future design language.

How do you experience the unique spirit of Saab within your own team?

Saab has its own points of reference for inspiration. For example, we recently visited an air force base in Sweden, where we looked at Saab aircraft and talked to the pilots. Saab and aircraft are historically linked. We also recently set up the Saab Brand Center in Sweden with a small number of designers working exclusively on signature Saab design cues.

Anyone know exactly where that Saab Design Centre is?  I’m assuming it’s in Trollhattan, but for some reason I have it in the back of my mind that it’s elsewhere.  Any answers always welcome in comments. 

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  1. Anyone know exactly where that Saab Design Centre is?
    it was in Pixbo, near Gothenburg.Bob Lutz said at the end of last year that Saab is to be given back its own dedicated design centre in Sweden, following accusations that Russelsheim is no place to create cars with a genuinely Swedish character. where it was or not i dont know

  2. Sometimes cars are designed
    in Amsterdam but I must admit
    I’m partly Swedish..
    Anyway being a designer I drove, and was driven by, a ’71 96, ’84 900i coupe,
    900 c coupe, and at this moment ’96 900T coupe.


    Alex Kok

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