Wednesday, May 21, 2014

GM brass 'really cares about interiors now,' design chief Welburn says

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Welburn: "A few years ago, GM was well behind the competition."

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DETROIT -- If most vehicles are going to share technology and offer the same functionality, then styling will be the differentiator, General Motors global design chief Ed Welburn says.

Welburn, speaking at the WardsAuto Interiors Conference today in suburban Detroit, said GM management in recent years has come to view vehicle interiors as hallowed real estate.

He showed a photo of a Chevrolet Malibu from the mid-2000s with a monotone gray interior.

“A few years ago, GM was well behind the competition,” Welburn said. “We checked all the boxes. Interiors were well equipped and functional. They had everything but charm. The interior was not a warm, inviting environment.”

He said that during product reviews, vehicle interiors sometimes were not evaluated. And if a vehicle was overbudget, the content almost always came out of the interior.

“The best way to get the thing right financially was to take from the interior,” he said. “You can’t strip the fenders off the thing. That is not the case now.”

The biggest change, he said, came from changing management’s priorities, not from hiring new designers.

“The leadership of the company really cares about interiors now, and it shows,” Welburn said.

The new Chevrolet Corvette and the Cadillac ELR are recent examples of vehicle interiors for which GM has won kudos for style and quality of materials.

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