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General Motors Europe opens new Design Center

Fri, 12 May 2006 00:00:00 -0700

Being a car designer is often percieved as a glamourous occupation, but few people realise that this typically means working in some of the least inspiring places. Wolfsburg, Detroit and Birmingham are just a few of the locations that are home to some of the largest populations of car designers around the world. GM Europe's location in Russelsheim, Germany is also one of the less glamourous locations but the new design center building opened this week aims to redress the otherwise rather industrial feel of the place where tomorrow's Opels and Saabs are created.

Housed in the center of GM's Ruesselsheim campus next to the existing design center building - in what was previously the 'Opel Live' complex - the transformed building expands GM's European design operations to nearly 20,000 square-meters.

Around 350 people work in the growing design center, creating the new products from Opel, Vauxhall, Saab, and some Saturn models. This is the first time that all of GM's European brands have been under one roof. Carl-Peter Forster, president of GM Europe, commented that this would enable a more coordinated guidance of the development of each brand, removing overlapping activities.

This group also now includes GM Europe's advanced design team. "Having our advanced design operations in Ruesselsheim provides us a more direct link with advanced engineering and planning therefore maximizing synergies," said Bryan Nesbitt, executive director of GM Design Europe.

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.

General Motors' global Design organization is a multi-national team with eleven design centers around the world. The offices are linked via virtual reality studios and projects are shared around the globe. "The new GM Europe design center is an exciting addition to our global design enterprise," said Welburn. "Our company truly has a passion for design, and this new facility will help secure our design relevance in the European region, and around the world, for years to come." Welburn commented that GM designers are a very multicultural group, and that the new emphasis on running GM Design as a more integrated global organization will continue to leverage the diverse cultural backgrounds of their designers, with designers enocuraged to move within the organization.

Welburn said that while all the European brands are gathered in the new design center, the individual character of each brand will be kept. A satellite design and research studio is kept in Sweden to ensure the Scandinavian character of Saab vehicles is maintained.

Speaking at the opening, Bob Lutz said that in the 60s GM Europe was one of the first companies to put a heavy emphasis on design, with concept cars such as the Opel CD of 1969. Commenting on recent collaboration between the GM studios, he said that GM Europe designers had influenced the North American products, bringing 'more precision to interiors, while designers from the US were bringing 'romance and excitement'  to the European design.

During the opening event, GM design staff were demonstrating the studio design process, with a strong emphasis on digital workflows, including digital sketching, 3D modelling and visualization using large screen displays. Especially for interior development, the studios are increasingly using digital visualization to quickly simulate a wide range of surface finishes and evaluate design variations, as well as to more accurately communicate design intent to management.

The opening event also saw the reveal of the five-door production version of the new Antara, following the Antara GTC crossover concept car shown at Frankfurt in 2005. The Antara will make its public world premiere at the Paris Motor Show in September.

Russelsheim will never be Paris, Irvine, Munich, Tokyo or London, but GM's attractive new design center building does at least give designers the next best thing.

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