A global approach to selling cars is one that brings with it a whole host of problems for the design department. Just ask General Motors design chief Ed Welburn.
GM has long been a worldwide brand, but only now in his ninth year in the job is Welburn succeeding in the seemingly straightforward task of getting all Chevrolet models to wear the same badge.
“We’ve only just got on top of the Chevrolet bow tie,” he told me in GM’s hometown of Detroit last week. “There were some countries that had their own design… There were different colours, shapes, sizes; uniting all the Chevrolets around the world with the same bowtie sounds simple, but it’s not easy.”
Chevrolet’s announcement in Detroit that it would be letting younger buyers influence its designs may end up giving Welburn one less thing to worry about, given he has to oversee the design of everything from Korean city cars to full-size American trucks in his job.
“I like it,” Welburn said on the new marketing/design strategy. “It’s not new to do this kind of research… what’s new and interesting is the dialogue we’re getting back. It’s richer and deeper.”
So, were the two Detroit concepts a glimpse into the future of Chevy designs? “We can’t just afford to go out there and play and not deliver,” said Welburn. “Chevy must connect with young people, this is very important for the future. Maybe we’ll make this, maybe we won’t; maybe there’s something even better in the design studio. What’s important is that we connect with young people.”
Welburn believes Chevrolet design is only now beginning to have “energy”. “There was a time not that long ago when Chevrolets were a commodity, and overly practical,” he said. “All that changed with the Camaro concept. That lit a fire in the company for spirited designs. Every Chevy since has taken that energy.”
But Welburn believes his biggest impending challenge (post bow-tie) is getting real market differences between GM products, without ending up with a ‘one-size-fits-all’ face.
“We can’t just take a used Opel to Brazil, take the badges off, put a bow tie on and all of a sudden it’s a Chevy. I want to end up with something with a little more personality than what VW does...”