New GM Concepts Spring From Design Wizards of Oz

“You are seeing a globalization of design in general,” GM International design chief Mike Simcoe says. “Media has been the big leveler, so Asian designers can see what’s happening in the West, the West is seeing what’s happening in Asia and we’re seeing a cross-fertilization.”

Edd Ellison, Correspondent

April 4, 2016

8 Min Read
GM International design chief Simcoe unveils Colorado Extreme concept
GM International design chief Simcoe unveils Colorado Extreme concept.

BANGKOK – GM Thailand, which manages the Chevrolet brand here, presents two new concept vehicles at the Bangkok International Motor Show for their world debuts, the Colorado Extreme and Trailblazer Premier.

Both models show off the midcycle facelifts of the two models, which appear be ready for launch within three months judging by the Trailblazer’s production-ready appearance.

The front end of the Extreme is significantly changed from that of the current Colorado, although more attention is given elsewhere as the show car is customized to emphasize its off-road capability. These tweaks are unlikely to be options offered at the launch of the facelift, although Chevrolet may add some off-road-style options to take advantage of the trend toward customization and leverage their 2-model range in Thailand.

The Trailblazer Premier show car, which should stand as the new model, emphasizes both internal and external luxury. That follows a trend here toward more-luxurious SUVs such as recent market newcomers the Ford Everest and Mitsubishi Pajero Sport.

The Colorado Extreme and Trailblazer Premier are the work of General Motors’ Australian design studio. WardsAuto spoke with project leader Mike Simcoe, GM International vice president-design, who was at the show to launch the concepts.

WardsAuto: The two show cars clearly offer a good look at the midcycle facelifts due for the Colorado and Trailblazer. The Colorado Extreme also nods to the local market’s trend toward customization.

Simcoe: I can’t confirm that (the concepts foreshadow the production versions). We’re telling people that they’re concept vehicles we’ve put together. Clearly they point directions for the future and they’re also about getting some feedback around accessorization and customization. You only have to look around on all the stands (at the Bangkok show). Everyone’s doing a huge amount of customization and these vehicles basically use that.

The interiors use details to lift the character of the vehicles and separate them very specifically. The exterior of the rough and rugged Colorado Extreme is all about bolting on performance, bolting on to increase the capability and the Trailblazer is about dialing up sophistication and luxury.

Both are capable vehicles to start with and all we’ve done is to add to that to tell a story. Here in Thailand particularly those two vehicles are a strong focus and that’s why we chose to bring those concepts to the Bangkok show.

WardsAuto: Chevrolet has dropped its car portfolio (in Thailand) to focus entirely on two midsize vehicles (the Colorado pickup and Trailblazer SUV). The Thai market recently has been seeing a significant shift away from sedans and toward smaller SUVs and crossovers. Could that trend present Chevrolet with a future direction to broaden its product portfolio here again?

Simcoe: “That would suggest there is a movement away from the midsize truck, the midsize SUV. We’re not seeing that happening at all. If you look around, all the OEs are announcing they’re going to get into midsize trucks. It’s a burgeoning market so we’re well-placed where we are now. Moving into other SUV segments – that’s a possibility but we don’t talk about future (products) in detail.

WardsAuto: The Colorado Extreme’s front end is much more refined that what we are used to with this truck and follows a design shift toward more sophisticated front details such as car-like headlights.

Simcoe: If you look at what we have executed on the two show trucks it’s a more Chevrolet face than perhaps we’ve had in the past. It stretches the bracket wider but still plays with the twin-port graphic which is key to Chevrolet. The headlamps, I see them not so much car-like as highly detailed. Watch the truck market. People are interested in the midsize truck market as perhaps they’re becoming an alternative to car products.

China Stands Apart

WardsAuto: The identity and reach of GM International has grown rapidly in the past few years. How does it fit into the overall GM picture and what about the emerging identity of GM China?

Simcoe: We’ve always had a global focus on design and the studios around the world work on all our products, so we don’t specify GMI studios for this market. Obviously, they service the market and if there is a need they modify it, but generally, we are designing products in all of our studios for all markets around the world.

I suppose the perception by the public and in the media of GMI as an identity, whether it’s design or the business, is simply because we chose to deal with China, which is a huge market, by itself. (GM) therefore split out the GM International component of that, to give the two areas more focus, because China is a big thing by itself and GMI is more complicated. That allows us to talk about the two things separately without one dominating the other.

WardsAuto: Can the GM China unit take more and more responsibility in the process of vehicle design and execution?

Simcoe: China already has the capacity to design and engineer and manufacture a product, whether it’s GM or any of our competition. They’re already well on the way in that respect. We still have a strong presence and people we assign to the studios there, and likewise, we have people on assignment from China (working in) our other studios. We don’t see it as China growing separately. We see China growing as part of global auto.

Korean Influences

WardsAuto: Are there any design metrics from Asia that can influence the bigger GM International picture?

Simcoe: I think the level of enthusiasm, the focus on graphic understanding and entertainment in this region is outstanding, and that comes to product in the way the designers work. It’s funny that the group of designers from this region appearing in all the studios, not just our own, are the Korean guys. There is a big presence in the colleges of automotive design and all those guys are very exportable. We have a wonderful group in Korea that works on products all over the world and are very competitive. They bring something that’s uniquely Asian.

I don’t believe you could say that any of their detailing is specifically Asian because the design world is so much smaller now. You are seeing a globalization of design in general. I can see what’s happening in China, I can see what’s happening in America today within the GM studios but also online. Media has been the big leveler, so Asian designers can see what’s happening in the West, the West is seeing what’s happening in Asia and we’re seeing a cross-fertilization.

All customers like value, like visual value, visual detailing. There is a growing use of metallics and bright chrome on the exterior that’s not specific to Asia. The one thing you do perhaps see here in Thailand or maybe Korea or some of the other Asian markets is the higher level of personalization. People do want to spend money on detailing their vehicles in the way they would like people to see them, so accessories is a big deal here.

WardsAuto: Is GM International more small-car-focused in Asia?

Simcoe: We have a homeroom for the minicar in Korea, but that’s manufacturing- and engineering-based. From a design perspective, we have capability to support the mini program as much as we have to support the car-and-truck program anywhere in the world. That’s the whole value of having a number of different studios in different regions – you get a different opinion.

WardsAuto: The Buick Avenir was a major halo project for the Australian studio. Is there a possibility of it going to production?

Simcoe: We can’t talk about the future in that sort of detail. The Avenir represented a look at the future for the surface and graphic language of the Buick brand. Whether it goes to production or not, I can’t answer that.

WardsAuto: Manufacturing is winding down in Australia. How is that affecting the design studio’s operation?

Simcoe: From a design perspective we’re just a busy as we ever have been, probably more busy. As local production ceases that allows us more studio time and more studio space to turn to global products and to more effectively reach out on programs globally that will find their way back to the market in Australia. So have we lost the ability to influence the market in Australia? Not as a design unit.

WardsAuto: The Australian studio is under no threat of closure?

Simcoe: If there was a threat it would have been carried out by now. We are absolutely safe. The team down there has a reputation – you mentioned the Avenir – a good reputation for interpreting the brand globally and executing very well. It’s a team that’s been in place for a number of years in its current form but as a design operation in Australia, it’s been there since the ’60s.

WardsAuto: The Indian design studio recently created a small SUV, the Adra, which was well-received by the Indian media. Could you see a vehicle like this slotting into the Asian portfolio?

Simcoe: An A- or sub-B-(segment) SUV, SUVs in every respect and smaller SUVs are a burgeoning market everywhere. What we were really doing with that vehicle was looking at where we can go, seeing how Indian customers would accept that. But are we going to do one of those vehicles? Again, I can’t tell you where we are going.

About the Author(s)

Edd Ellison

Correspondent, WardsAuto

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