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GM Interiors Gain Greater Priority, Design Chief Welburn Says

GM Interiors Gain Greater Priority, Design Chief Welburn Says

GM interiors also have been boosted by investments in the automaker’s global design organization, the executive says, citing a groundbreaking global concept car created for the recent New Delhi auto show.

DEARBORN, MI – General Motors owes recent, rapid improvement in its vehicle interiors to a leadership team that finally recognizes the inside of car or truck can play as big a role in winning buyers as the outside, Vice President and design chief Ed Welburn says.

“It has become a much higher priority in the entire company,” Welburn tells the 2014 WardsAuto Interiors Conference here today. “The leadership of the company cares about interiors.”

GM this year earned a pair of Ward’s 10 Best Interiors awards. The Chevrolet Corvette Stingray, long an also-ran in the sports-car interior race, and the GMC Sierra large pickup, which in years past has had interiors that were cold and uninviting, earned nods from WardsAuto judges.

Welburn, who leads a global group of 2,500 designers at 10 studio centers in seven countries, says buy-in from senior leadership on interiors did not exist a few short years ago. The focus was almost entirely on exteriors and showed in the product.

“We would have a major (design) review with the leaders of the company (and) we would review the exterior. If we had time, we would review the interior,” he recalls. “And at times, they did not review the interior at all. It was not a priority.”

Interiors also used to face the financial axe when vehicle programs saw cost overruns.

“The best way to get things right financially was to take from the interior,” he says. “That was done over and over again. That was the environment years ago, and that is not the case now. It has changed radically.”

But another frontier must fall, Welburn adds. Vehicle interiors will not get their full due until one appears on the cover of a leading enthusiast magazine.

“They always show the exterior, and it’s got to be red, maybe yellow, but I want to get one of our interiors on the cover of a car magazine,” he says to applause. “More than once, over and over.”

Welburn admits GM still has some catching up to do among consumers when it comes to the reputation of its interiors.

“I don’t think everyone knows. We just have to get more people to look at them. Once they experience them they are stunned in a very positive way,” he says.

Welburn thinks the task might be greater in North America, where GM’s brands have a longer history than in other markets where they are newer arrivals.

GM Design Gone Global

GM interiors also have been boosted by recent investments in the automaker’s global design organization.

Welburn cites a group in India that recently produced a groundbreaking global concept car for the New Delhi auto show. The colorful, roomy and adventurous Chevrolet Adra SUV was the first concept created by the group specifically targeting the Indian market. Indian fashion served as its inspiration.

“Without our Indian design team we would not have created (the Adra’s) textures and materials,” he says. “It may affect work we do around the world.”

Welburn says after recently doubling the size of the automaker’s Cadillac design studio in North America, he expects additional hires must be made to keep pace with his group’s workload.

“We are busier now at GM Design than at any time in the history of the company,” he says. “Every one of our 10 design centers around the world is working flat-out to develop new products.

“We’ll need to bring on some new people to handle everything we’re doing,” he adds. “And I don’t see that dying out anytime soon.”

However, competition from other industries has automakers in a scuffle for the best talent.

“It’s one thing, the challenge of keeping designers in our industry, but it’s the digital sculptors more than the designers,” he says, pointing to the film industry as a key rival for talent. “My friend (director) Michael Bay is hiring hundreds of them. We need digital sculptors and it is a rare group of people.”

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