By Rob Douthit
We recently spent a few minutes chatting with Bryan Nesbitt, vice president of global design for General Motors.
Q. The Chevy Volt, GM’s plug-in electric car, is generating a lot of buzz. What’s your take?
A. Our designers worked to create something that would not only draw attention because it’s electric, but something that people would like the looks of. Also, in designing it, we had to play a role in fuel efficiency. We spent over 500 hours in the tunnel working on aerodynamic efficiency, which has a big impact on fuel economy. To make this car capable of running 40 miles on electricity, we had to pay close attention to wind resistance and every design detail that would help it be more efficient.
Q. Are there common threads among the design styles across GM brands? It seems like some elements found in Cadillac can also be found in Chevy. Some elements in Buick can be seen in Saturn.
A. We’ve got a lot of studios and we’ve got a lot of brands. Our job as design managers is to make sure the brands are moving in different directions. Chevrolet has a bold face and quite a bandwidth of identities. And we want there to be characteristics that are recognizable for each brand. The Aero X is driving a distinctive identity for Saab, for instance.
Q. Does GM’s well-publicized effort to improve the overall fuel economy of it’s vehicles present certain design challenges?
A. There are all kinds of efficiency tactics to improve fuel economy. Can the vehicle sit lower? Can we manipulate the air flow over the vehicle better? That’s where we spend a lot of time. And we look closely at the materials we use, to make sure they are the lightest weight for fulfilling the purpose.
Q. How will this decade be remembered from a car design standpoint?
A. How fashion has changed is interesting. There were a lot of vehicles in 2000 that didn’t have to account as much for fuel economy. Now, that is obviously very different. The Volt is the game changer in the industry. In the past, we certainly could see the influence of the pickup truck. Now we see the transition to a single purpose vehicle.
Q. Manufacturers say they want consumers to have an “emotional connection” to their vehicles. What does that mean to you?
A. This gets in to how we manage the interior design and exterior design. For the exterior, you want the reaction of people to be almost lustful, to capture that instant appeal. The interior is what you live with for a while. It’s less about the emotional than the experience. Ultimately, customers want the best of both worlds. That’s a big objective. The reputation of the car isn’t built on the exterior design.