GM’s History of Design Innovations – Automaker’s groundbreaking design department celebrates 85 years


General Motors was the first automaker to recognize and focus on the importance of automotive design, something taken for granted today. Led by Harley Earl, GM Design was created in June of 1927 to “study the question of art and color combinations in General Motors products.” Earl and his department moved the company to offer multiple colors for models, develop concept cars and, perhaps most significantly, institute yearly model changeovers.
Standing on that kind of history, it’s no surprise that General Motors is a global leader in automotive design today, with 1,900 men and women in 10 international design centers focused on the future and creating “art that moves you,” driven by current GM Design leader and Vice President of Global Design Ed Welburn.
“Our global team is united around its passion for designing vehicles that make an emotional connection with customers,” said Welburn. “What was true 85 years ago is still true today: A designer’s role is to create a beautifully executed exterior with great proportions that draw you in, and an interior that invites you into a relationship that develops and grows.”
In recent years, Cadillac and Buick have each undergone design renaissances, and Chevrolet has become a global brand with a globally recognized design language, apparent in such vehicle introductions as the Chevy Camaro sports car, the Malibu midsize sedan, and the Cruze compact car.
Meanwhile, the Chevrolet Volt electric vehicle with extended range went from concept to production in just three years, winning “North American Car of the Year” honors and co-winning the European “Car of the Year” award along the way.
“Our global structure allows us to design more new vehicles and to dedicate more people using the latest technology and tools to bring them to market,” said Welburn. “The diversity of thought, experience, culture and perspective we foster here is unrivaled, and it fuels our creative process.”
Those who make a living handing out automobile design awards have taken notice of GM’s innovations. Buick was named to the “Hottest Brands of 2010” list by the cable network MSNBC, while the new Chevy Camaro won several awards that same year, including “World Car Design of the Year” at the 2010 New York International Auto Show, “Collectible Car of the Year” from the National Automotive History Collection, Kiplinger‘s “Best New Sports Car” award, Ward’s “Best Sports Car Interior” award, and a “Best in Design” distinction from Popular Mechanics.
In 2011, the same year the Chevrolet Volt was named “North American Car of the Year,” the Volt was also named Motor Trend “Car of the Year” and Motor Week “Driver’s Choice Best of the Year.” Also in 2011, the Cadillac CTS-V Wagon was named an Automobile magazine “All-Star,” an “Editors Choice Top 10 Vehicle” of the year by MSN Autos and “Most Wanted” by Edmunds Inside Line.
Most recently, the all-new 2013 Cadillac XTS luxury sedan made its debut at the Los Angeles Auto Show as the most technologically advanced production car in the brand’s history; the Buick Encore small crossover was unveiled at the 2012 North American International Auto Show in Detroit; the Chevrolet MiRay concept car won “Best Concept” in the annual Detroit News Readers’ Choice Awards; and the all-new 2013 Cadillac ATS compact luxury sports sedan is currently challenging the world’s best premium cars.
Additional milestones in GM’s history include pioneering the concept of “advance design” in the 1930s, making it the first company to use special studio teams to explore engineering and design possibilities. The following decade, GM became the first automaker to hire women designers.
To test drive “art that moves you,” stop by today. Schedule a test drive.
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