June 20, 2012
Buick. First the division resurrects the famed Riviera nameplate for future use, and now they've secured the Electra name. Can we expect to see some cool concepts for a dramatic Buick coupe and a stylish electric hybrid? Count on it. The 2013 Detroit Auto Show is shaping up to be a very big deal for GM and GM Design.
Nissan. The Japanese automaker will tweak its "Innovation for All" theme line with the launch of the new Altima here in the U.S. to sync its messaging globally. The new theme line? "Innovation that Excites." It's somewhat better but it's still cumbersome and awkward. Remember "We Build Excitement" for Pontiac in the 80s? That was better. Come to think of it, Nissan is a contemporary version of what Pontiac could have and should have been in the U.S. if it hadn't been euthanized.
Editor-in-Chief's Note: This month GM Design celebrates its 85th year, with 1,900 men and women in GM’s 10 global design centers focused on the future of transportation. “Our global team is united around its passion for designing vehicles that make an emotional connection with customers,” said Ed Welburn, GM vice president, Global Design. “What was true 85 years ago is still true today: A designer’s role is to create a beautifully executed exterior with great proportions to draw you in, and an interior environment that invites you into a relationship that develops and grows.”
GM was the first automobile manufacturer to single out automotive design as an essential discipline of the car business. On June 23, 1927, the Executive Committee of General Motors approved the creation of a new department "to study the question of art and color combinations in General Motors products" and hired Harley Earl, a custom coach builder from Hollywood and the creator of the 1927 LaSalle, as its leader.
Earl’s entry into the auto industry doomed rival Henry Ford’s “the customer can have it any color he wants as long as it is black” motto. Among Earl’s numerous accomplishments are the development of concept cars, the yearly model changeover, the vehicle tail fins of the 1950s, the traveling Motorama auto shows and the development of the iconic Corvette. Earl also is credited with hiring the industry’s first female automotive designers. Earl also was responsible for identifying architect Eero Saarinen to design the GM Technical Center campus, which is on the National Register of Historic Places and recognized around the world for its mid-century architecture.
Earl was succeeded by the talented Bill Mitchell in 1958 and Mitchell reigned over GM "Styling" until his retirement in 1977. To this day the Earl-Mitchell combination is still the greatest 1-2 designer combination in automotive history. Earl blazed trails and set the tone for the significance and impact of design within GM - and the industry - and Mitchell was a master at developing flamboyant, visionary design concepts and then translating them for use in GM's mainstream product lineup. It was no coincidence that Earl and Mitchell's brilliance mirrored GM's heyday as the dominant automobile company in the market.
Ed Welburn is the sixth design chief in GM’s 104-year history and the first to have global vehicle design leadership responsibilities. Welburn's biggest strategic challenge is to make sure that each of GM's eight global passenger car brands is distinctive in form and vocabulary from one another as well as from other brands in the marketplace. Cadillac and Buick have each undergone a design renaissance, and Chevrolet has become a global brand with a globally recognized design language. Production vehicle introductions that have helped shaped GM Design's resurgence under Welburn include the Chevrolet Camaro, Malibu and Cruze; the Cadillac CTS Coupe, GMC Terrain, and the Buick Enclave and LaCrosse.
Welburn and his global design team say their best work lies ahead. Tomorrow’s classic cars, he said, are on the sketchpads and computers of today’s designers. “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. Though we have multiple design centers, our mission is clear: Every new product we develop has to be a home run; each one has to be a great vehicle." - PMD (Thanks to GM for some of the historical facts and comments provided.)
(Photos Courtesy of GM and GM Design)
Famed GM designer Harley Earl, the "Godfather" of automotive design, was also responsible for hiring architect Eero Saarinen to design the GM Technical Center campus, which is on the National Register of Historic Places and recognized around the world for its mid-century architecture. While other corporations have moved operations out of mid-century Modernist buildings or renovated them beyond recognition, GM and GM Design have balanced functionality and design aesthetics, adapting to modern technologies and needs while maintaining and preserving an architectural masterpiece. The iconic Design Dome (above), adjacent studios and administration building’s long life are a testament to architect Saarinen’s innovative and flexible plan.
Harley Earl with (L to R) 1954 Firebird 1, 1956 Firebird 2 and 1958 Firebird 3 - sensational, visionary concepts that mirrored America's fascination with the jet age.
The fabulous 1951 Buick LeSabre Show Car, which Harley Earl often used as his daily driver.
The flamboyant Bill Mitchell with the equally flamboyant - and stunning - 1959 Corvette Stingray (L) and 1961 Corvette Mako Shark. Mitchell would have four or five of his concept cars dropped off at his house on Fridays in the summer so he could enjoy them over the weekend. It was a common sight in Birmingham and Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, to see Mitchell roaring around town in some of his prized concept cars like the original Stingray and the Mako Shark.
The contemporary Cadillac Ciel Concept, which was introduced at Pebble Beach last summer, embodies the visionary spirit of Harley Earl and Bill Mitchell while projecting Cadillac into the future. A stunning car in person, it is also more than a hint of the look and feel of an "ultimate" Cadillac that is coming to market in 2015 as a 2016 model. It's also confirmation that GM Design's ongoing philosophy of creating "art that moves you" is very much alive and well.
Editor's Note: I'll keep this brief. Think 0 to 60 in 4.4 seconds brief. The 2012 Mercedes-Benz CLS63 AMG High-Performance Coupe. A luscious, liquid, chocolate brown color called Cuprite. Gigantic red AMG brake calipers. Dual twin chrome tailpipes. Handbuilt 5.5 liter AMG 32-valve bi-turbo V8. And just in case 518hp and 516 lb-ft of torque is not enough, there's always the AMG Performance Package, which boosts those numbers to 550 and 590 (yes, please). I'm not going to go on and on about how well executed it is (at just under $113k it should be damn-near flawless), because frankly, I was too busy driving to do much else. Didn't fuss with the AMG 14-way power adjustable front sport seats (including 4-way lumbar, of course!). Didn't listen to the 14-speaker harmon/kardon sound system. Didn't adjust the cabin temps. Fire up that AMG motor and this car just begs to be driven - just begs, I tell you. And so that's what I did. The CLS63 is an intoxicating blend of supreme elegance and visceral thrill. It's everything a Mercedes-Benz should be, with a really naughty, nasty thing under the hood. It's a throaty, growly, snarly monster. And I love it. -WG
Editor-in-Chief's Note: I concur on all counts. Oh, and the battery died so we had to give it up three days early. Bummer. - PMD
2012 Mercedes-Benz CLS63 AMG High-Performance Coupe $112,805 ($94,900 Base Price; Cuprite Brown, N/C; Almond/Mocha Premium Leather, N/C; Burl Walnut Wood Trim, N/C; Carbon Fiber Trunklid Spoiler, $700; PARKTRONIC with Active Parking Assist, $970; Rear Side Air Bags, $420; 19" AMG Twin 5-Spoke Forged Alloy Wheel, $1,000; Premium 1 Package - Rearview camera, heated &active ventilated front seats, active multicontour driver seat, adaptive highbeam assist, full LED headlamps, electronic trunk closer, KEYLESS-GO - $3,690; AMG Performance Package - Brake calipers, top speed raised to 186mph, AMG performance steering wheel, sport suspension, additional power, 550hp and 590 lb-ft torque, carbon fiber engine cover - $7,300; Driver Assistance Package - DISTRONIC PLUS with PRE-SAFE brake, active blind spot assist, active lane keeping assist - $2,950; Destination and delivery, $875)