So it’s brands and design that set cars apart. If your brand isn’t as strong as your rivals, then you have to overwhelm on design. And that’s what we’re doing at Vauxhall/Opel.
So said Bob Lutz, General Motors’ product chief, at the opening of a new European design centre in Russelsheim, Germany. Imagine a light, airy warehouse, with tall ceilings to accommodate hanging galleries for that crucial overhead view of a new design, shielded by swathes of frosted glass to protect its secrets.
Lutz, like stylists Walter de’Silva at Audi and Martin Smith at Ford, vows that design is the key differentiator between cars. GM’s executives pledge that the design centre, which houses 400 staff, is crucial for Vauxhall/Opel to realize its aim of having Europe’s most appealing cars.
The Astra began the Opel/Vauxhall design revolution almost three years ago, and a survey of 300,000 car buyers revealed double the approval rating for Opel design inside two years.
The new facility’s major focus is to make cabin styling sing like the exterior designs. On the ground floor, designers sketch on electronic pads, while modelers shape clay bucks and a milling machine precisely carves out a lifesize model of a dashbord. On the floor above, colour and trim will choose the most vibrant shades and tactile materials; above them, quality control will strive to ensure the most precise fit and finish.
Some evidence of Opel/Vauxhall’s interior push comes inside the new Antara soft-roader, due in UK dealerships in summer 2007. Lutz vows the designers are moving away from the ‘Teutonic coldness’ of the Vectra; the Antara’s high quality, slush moulded dash is precisely punctured with circular vents finished in uplifting silver. The dials look like watch faces, the brown leather seats the shade of Lutz’s Montecristo cigar.
This summer’s Corsa MkIII – “the most sensational, good looking car in its class,” according to Lutz – shares the Antara’s interior theme, but with backlighting and graphics for the iPod generation. The portability of MP3 players will inspire the next generation of interiors. “Expect incredible technological developments, especially in entertainment and communication,” says GM global design boss Ed Welburn. “Bring your music and preferences to your car, and personalize it to your tastes.”