LOS ANGELES - General Motors swears its new studio here will be part of a new GM design culture in which any completed design from any studio has a legitimate shot at making it to the showroom floor.
In other words, it won't be just another Southern California- lifestyle think-tank.
'The vehicles we are designing now will be in consideration for being in the product plan, in the product plan itself or under development. All work being done here is for advanced options for our portfolio,' Wayne Cherry, GM vice president of design, said last week at a media preview for the new center.
The studio, in a renovated 55,000-square-foot former bakery in North Hollywood, will open formally in April, although some 30 employees will begin work in the next three weeks.
What does Cherry consider advanced? Both the GMC Terradyne and Chev-rolet SSR concept cars - which wowed audiences in January at the Detroit auto show - have moved quickly from 'advanced concepts' to a possible fast track to production.
CONSERVATISM IS OUT
The studio will have the most modern modeling equipment in the world, such as the equipment that enabled designers to take the SSR from sketch pad to show-ready clay model in less than one month.
Cherry said GM has decided to embrace the notion of 'waste rate' - in other words, allow designers to abandon the conservatism that has plagued GM design, even if it means throwing out a lot of unusable but creative ideas.
Part of the new creative force will come from GM hiring outside the automotive world. One reason GM chose the studio location in North Hollywood is its proximity to the entertainment, animation, high-tech and aerospace communities in that neighborhood. GM expects to draw heavily from those industries, Cherry said.
The new studio will be linked to the GM design headquarters in Warren, Mich., through a secure company Intranet Web site that allows any employee to input ideas, said John Taylor, GM director of product design strategies. Should a more formal link be necessary, a satellite hookup will be used.
A similar system is in place with GM's studio in Russelsheim, Germany. Counting California, GM has 12 studios around the world.
Studio chief Frank Saucedo is resuming a GM career he interrupted for a three-year stint as chief designer at Volkswagen's Southern California studio, in Simi Valley. Lured back by the promise of having input into GM production vehicles, the 38-year-old Saucedo points to the Audi TT as 'the kind of risk GM is going to have to take.'
Ideas from GM's former California studio in Newbury Park, where Saucedo worked until it closed in 1996, rarely were used and often were ignored outright, he says.
Leading the 'digital' computerized side of the studio will be Rob McCann, who worked for GM for 13 years before moving to Samsung Design and Porsche Engineering Services. Heading the 'analog' side, which will create the physical models, will be Franz von Holzhausen, who came from VW with Saucedo.
'The digital side needs more subdued lighting for the screens we work on, while the analog side needs bright lights to see all the nuances of the model. But that will really be the only separation between the two. Otherwise, there will be lots of interface,' von Holzhausen said.The studio also will have sections for the Advanced Products Exploration division, which will look at products going out 10 years or more. A market research section to host focus groups and analyze business decisions will round out the building.