Wayne Cherry clearly remembers the day in May 1962 when he drove to General Motors' Warren, Mich., Tech Center and reported for work for the first time. It was the culmination of a boyhood dream. GM is the only automaker Cherry has worked for. In 1965, Cherry moved to Europe, where he spent 25 years in managerial positions at GM's European operations, Vauxhall Motors Ltd. in England and Adam Opel AG in Germany. Cherry returned to America in 1991 after being named vice president of design. He is only the fifth person to head GM Design. Cherry, who was expected to retire in September, has been asked to stay another year while the search for his replacement continues. He recently spoke with Staff Reporter Richard Truett.
Cherry: Strong team more important than legacy
It's still early. So far the dealers are ecstatic. The feedback I've got is that these things are virtually flying off the transporters. I've always felt good about it. What we wanted to do with Cadillac was create a bold, recognizable design, recognizable as a Cadillac, recognizable as American, and that looked appropriate as a premium vehicle in that environment. That really was the essence behind it, establishing that bold, strong design look. Cadillacs, at the height of their popularity, were very recognizable vehicles. And they did push the envelope a bit in terms of design. I think we took some more of a risk with the vehicle. But a lot of the feedback we are getting is that people admire us for doing it. That's always the good side.
We're committed to it (Cadillac's new style) with the XLR and some of the other new Cadillacs coming out. The thing is, I believe there is sufficient band width to adjust and tune the design theme for the different kinds of customers and different kinds of vehicles we have in our lineup. From that perspective, I think people are very comfortable that going forward as the other vehicles roll out there will be more presence and that Cadillacs will be more recognizable. People will understand that's the new Cadillac look.
We've got a lot of terrific vehicles coming out. What's really important is what we've built up here. The new leadership team we have in place is just a fantastic team. I'm much more concerned about that than I am with my legacy. What I think is important is what we have accomplished here, the future we have ahead of us, and the terrific vehicles we are getting out of this place. Look at the truck range, the mid-sized sport-utilities and some of the new passenger cars and crossovers.
The company has gone through various periods of focusing on various things. As we have said in the past, we've been really getting our arms around the business. There's been a lot in the press about how competitive we are now in terms of cost, structural cost and hours per vehicle. So the company has systematically moved through putting its business in order. The momentum you see is all part of that. It's all the things being put in place. With Bob Lutz coming in, he places a lot of value on design and what design contributes to vehicles.
In January (at the Detroit auto show) I was really pleased that we were able to have the SSR, the Hummer H2 and the Cadillac XLR, all concept vehicles that are being put into production in the next year.
My legacy isn't what's important. What is important is the vehicle range that we have, the concepts that we are bringing to the marketplace and the new leadership team we have put into place here.
It did. I can still remember that Mound Road Gate when I drove in here in a '55 Chevy. I can still remember that as if it were a couple years ago.
Driving in there and that fountain is right there and the Tech Center. Wow!
I always wanted to work for GM. I was so excited that I got hired by GM.
I drove in here in that '55 and thought this is the most wonderful place in the world. And I still feel that way today. It's just as exciting coming in today as it was then.
Right now what's in the garage is a Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud 1 drophead (convertible), a Ferrari 275 GTB four-cam and a one-off concept vehicle I own, the Equs. Right now I say I don't have time to work on the vehicles, but everyone has time for whatever they decide to do.
As long I have been in this business, it's been seven days a week because I enjoy it. So when I say I don't have time it's because I am here on weekends instead of home in the garage. Maybe someday I'll work on the cars.
Did you know that Bill Mitchell's father was a Buick dealer in Greenville, Pa., and that Mitchell came to General Motors wanting to design Buicks? Mitchell went on to become GM's legendary vice president of design. He's credited with designing some of GM's most revered cars, including the 1938 Cadillac 60 Special and the 1963 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray.
Name: Wayne Cherry
Title: Vice president, Design Centers, General Motors
Responsibilities: Design direction of GM's North America brands - Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet, GMC, Hummer, Pontiac, Saturn
Year joined GM: 1962 as associate creative designer
Education: B.S. in transportation design from Los Angeles Art Center College of Design
To be absolutely honest, I haven't given it a moment's thought. My wife knows that we are not going to talk about it until it happens. After I retire, I suppose we'll sit down and say, 'Now what are we going to do?' I don't know how I can think about what I'm going to do after I retire and still be fully committed and thinking about everything that's going on right now.
We have so much work going on. There's so much fun and excitement and so many new products going on.
We are working right now on next year's concept vehicles. I don't have time to think about what happens after I retire. When the times comes, I'll think about it.
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