INCHEON, South Korea — General Motors’ South Korean design studio is setting a new course for the company’s small cars with this fall’s arrival of the Chevrolet Bolt EV.
The center was tasked in 2012 with designing the Bolt, the automaker’s most iconic technological showcase since the Volt hybrid, because of its expertise in bundling big content into small packages. The Bolt proved to be one of its biggest challenges yet.
The project forced designers to try new tricks that may debut in other cars, all while on a supertight timeline toward the production version’s unveiling last January.
“It reminds you of what GM can do when we’re given a deadline and set to it,” the car’s lead designer, Stuart Norris, said in a July 7 interview here. Norris arrived at the Korea studio as director of advanced and architecture design in 2012 and was promoted to managing director of design on July 1, 2015.
“We broke the mold on the Bolt EV,” the British designer said.
GM executives wanted an EV that could generate serious volume. The design should be expressive and distinct without veering into “science project” territory, Norris said.
“We need to sell more of these electric vehicles, so we need something that has more broad mass appeal,” Norris said. “The Bolt was a very significant program for us.”
Typically, GM vehicle design is handled by two teams, one responsible for the exterior, the other for the interior. But the Bolt was such a high-stakes project, the company created a special team in Korea that would integrate all aspects of styling.
With some 190 workers, the Korea design center is now GM’s third-biggest styling studio, after centers in the U.S. and Europe. It is also the Detroit carmaker’s hub for global small-car design, springboarding off the experience in compacts that came through GM’s tie-up with Daewoo before fully subsuming the South Korean automaker.
GM Korea has led the design of such cars as the Chevrolet Sonic, Spark and Cruze as well as the Trax and Captiva crossovers. It also designs small cars for emerging markets such as India.
The studio sits on the grounds of the company’s Bupyeong assembly plant and engineering center in Incheon, just outside Seoul. GM doubled the size of the design center in 2014, after spending $40 million on sweeping upgrades.
Norris said the studio now has 10 vehicle projects underway.