Design plays key role for GM

27 September 2011

DETROIT: General Motors, the automaker, is putting design at the heart of its efforts to change consumer perceptions and drive revenue growth.

Speaking to Fast Company, Mary Barra, GM's SVP, global product development, said prioritising new design and manufacturing technologies, lightweight parts and an eye for detail were all increasingly key.

"When we look at designs, we're also looking at: it's beautiful, but can we build it? And can we build it consistently with quality?" she added.

Another long term objective is overcoming negative attitudes about GM's government bailout. "It's something that didn't happen overnight, and it won't change overnight," Barra said.

More specifically, GM is trying to create models capable of succeeding at the "moment of truth" - when potential buyers are on forecourts and ready to take a test drive.

"Our biggest challenge is to get them in the vehicle," Barra said. "Because if you get that one chance, where they go, 'Okay, maybe I'll give Buick, or Chevy, or Cadillac, or GMC a try' - and you let them down?"

In demonstration of this, GM is reviving the fortunes of brands like Buick, often seen as out-dated by younger customers, but now enjoying considerable success in China and gaining ground at home.

"You talk about the perception ten or 15 years ago of what a Buick was," said Barra. "Clearly that's in certain consumers' minds. In my mind, the one and only way out of that is great products. That is the only way out of it."

A broader target being pursued by the company is reducing product development lead times, traditionally lasting at least three years, as part of a goal to cut costs by around 25% in this area.

When coupled with tighter regulations regarding mileage levels in the US, and firms that Bara described as "great, very formidable competitors", it is clear GM has to continue down such lines.

Among its current test models are the Sonic and Spark, both from Chevrolet, offering a sporty look, fuel economy, low price-tags and built using a similar "core architecture", but which can be adapted for individual markets.

"These can't be cars where people think they're settling," said Barra. "You don't want to say, 'Here's our global mid-size car. Hope it works for you.' What India might want is very different from what Canada might want."

Data sourced from Fast Company; additional content by Warc staff