Two passenger vehicle segments that generated the most amount of excitement at the February 2014 Auto Expo in New Delhi, were the compact sedan and SUV segments. There may not have been too many launches, but the fact that manufacturers considered it important to showcase their concepts in these segments, speak volumes of the potential that the Indian market offers in the near to long-term future. One such showcase was the Chevrolet Adra compact SUV concept from the General Motors' stable.
Conceptualised and designed entirely by Indian designers at the GM Technical Centre-India (GMTC-I) in Bangalore, the Adra concept represents a new possibility for the American carmaker in India. It addresses local customer expectations to cater to the next generation of Indian car buyers, said the company, while adopting a traditional global Chevrolet design language. To understand more about the design strategy at GM, we spoke to Michael P Simcoe, Executive Director – Global Design, General Motors International Operations (GMIO).
"The Adra is an entirely different cattle of fish. With this showcase, we are trying to understand whether there is a customer pull for a mini SUV," said Simcoe. Today, most manufacturers globally are trying to find white space in the market, and with the Adra, Chevrolet has put a dot right at the middle of the A segment. Although compact, the Adra offers all of the advantages of a traditional SUV – high ground clearance, all-around visibility, a high seating stance and generous interior space.
A UNIVERSAL LANGUAGE
The multitude of products and variants within GM necessitated streamlining of the design process. In the past, the company did a lot of production design across brands in many regions across the world. GM has now moved to a system where the brand ownership lies with the North American business, and Ed Welburn, Vice President of Global Design, GM devises the strategy and direction of each brand.
"It's a globalised design strategy that we have adopted, but we ensure each individual brand maintains its core values and character," said Simcoe. The core values and characteristics of the Chevrolet brand would be distinct from that of a Buick or a Cadillac or a GMC. No prescription is forced upon a designer, because that tends to kill creativity. However, to express the design language of a particular brand, certain rules are set, but never forced upon.
This seems to be working. For instance, Chevrolet products, irrespective of where they are sold, reflects a uniform design language. And it's no different with the Buicks or the Cadillacs within the GM family of brands.
"People involved with the automotive world today come from different countries and with different tastes. So, nothing is out of bounds. There is more freedom with the directions that one can take with future vehicles. It's a great time to be designing vehicles, as design is now the point of separation. More often now, you see people going off in different directions. People are prepared to take more risks because customers are being broken down into smaller and smaller niches. The Adra itself is about finding a point of difference," explained Simcoe.
In doing so, one must be mindful of future regulations. The challenges of CO2 reduction and fuel economy improvement continue to dominate most of the engineering and designing mind space. Low mass solutions and enhanced aerodynamics are the buzzwords, and then, there are infotainment systems and HMI solutions with large touchscreens that have almost become a price of entry for many customers.
The challenges of future mobility too is occupying the designers' mindset unlike any time in the past. For electric vehicles in particular, reducing the mass of batteries and increasing range substantially are the two most critical challenges that the company is focussing on. Simcoe points out that developments like these could likely change vehicle configurations as well in the future. Materials would play a big role as well, he concluded.
Text: Deepangshu Dev Sarmah
Photo: Bharat Bhushan Upadhyay