Inspired by the rich California car culture that gave birth to hot rods around the world, Frank Saucedo is driven to meld the new with the old.
And as director of General Motors' Advanced Design Studio in North Hollywood – a state-of-the-art facility housing 30 designers, sculptors, analysts, and engineers dedicated to creating cars with an alternative and unique voice – Mr. Saucedo is at the forefront of industry design.
The studio is one of just a handful of GM Advanced Design Studios in the world that compete against one another for projects as part of the automotive giant's efforts to promote ingenuity and innovation. "It's like having to run a small town," says Mr. Saucedo. "Sometimes you get pulled in a lot of directions. There are always deadlines, and you always have to keep the process moving. [But] my No. 1 focus is design."
What it all comes down to, says Mr. Saucedo, is letting the auto's design tell a story. The better the story, he says, the more consumers will want to buy it. And that effort to attract consumers is a fierce, high-stakes competition in the massive U.S. automotive industry. With nearly $1 trillion in new car and truck sales last year alone, according to Plunkett Research Ltd., a design that fails to capture consumers' attention and pocketbooks can mean millions in lost revenue for an automaker.
Such a nexis of influences leaves auto designers throughout the industry facing constant pressure to anticipate rapidly changing consumer tastes to produce innovative and popular new design concepts, while keeping manufacturing costs low and bringing new designs to market with growing speed.
That balancing act is one that has designers currently tapping into a trend that runs across many consumer industries these days: retroism. Mr. Saucedo calls it "future retroism" and says it is the design philosophy behind popular revamped classics such as the Volkswagen Beetle, the BMW Mini Cooper and the Ford Thunderbird. "These days, everybody is looking to make a statement in a modern way. These cars have a feeling that is retro but modern at the same time," Mr. Saucedo says.
The technique is clever, says Geoff Wardle, chairman of the transportation design department at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, known in the industry as the Harvard of automotive design. "The trend is based on cars that have a huge amount of charisma the first time around," says Mr. Wardle. "It's such a great-looking car that it appeals to car buyers that really like the original cars and to car buyers who never even saw the car when it was first around."
Mr. Saucedo made good use of that style in his most recent project, the new Chevrolet Super Sport Concept – a four-door, rear-wheel drive, family sedan-slash-muscle car powered by a 430-horsepower small-block V8 engine. A throwback to the Chevrolet Super Sport line of the 1960s, the car boasts the sleek lines of a modern sports sedan and the power and performance of an old-school dragster. The design combination drew high praise from Motor Trend magazine in its review of the 2003 Detroit Auto Show.
Other projects under way by Mr. Saucedo at the North Hollywood studio include the Chevrolet Borrego, a must-see transformer-like sport utility vehicle aimed at college grads and first-time car buyers, and the Pontiac Solstice, a sporty open-air, two-seat roadster that Motor Trend describes as "fun to drive, pleasant to live with, and cool to be seen in."
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