At the New York auto show, we caught General Motors' vice president of global design staring at a blazing white Chevrolet Camaro Z/28 with the glance usually reserved for competitive products.
"When I think about muscle cars, performance cars, just a few years ago, this tire would've been way inboard," Welburn told us. "It hurt aerodynamics when the track was narrower, and it hurt its performance in a number of measurements. To be able to get this tire to body relationship is just amazing."
We then caught up with Welburn formally at the Chevrolet stand.
Auto World News: Tell me about how the Spark changed.
Ed Welburn: I think it takes Spark to a whole other level. Spark has really been a cool car with a great personality, but this next generation of Spark has matured without getting older. It still has the character that it had in the first-gen car. With the new vehicle, the whole proportion is not as tall and narrow. It's a bit lower without losing any interior space; it still has great interior space, for a car of that category. And the ride and handling is phenomenal. It's really progressed. I think that the organization really built on what was a successful car, and it has grown in a very positive way.
In the Malibu, I get hints of BMW in the front, Impala in the back, and a bigger daylight opening. What led to that?
I think the vehicle is pretty amazing. The interior space, the proportions, the overall fluid design-very fluid. You're the first I've heard say BMW, so I guess I'd like for you to show me where you see BMW design. I'm very proud of the car and of the team that developed it, both design and engineering. It is cool. Subtleties of the body surfacing, the sculpting and the surfaces, the packaging, really sweat the details on it. You can't go into that much detail at a press conference on things like the longer wheelbase, which help not only the rear seat, but getting in and out of the front seat, as cutlines moved forward.
I saw the BMW shape in the nose. What were you going for? There's a lot of Volt in the nose.
They're both Chevrolet. I'd have to say that it's true for this whole new generation of Chevrolets that a great deal of inspiration came from the Corvette Stingray, in some of the form vocabulary. When the Corvette Stingray was introduced, it was like Corvette, a world-class athlete, had gone back to the gym and gotten fit. There's this muscular tension in its design. And a lot of that same form vocabulary in that car is in this car. It's not a Stingray, but there's a lot of the subtleties in the shapes, the tension, the real stretch of muscles that make up the body shape, that were very much influenced by the Corvette. That had a big influence on it. We listened to our customers and their needs for interior space, both front and rear. There was certainly not enough room in the rear seat. Lengthening the wheelbase helped that, by moving the rear wheel back, but we moved the front wheel forward. That makes it so much easier to get into the front. It's just a far more pleasant car to live with, in the interior. All the storage within was done in a very creative way.
You're going to have to evolve Stingray soon. What are people liking on the current model?
The exterior styling is huge. The refinement in the vehicle is huge. The value for its price is huge. Its performance, its interior design, the materials in the interior, the choice of colors-there's just a long list of things that people like about the vehicle. How it will evolve, you have Z06, which is available as a convertible; that's a big deal. Anything else that's part of its evolution is future product, and I can't talk about that. But we have to keep Corvette Stingray fresh in the market.
Cadillac CT6: It's a pretty big car that hides its size well.
I'm glad you see that. It's important to do a larger Cadillac, but I think there's a real pull for it. Customers are looking for it, but no one wants an excessive vehicle. The design really masks its dimensions, to some degree. The proportions and the priorities are obvious-interior space and trunk space are there-but it doesn't have a long front overhang. It has a great dash-to-axle, which people really like in premium vehicles. The rear overhang is kept really trim. It's a tailored shape and proportion.
[Cadillac president] Johan de Nysschen has insinuated that CT6 might not be the biggest Cadillac. Is that something you're working on now?
I think you need to talk to Johan, and ask him to go a little further.
Do you two speak often?
Oh, yeah. All the time.
What is it like to work for him?
I don't work for him. I work with him. And I can say he's my customer, in a way, because I lead design for General Motors and all its brands globally. I have a person in [Cadillac designer] Andrew Smith who is dedicated to the Cadillac brand. He works really closely with Johan, and he really has to; it's really part of that leadership team, but he reports to me. Johan and I talk, I won't say daily, but a lot. We have great communication. We talk about the future of the brand. I'm not only concerned with the design of the vehicles, but the aesthetics of everything: the design of the show stands, the dealerships, the portfolio of brands here and globally. Those are the kinds of conversations I have with him, and on how we need to evolve the brand over time, from a design perspective.
Do you think that Cadillac being in New York will naturally absorb style and sophistication, or will it still be handed down from Detroit?
The team here, a marketing team, will definitely absorb the culture of New York and the aesthetics that are very much a part of the city, and the premium nature of this culture. Our design team will remain in Warren, in Michigan. That collaboration with engineering is really critical in the development of the vehicle. There are members of my team who I encouraged to spend time here, and in other cultures, absorbing the culture and understanding it. I tell them, "When you go to a motor show or a meeting, spend time out walking the streets. Go shopping, just don't send the bill to me." That's what I do. After design reviews in Korea, I spend time in the city, walking and shopping. Shopping is a real learning experience, not just window shopping, but going in and buying goods. I do the same thing in Paris, walking the streets there, or wherever I go.
Which shops will you visit in New York?
I haven't decided. But I'm going to spend a couple of days and really enjoy the city. Shops, museums, displays: it's every bit of that. When I'm in Shanghai, I have to get out and see the city, to get a better understanding of the city.
Do you think that Cadillac has a big future in China?
Yes. Cadillac is really doing well. I think that, in its early days, the customers of luxury vehicles were looking for something not as aggressive as Cadillac design is; the traditional European brands were really something they gravitated toward. As that culture changes, and the young entrepreneur is looking for something with a bit of an edge to it, I firmly believe that's one of the reasons-along with the dealer network-why sales continue to increase in China. Some of the vehicles that may have been considered way too edgy for China a few years ago, like the SRX, are doing very well now.
Auto World News was on the ground and covering the 2015 New York International Auto Show. Check out our up-to-the-minute coverage of all the action in New York City, and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.