• Jun 10th 2009 at 2:27PM
  • 70
So what do you do if you happen to be Global Vice President of General Motors Design and a blogger calls your company out for lacking a modern sense of design? Well, if your name happens to be Ed Welburn, you respond with an open letter of your own.

After Huffington Post writer Gerald Sindell wrote an open letter to new GM CEO Fritz Henderson suggesting that a new design direction should be Job 1 for the reinvention of GM, Welburn felt compelled to respond. As you might imagine, the response is a rather passionate one. So what did Welburn have to say to Sindell? You can read the rest of the story after the jump.

[Sources: GM Fastlane and Huffington Post]

Sindell points out that at his first press conference as chief, Henderson promised "great design" from the new GM. He wanted to know how Henderson planned to do that, wondering aloud "what [Henderson's] process would be for inspiring, creating and recognizing great design." Sindell implies that good design will be at the heart of GM's turnaround if it is to happen, but says he doesn't see anything in the company's new website or marketing campaign to suggest they know how to do that:

I really wonder if General Motors can suddenly start to make stuff that's well-designed, from both the engineering side, as well as the interior and exterior. Can an organization that has made so much truly ugly stuff suddenly start making great design? I went to your new website, gmreinvention.com, and perused the portraits of the top team, just to get some clues about the design sense there. I see mostly corporate-type guys, in ties and suits, and the one thing that doesn't leap out is, "Wow -- great design sense." What leaps out is, "Older white guys wearing suits to the office in Detroit, except for one woman and one black guy."

That "one black guy" happens to be Mr. Welburn, who in his response suggests that Sindell might be a little out of touch. Besides explaining that diversity in design is more about what's inside than out, he points out that he leads, "one of the most diverse industrial design organizations in the world. I have the pleasure of participating, developing and approving every product our passionate design team creates."

Welburn goes on to single out Chevrolet's Camaro and Malibu, Cadillac's CTS and SRX, as well as Buick's LaCrosse as examples of how GM has been getting it right lately. He then goes on to challenge Sindell to go check them out for himself. Welburn adds that Design is a group of listeners, conducting many "research events, nontraditional focus groups, and dialogs with potential customers... all in the name of exceeding expectations." Mr. Welburn sums up his challenge thusly:

Our job today is to recapture, reconnect broadly with consumers, and help them feel good about GM vehicles again. It will be difficult, but not impossible, and our designers have the best chance of rebuilding that confidence. My team is designing some of the best vehicles ever, in studios right here in Michigan and across the globe - designs that inspire me and the customers we've met with - keep your eye on us.

Check out Gerald Sindell's open letter on The Huffington Post by clicking here, and Ed Welburn's response on GM's Fastlane blog by clicking here and decide for yourself.


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    • 1 Second Ago
  • 70 Comments
      • 6 Years Ago
      It takes a lot of time to become recognized by critics and the buying public as being truly exceptional at something. When it comes to good design I'll naturally think of VW or Apple, and when I want affordable reliability, Honda and Sony come to mind. But there exists a larger category for companies that aren't exceptional at anything, they're just there to claim their share of the market without offering anything outstanding. It's always seemed to me that GM belongs in this ambiguous category. They definitely have their share of legacy cars but looking at the company as a whole, nothing really stands out. When I look at Audi I think of great interiors and all wheel drive. When I think of BMW I think of the undisputed 3 series. When I think of GM, I want to think of something else. GM has built a reputation of being really good and really bad simultaneously. Some of their cars are promising on their own, but then others are rubbish, bringing the GM name down across the board.

      To me, GM design has always been this way – gems within a larger collective pool of mediocrity. Some design is outstanding, most is average at best. Mediocrity isn't bad, but you'd think that a company that's been around as long as them would get more than the basics right – they've had more than enough time to make the GM name stand for something.. besides affordable.
        • 6 Years Ago
        Think of Audi rather than VW. Otherwise, you're about spot on.
      • 6 Years Ago
      The new Caddy Designs are Hot, what the hell is Gerald Sindell talking about? maybe he cant afford a new Caddy.
        • 6 Years Ago
        @Nelly

        You're right, branding has nothing to do with selling cars. That's why none of the worlds automakers spend hundreds of millions per year to differentiate and bolster their non-existant brands. Thank god that you're such an intellectual.

        That cute little bowtie is so awesome that Chevy puts it on the only well-built and attractive model in their line-up...oops, I'm wrong, the Corvette gets it's own badge. ...I wonder why.

        As for Caddy, let me know when they finish playing catch up to the Japanese and European companies and do something innovative.

        p.s. the headlights belong on a big-rig too.

        • 6 Years Ago
        @ Nelly: Best ownage ever.
        • 6 Years Ago
        The new caddy designs are "hot"? Um, yeah, I've always wanted the fascia of my car to look like the front of a big-rig. Check out my new Cadillac STS guys--It's the Ice Road Trucker edition.

        The bailout money that we've given to GM should have gone to Tesla which is the only American car company with half a clue about the direction America's automotive compass is pointing.

        Oh and GM, I beg you with all of my heart...lose that ridiculous fu**ing bow tie emblem on your Chevrolets.
        • 6 Years Ago
        Rather than go back on forth with you about the varying percentage of sarcasm we both used in our posts, I've decided to type this one from the heart.

        The only connections I feel towards the Chevy branding are negative ones. Shoddy build quality, low resale value, and poor reliability are a few. Admittedly, I might be the only one who feels that way on this forum but I'm certainly not the only consumer who is left with those impressions of the brand.

        Moving on to the design of their emblem, let's look at the Malibu for a moment--It's a pretty decent looking car and it is definitely a move in the right direction for GM. However, I personally have trouble getting past the huge honking yellow belt buckle slapped on the front of it. Is it a deal breaker? Certainly not. But IMHO it's a blemish that doesn't need to be there. I like to think that they could come up with an emblem that is more modern and attractive without forsaking their heritage or their loyalists.

        I criticize the American car companies so harshly because I really do care and I want GM/Ford/Chrysler to be world leaders in every facet of automobile engineering...Especially since we now own a large chunk of most of them.
      • 6 Years Ago
      The SolsticeSky and Enclave are great designs too.
      • 6 Years Ago
      Ed should retire...most of the GM cars are UGLY except Corvette,Gm should get young designer , Look at Nissan they cars are suck but because the designer make the car look sporty that why they are out sell other cars...
        • 6 Years Ago
        You know just because someone smokes pot doesnt mean they're wrong about something..
        • 6 Years Ago
        If you guy NOT include the Saturn Opel and Sabb the I think Nissan sell more car then GM
        • 6 Years Ago
        "Look at Nissan they cars are suck but because the designer make the car look sporty that why they are out sell other cars"

        Smoke pot much you?
        • 6 Years Ago
        Wow! Who told you that Nissan outsells other cars?
      • 6 Years Ago
      Most people who talk about the Big 3's cars have a snapshots of their 1970's or 1980's (maybe 1990's) line up in their heads.
      • 6 Years Ago
      Gerald Sindell should get himself a new set of spectacles... make those extra-thick. I wonder what he qualifies as good design? Honda, Toyota? Or maybe VW or Subaru?
      One thing GM, especially new GM, is NOT lacking is design...
      • 6 Years Ago
      When I met Ed back in 2004, he was very softspoken - to the point he had me convinced he had nothing really to say. However, this letter reveals his ethos, and I think its the right thing to do. In any design-driven industry, lead designers need to step up and represent passion and heart. After all, thats what we do best.

      I know a couple of GM designers, and I've seen the complete cars Ed's team has put together. For every project the team has been given a clean slate, there is a great car. You can't count the marketing pigs like the G3, or other reclips as a true reflection of the North American design team.

      Nevertheless, GM needs to give Ed more to work with. Perhaps the shot of white men in suits isn't something that needs to be reinforced in a web promotion. There are tons of Black, Hispanic, Asian and numerous other ethnic groups working for GM. There are designers from Eastern Europe, Korea, and Brazil working the halls of the Saarinen center. If GM can showcase the latent diversity of its remaining organization, it certainly won't be worse off for it.
      • 6 Years Ago
      Gee, if Mr. Sin won't take the tour with Mr. Welburn I'll sure volunteer. Besides, I love what Cadillac is doing these days although I can't afford one.
      • 6 Years Ago
      the fact that the person calling out GM uses the word "stuff" multiple times tells me 1) he does not know how to write a proper letter and 2) he's not all that bright.

      Just because GM does not make cars that look like the kids hot wheels collection he's all puffy.

      • 6 Years Ago
      WHO THE HELL CARES WHAT A WRITER ON HUFFPO SAYS?

      I don't care that much about what I write on THIS blog to think that someone in power should listen to me on the merit of me having had typed it. On the merit of common sense, perhaps... because people in power seem to be LACKING common sense.

      But honestly, GM has MUCH, MUCH, MUCH bigger problems than the way their cars look at this point. And if this blogger thinks that is the top priority, it shows how little they should be taken seriously.

      Why the hell does this warrant a response from anyone at GM?
        • 6 Years Ago
        the huffington post isnt a design journal or a car magazine, what they think about car design is irrelevant.
      • 6 Years Ago
      if they looked good, worked well & were priced well, GM would be selling like hotcakes, but when they produce the Aztek and the interior of the camaro and the stupid front end they put on every Pontiac.. GM will tank... and it did.
      • 6 Years Ago
      Ain't cool to be white these days I guess...
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