I once heard a car owner say, “I live inside my car so I don’t really worry about or think about the outside.”
As an automotive reporter, I’m hard-wired to make much of the styling of the exterior. And, of course, it is vital not only for looks, but for aerodynamics.
But to consumers, which is more important: A.) The well-constructed seat and great interior trim finishes, or B.) The pattern of the rear brake lights? The answer is A.
With trucks, the finishes better be durable as well as stylish, because those finishes go to work with the boss everyday. Touchy-feely surfaces can be comforting; they can also be seriously aggravating — as those of us who lived through the era of hard dashboard and console plastics know. In reality, we do live in our vehicles.
As far as textures, colors and materials go, these designs start in the color and trim department. And those aspects of a vehicle start at the very beginning; they are not an afterthought.
Rebecca Waldmeir is the color and trim design manager for Chevrolet and GMC trucks and SUVs. We asked her to give us some thoughts on how she manages to make those interiors home for us.
“We first talk to our truck customers regarding their expectations. Truck interiors must be both durable and comfortable because they not only get us to and from the job, but they work throughout the day. These vehicles are workhorses, but they need to be high-end. Make it look classy but make it work. An architect who owns a Denali as a work vehicle, might also be transporting a customer. Then, it must serve as an office with upgraded, luxurious materials. To enhance the interior we might take a regular leather and add a pebble grain to it. And depending on the trim line we can make it sportier or more high-end by altering the materials. Once we choose a material we put it through durable test performance, a 100,000-wear test cycle.”
How a hip-looking young woman like Waldmeir ended up designing truck interiors is a fair question. As a child, Waldmeir showed an interest in art and design. Both her parents recognized it. “Even in preschool I was particular about clothing and making things go together. My mom had to take me shopping and that continued into grade school. My father, who was self-taught, had a darkroom and he taught me photography. I also had a teacher in high school who helped me to focus in on painting, drawing, and photography,” she explains.
Pay a visit to any automotive design studio and you’ll experience walls plastered with pages from a magazine. How can that be an inspiration? Fashion trends come and go every season.
Waldmeir assures me that most of the inspiration she and her team get comes from attending boat and furniture shows and following architecture. Those looks are relevant to truck interiors and help the studio team understand future design direction. “We conduct studies that help us identify trends and finishes that will work in the long-term,” says Waldmeir. “But really, we are trying to invent trends.”
Her purview includes exterior finishes. “The paint on the Denali has metallic flakes in it. We increased the size of the flake in order to get that punch the truck needed because of its proportions. We influence the exterior design and even the finishes on the wheel covers.”
Is there was any room for intuition and playing around in a big corporate giant like GM? Waldmeir jumps to the answer. “Definitely. One thing that I love about design is the leadership support that we have. GM is very passionate about design, as is our immediate leadership. We get a lot of push for being as creative as possible. We’ll do many interiors and the leadership finds them inspiring, so we’re developing a brand for GMC. Of course we have to work within the parameters of manufacturing and budget.”
Being the mother of two small children can also be inspiring. “I really pushed for anti-microbial and premium soil repellant materials because my son had spilled his milk on the seat belt and after that it smelled of sour milk. That motivated me to use cleanable materials — we look for cleanable durable materials for children. We also added vents in the rear seats for ventilation and went for proper lighting and space. Having children definitely influences my work.”