I recently went where car nerds the world over would love to go… The Holden Design Centre. I was expecting greasy rags and dudes in blue overalls. Perhaps even some blush-level cussing coming from under a chassis. Boy, was I wrong.
Instead, I met a woman with a penchant for macramé who was hand-knotting rope in order to make net pockets. You know, those things on the back on your car seats which you barely give a second thought to? Only Charlene Spiteri does. It’s her passion – along with picking the exact colour of the trim on your leather steering wheel or the type of tree that will make up the wood panelling on your dashboard.
Then there was the guy who dressed like James Bond and designed the shape of a console like he was painting a Van Gogh. And the guy whose job it was to make glossy Pixar-style movies of the cars before they were even built. And the guy that hand-mixed 80-odd types of pigment until they got the exact shade of orange paint they were after.
Forget backstage at a fashion show – this is what it looks like backstage at a car show.
I was there while they were putting together two new concept cars for Chevrolet – the Colorado Xtreme and the Trailblazer Premier – which were just revealed in all their glory at the Bangkok Motor Show. Now that Holden is part of General Motors, they’re the limb of one of the biggest auto juggernauts in the world, and this is what they do. In fact, Detroit (the granddaddy HQ) and Melbourne are the only two GM factories that can build concept cars from the ground up. Which means cars not only for Holden but also for Chevrolet, Cadillac, GMC and Buick, among others.
“Car companies love to do concept cars because they mark our territory,” designer director Richard Ferlazzo tells The Carousel. “It means: you see that? That’s ours. You can’t do that now.” He says this with the unbridled pride of a four-year-old showing you his toy collection and it’s equally grin inducing.
The Colorado Xtreme and Trailblazer Premier are essentially the Bear Grylls and George Clooney of cars, respectively. One rugged, one luxurious. One you’d drive through the mud, the other on the way to have a mud bath. They’re both packed with personality and even come with their own accessories. Roof baskets and hanging racks and tray covers and cargo nets. They have – quite literally – thought of everything. Even the hardcore motoring journalists I’m with seem to raise an impressed eyebrow.
The most intriguing part about concept cars of course, is that their nuances trickle down into consumer cars. That’s rather the point. These are the “donor” vehicles – they’ll give designers inspiration for years to come. I, for one, love the idea of a car that comes with its owns accessories. Let’s get that trend trickling sooner rather than later, shall we?
In the meantime, it’s fair to say what goes on behind the scenes at the biggest employer of industrial designers in Australia is truly impressive. And on a personal note, that I’ll never be able to look at my seat pockets in quite the same way ever again.