by Robert Loszewski
© February 2013
No use without permission, All Rights Reserved
Our next interview was with Helen Emsley and Tom Peters. Helen, a native of Great Britain, has been with General Motors for twenty three years and is GM's Global Director of Color and Trim. This interview was paricularly interesting because you really get an awesome idea of how the various groups within GM came together and worked with one another to pull some of the design challenges of the interior together.
Helen Emsley: My background was the global director for Color and Trim. Five years ago, Ed [Welburn] asked me into his office. Ed had this brilliant idea to move me into the studios and asked me if I would go work in the studios. He asked me to head up the all new Corvette. He said we've got to concentrate on the interior. "I think that the passion with the way you are, you're the right person and I would like you to head up the interior." So I said, "ok, but I want to build up my own team". He said fair enough.
I knew Tom Peters really well so I talked with Tom and I pulled the team together. We did some sketches. We did some clay models; the usual to get into it. Then Ed asked us to go global. So we sent the brief out to all the regions to global it. We got some fantastic sketches back. One came from China, and actually two of them came from my own team. So we went forward with all three, and the sketch that came from China; one of my other designers worked on it here and finished it off. We did the clay models and the sketches and then went out for a clinic. I remember before we went, Ed asked me what I thought.
He picked one and I picked the other. So we went out to the clinic and the one that I really liked actually won the clinic.
We came back with a sketch and we went forward. Ed and I talked, and we put it into full scale. That's the interior you see. From the original sketch, to how it turned out in production is hardly any different. We were able to keep everything, but it was a battle. It was fantastic!
The best thing was, we really engaged the [Bowling Green Corvette Assembly] Plant. The guys down in the Plant came up to the Design Studio and we showed them the model and showed them how the interior is like this cockpit and how it surrounded around, the buttress, the door to IP, etc. Everybody was really worried about how we were going to build this and how we're going to put everything together. The guys from the Plant said, "we don't care, we'll find a way."
And they did! They literally moved parts in the plant to line up the door to IP. We've never done that before. They hand-moved the parts to make them line up. It was just amazing how everybody wanted to work together to get this interior.
Tom Peters: When people see the vision, it's amazing how they get behind it; especially the ones that have the passion.
Helen Emsley: One of the big things for me was I really wanted us to use the real materials as well. We've got to do this right. So it's real carbon fiber. It's real aluminum. One of the things I hate when you see some vehicles, is they put way too much of something. There's too much metal, or there's too much carbon fiber, or there's too much wood [trim]. When you see too much, you doubt whether it's real. So it was really important, as we were designing the car, that we balanced out the materials to the interior.
The other thing that was very important to me was, I wanted interior colors that were for the Corvette and that you wouldn't see in other vehicles. So they showed me beiges from Color & Trim and I said "no, nice color, good job everybody, but that's not what I want for my Corvette. We want something for the Corvette". So the new color, Kalahari that you saw, is brand new. The new red interior — we did that new for the Corvette, because it was very important that we had a red interior that went with a red exterior.
The original sketch [of the interior] was by Ryan Vaughn, who is now the manager and was the lead at the time. That was his original sketch.
[The cockpit design] was very important, and the other thing that was very important to us as a team was that we wanted to do the two seats: the touring seat, and the sport seat. It was very important that we did our own in-house design.