Historically, General Motors’ design chiefs have ruled their domain from the Detroit area, but the automaker has attempted to tap into the car culture that runs rampant in southern California. To celebrate the tenth anniversary of the current Hollywood-based design studio, GM opened up the studio doors, showing off some two new concepts, along with some of our favorite California-designed concepts of the past.
Cadillac Urban Luxury Concept (ULC)
How small can Cadillac go? Although the company is already working on a model to slot underneath the CTS, designers envisioned applying the brand’s design and material characteristics to a small, subcompact urban runabout. The bold grille and upright taillights are certainly Cadillac cues, while the large, vertically hinged doors are unusual, but they do allow easy entry and egress for both rows of seating without swinging into traffic or parked cars. The ULC is designed for a 1.0-liter, three-cylinder engine mated with a dual-clutch transmission and a hybrid propulsion system. According to Cadillac, the entire system could potentially allow the ULC to achieve 56 mpg in the city and 65 mpg on the highway.
GMC Granite CPU Concept
Arguably, the true surprise came not from Cadillac, but GMC. Designers expounded upon the Granite concept shown earlier this year to create a stylish, compact pickup truck. The micro-ute features only a four-foot bed, but a trick split tailgate design allows the cargo space to securely haul items up to six feet in length. At this stage, the Granite truck is merely a design exercise, but it shows GM (a. is pleased with critical and consumer reaction to the Granite’s design, and (b. isn’t ignoring the conspicuous lack of a small, efficient pickup in our market.
2001 Chevrolet Borrego Concept
Arguably, the only recent GM vehicle — concept or otherwise — that came close to resembling the idea and packaging of the Granite CPU was the 2001 Chevrolet Borrego, which was also trotted out for the gala. Interestingly, the Borrego tapped into Subaru heritage — not only was the crossover built upon Impreza mechanicals to showcase GM’s partnership with Fuji Heavy Industries, but it also sported a pair of seats in the open-air cargo area. If that isn’t BRAT-like, we don’t know what is.
GM So-Cal Salt Flat Vehicles
After partnering with the reborn So-Cal Speed Shops in 2005, GM decided to test the mettle of its Ecotec range of four-cylinder engines by setting speed records at the Bonneville Speed Flats. Two different pod-shaped Lakesters (patterned after the original Belly Tanker from the ’50s, which was also on display) took to the flats, as did the chopped HHR shown here. To maintain a consistent image, designers crafted a push vehicle from an identically-painted SSR.
It’s easy to forget that GM’s compact roadster started life as a design sketch within the California Design Studio (by Franz Von Holzhausen, no less) before it was pushed into reality. A coupe was also suggested at the time, but GM dragged its heels on actually creating a production version. Such a model launched in 2009, allowing GM to build roughly 1200 examples before Pontiac — and the Kappa platform itself — died.
2003 Chevrolet SS Concept
A long time ago in a boardroom far, far, away, GM once hoped to move Chevrolet’s large four-door offering to an Australian based, rear-wheel-drive platform. Insiders tell us that offering — which would have been sold as an Impala — bore some resemblance to the 2003 SS concept, which merged cues from bow-tie muscle cars of days gone (notably the ’70 Chevelle SS) with a sinewy four-door body.
2006 EcoJet Concept
This is likely the only GM-designed concept on display that isn’t actually owned by GM. The turbine-powered sports car is the creation of comedian/ entertainer Jay Leno, who called upon Ed Welburn, GM’s vice president of design, to style the exterior. Leno’s team has since refined the mechanicals underneath, allowing him to drive it to last night’s event.