Buick's showstopper spans 2 hemispheres
Anatomy of a Concept
By Jake Lingeman - Autoweek
February 10, 2015
How does a concept car go from drawing board to show stand? Most start with a couple-hundred-word design brief, explaining what executives are looking for, how it fits the brand, the size, the concept, the platform …
The brief for the stunning Buick Avenir, Autoweek’s Detroit show Best Concept, was considerably briefer, just nine words long: “Find a vision for the ultimate expression of Buick.”
Step 1: 'Sketch blitz'
For General Motors, concept design starts with a “sketch blitz.” That’s where interior and exterior designers from all corners of GM’s empire create their visions of what the concept could be.
Many tried their hands at the Avenir, but when Ed Welburn, GM’s global design VP, saw Australian designer Warrack Leach’s vision, only two words were necessary. “That’s it.”
Step 2: Interior
Interior sketching happens simultaneously with the exterior design. The two teams meet (virtually) once or twice a week. Inspiration came from architecture, furniture, ocean waves, aircraft and other objects.
Thankfully, for a concept like this, teams don’t have to take the same precautions to include all production-style features. In front, the Avenir gets a central touchscreen and a configurable dash screen in the instrument panel.
Step 3: Clay modeling
Sculpting a sketched form from clay is no small task, though the design team does use a scale model first to get the look right.
The team of five sculptors spent about four weeks on the scale model and four weeks on the real thing, though changes continue until the last conceivable moment, in every step. When the sculptors are done with the scale model, they scan it in three dimensions, and a computerized mill cuts a full-size version. Then they go back to tinkering with the design.
Step 4: The build
“Nothing is easy with a concept car,” said Paul Clarke, creative hard modeling manager for GM Australia.
The Avenir needed to be sturdier than most concepts because a.) it actually drives and b.) people would get in and out of it for two weeks during the Detroit auto show. That meant a roll cage to hold up the body, a minimalist engine to putter it through the show floor, and cool, pop-out billet door handles that really worked. Those intricate handles needed to be designed, engineered, powered and programmed, not to mention polished.
Step 5: Presentation
The Avenir was the centerpiece of Buick’s Detroit show display, by design. With a full year invested in working on it, there was no way Buick would stuff its concept flagship back in a far-off corner.
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