Despite teetering at the brink just a few years ago, General Motors is healthy today, routinely passing the "World's largest automaker" title back and forth with Toyota. General Motors Design employs nearly 2,000 people worldwide, with ten design centers spread over seven countries. And this month marks GM Design's 85th birthday. And by their reckoning, that makes them the oldest:
GM was the first automobile manufacturer to single out automotive design. On June 23, 1927, the Executive Committee of General Motors approved the creation of a new department to "study the question of art and colour combinations in General Motors products" and hired Harley Earl, a custom coach builder from Hollywood and the creator of the 1927 LaSalle, as its leader.
Earl's entry into the auto industry doomed rival Henry Ford's "the customer can have it any colour he wants as long as it is black" motto. Among Earl's numerous accomplishments are the development of concept cars; the yearly model changeover; the vehicle tailfins of the 1950s; the travelling Motorama auto shows and the development of the iconic Corvette. Earl also is credited with hiring the industry's first female automotive designers.
To celebrate the occasion AutoBlog has put together a slideshow of some memorable designs in GM history. Sports Car Illustrated took it a step further, whacking up a video depicting each of GM's six design chiefs, starting with Earl, and the designs that came about under their watches:
Says Ed Welburn, GM's current design VP, "What was true 85 years ago is still true today: a designer's role is to create a beautifully executed exterior with great proportions to draw you in, and an interior environment that invites you into a relationship that develops and grows."