Detroit Three’s design chiefs talk shop in Pontiac surrounded by cool cars – Detroit Free Press

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In an era of SUVs and crossovers, design still matters.

That’s the message from three men who spend more time considering the topic than most: the heads of global design for the Detroit Three.

“It’s what sells cars. It’s the emotional connection,” said Michael Simcoe, vice president of global design for General Motors.

Simcoe and his counterparts at Fiat Chrysler, Ralph Gilles, and at Ford, Moray Callum, brought several of the hottest cars in their collective stables, as well as a few classics, to the M1 Concourse today to emphasize the point that both design and performance remain relevant. The trio spoke to hundreds of auto enthusiasts from across the country during an event affiliated with Sunday’s 39th Concours d’Elegance of America in Plymouth.

“I remember thinking I’d never drive a 300-horsepower vehicle,” Callum, vice president of global design for Ford, said of how automotive technology has made that a reality. “I think people still enjoy driving. … Part of our job is communicating what a car will deliver.”

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They acknowledged the industry is about to undergo more change with the advent of autonomous vehicle technology, but they said that does not mean the end of the auto industry or what they collectively focus on. Quite the contrary. Gilles said plenty of millennials, for example, want vehicles with power, and unlike in years past, drivers don’t have to compromise to get both performance and technology in the same package.

“Look at the cars today. They’re just going to get that much more delicious,” Gilles said.

The three stood near a collection of six cars they’d brought to show the possibilities of design and how design elements can transcend the years. There were true classics — a 1966 Hertz Shelby GT350, 1959 Chevrolet Stingray Racer and 1970 Dodge Challenger – and some modern classics: a 2018 Dodge Challenger SRT Demon, 2018 Shelby GT350R and 2018 Chevrolet Camaro 7L1 1LE.

“It’s pretty crazy what’s going on in our industry here,” said Gilles to the crowd, describing how the 1970 Challenger has about the same horsepower as a Pacifica minivan because of technological advances. “We’re living in a golden age.” 

Later, as the sun reflected off the blue of the Dodge Demon they had been admiring, Jeffrey Light and Tina Gittelson described their love of cars. They had traveled as part of a tour from their home in West Los Angeles.

“I’ve grown up being a hot-rodder,” said Light, 74. “Cars have been a part of my life.”

Light now has both a Ferrari and a 1932 Ford, explaining that he always wanted a car with a blower and flames.

Gittelson noted the thrill of not only seeing all three design leaders in one spot but also touring a private car collection during their visit.

“It’s a very exciting thing to be able to do this and to see this rebirth,” she said of the visit to metro Detroit and its auto enthusiast community. “It’s really been a treat.” 

Contact Eric D. Lawrence: elawrence@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @_ericdlawrence.

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