The Rewind in our July/August 2014 issue examines the Eero Saarinen–designed Styling Dome at GM's Warren, Michigan, Technical Center. On our tour of the campus, we had the rare opportunity to for a behind-the-scenes look inside pattern studio, which is located in a nearby building. There, skilled craftspeople translate designers' ideas to see if they can be replicated on a production line—an important part of the manufacturing process. Though the assembly line and mechanized production reins supreme in the automotive industry, the hands and eyes of woodworkers and upholsterers, among others, are indispensable.
The automotive design process at General Motors involves countelss talented people from ideation to production. After designers come up with ideas for interior and exterior styling—think: the shape of seats, the contouring of a console, the overall look and feel of a cabin—craftspeople create life-sized prototypes at the Interiors and Exteriors Studio. They evaluate the design to see if it's something that can be produced on a large scale given the tools and machinery that's readily available. Even the most minute stitch.
For example, a designer specifies a certain stitch pattern. A sewer then creates the same pattern by hand giving feedback on reproducability. If it's too complex, he or she will offer feedback to the designer; the designer then takes another stab at the stitch's look. The back and forth happens until the detail is refined and meets the aesthetic standards and manufacturing capabilities at GM.
Seating is a large component of car interiors and evaluated on comfort, looks, and functionality. Very specific compositions of foam exist underneath the surface. The different densities create the support and comfort that's needed to make quick trips around town and long road trips equally enjoyable. Here's an example of the different foams in a seat.
The seatmaker sculpts a form out out of the foam. The more dense foam offers rigid support while the less dense sections conform more to a driver's body.
Here are some of the seat patterns for the various parts. Unlike a lounge chair or sofa found in your living room, this chair is made from many separate components, each positioned to optimize the piece.
After the foam configutation is set, the seat is upholstered and assembled.
The color, texture, and grain of a piece of leather is taken into account for upholstering an interior. Each car GM produces needs to be consistent and uniform in look and customization options. For example, if a buyer sees a caramel leather in a showroom car and wants it in their own, it needs to look the same. The studio makes sure that tanneries will be able to provide the right shade for a piece of leather and will be able to reproduce that on a large scale.
Natural wood trim—as opposed to laminate—is gaining steam in luxury car interiors. Various veneers are stores in a carefully monitored humidor before they're applied to models for armrests or dashboard and door details.
Here's an example of all various wood accents one might see within a car. After the shape is contoured and refined by the designers and woodworkers—the same way as the steering wheel stitch is—it's then ok'd for production.
This is just a glimpse of what goes into three components and similar processes occur for other parts.