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Shake-Up in GM Design

Nesbitt off to China, Parkinson back to the U.S.

by on May.26, 2011

Designer on the move: Bryan Nesbitt during an earlier assignment working on a sketch.

Bryan Nesbitt is a man on the move.  The well-reviewed designer made an early jump from the Chrysler design studios to the General Motors Technical Center.  He then wound up in Europe as GM’s styling boss, before returning to the Tech Center.  Now, Nesbitt is getting ready to pack his bags once again.

The 42-year-old Phoenix native will this time be heading off to Shanghai, where he’ll take charge of GMIO, the maker’s fast-growing international design operations.

While that might have been seen as a demotion or lateral move in decades past, no one is wondering what this means anymore.  General Motors now sells about two-thirds of its volume outside North America, and China is now a larger market for its products than the United States.

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Meanwhile, it is in the midst of ramping up the new Baojun brand, which targets first-time buyers in second and third-tier Chinese cities that are just beginning to see the automotive boom that has already taken hold in major urban areas like Shanghai and Beijing.  With competition in China continuing to grow more fierce, design is becoming as important as cost in winning over motorists, according to Sino specialists.

Nesbitt will serve a dual role as the chief of GMIO design and as the “brand champion” for both the Baojun and better-established Wuling brands.  Wuling sales now far exceed those of the better-known – at least in the West – Buick and Chevrolet.


Cruisin’ to a Conclusion

Production set to stop on once popular Chrysler PT Cruiser.

by on Jun.30, 2010

Going for its last cruise. The once wildly popular PT Cruiser ends its production run on July 9.

Its debut at the 2000 North American International Auto Show touched off a near-riot when Chrysler began handing out die cast models.  And in its first few years on the market, the automaker could barely keep up with production.  But shortly after the Independence Day break, a car once described as “too cool to categorize” will fade into oblivion, the last one set to roll down the line on July 9.

Exactly why the Chrysler PT Cruiser is going out of production is as much a matter of debate as the reasons for its early success, though there’s no arguing the fact that sales are a shadow of their one-time peak, when the Detroit maker could barely keep up with demand.

Short for Personal Transportation, the Cruiser was one of the first domestic models to fall into the nebulous crossover category.  Even federal regulators had a hard time figuring out whether to call it a car or truck for safety and fuel economy standards.  Smaller by a foot than the old Dodge Neon sedan, its high seating and large cargo compartment were part of the appeal, but there was also a sort of back-to-the-future element to the design, former Chrysler officials suggested.

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“The styling gets you into the vehicle, but the utility keeps you there,” one-time PT Cruiser Marketing Manager Jay Kughie told TheDetroitBureau at the vehicle’s launch.


Marty’s Marketing Minutia

by on Mar.05, 2010

BMW launches new campaign based on the “joy” of driving

The recent launch of the new 5-Series will be complemented by the debut of the BMW ActiveHybrid 5 at the Geneva Motor Show.

BMW sings an ode to "Joy" in a dramatic shift in advertising campaigns.

BMW’s slogan “The Ultimate Driving Machine” has been part of the brand’s DNA since 1974, according to Dave Kiley’s book Driven, when the Ammirati &Purvis ad agency pitched it to the BMW execs in Munich (including Bob Lutz) in their new business presentation that won them the account.

A phone call from a public relations person alerted me to a hot release headed my way about the new BMW campaign, “the joy of driving,” from the brand’s worldwide agency GSD&M.  Joy, but considering the long history of “Ultimate Driving Machine,” perhaps shocking is an equally applicable term.

In a subsequent phone interview with Jack Pitney, vice president marketing of BMW, prompted my first question “Are you giving up the Ultimate Driving Machine slogan?”  Pitney, who was home sick in bed answered rather hoarsely “We are not giving up the best, longest running automotive slogan ever written: The Ultimate Driving Machine. Our research showed the time was right to move to softer, more personally involving advertising communications.”

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That’s how our conversation began about the new ad campaign.  Here a few excerpts from that conversation.


Q&A: New Cadillac General Manager Bryan Nesbitt

Back to the Drawing Board?

by on Aug.13, 2009

Cadillac has a new boss, but the luxury division made an unexpected move when it named Bryan Nesbitt, GM's well-regarded director of North American Design to become its new general manager.

Cadillac has a new boss, but the luxury division made an unexpected move when it tapped Bryan Nesbitt, GM's well-regarded director of North American Design to become its new general manager.

Within automotive circles, you’ll often hear a debate over the role of “car guys” and “bean counters,” those who come from the product and engineering side and those with financial backgrounds.  But the chimneys get narrower when you start talking about those who specialize in engineering, design, marketing or sales.  And, with rare exception, those from one discipline don’t cross into another.

There are a few rare exceptions, like General Motors Vice Chairman Bob Lutz, who was trained as a marketer, but spent the last eight years as GM’s “car czar,” before taking on his latest assignment as the automaker’s marketing chief.  While that news made headlines, a similar transition slipped by almost entirely under the radar.  Designer Bryan Nesbitt was named the new general manager of GM’s flagship Cadillac division.

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The effervescent Nesbitt began making a name for himself at Chrysler, where he was credited with the design of the standout PT Cruiser.  He was later wooed to GM, where he has been on the design fast track, taking on assignments in Europe, where he spent six years as design director, before a 2007 appointment as head of North American design.  In his new role, Nesbitt will bring to market several of the products developed by his former design team, including the critical ATS entry-luxury model, and the premium luxury XTS4 sedan.

TheDetroitBureau’s Paul A. Eisenstein spoke with Nesbitt about his new job, those new products and the challenges facing Cadillac in a world full of tough luxury competition.


Design Sustainability and the Race to Green

Pasadena Art Center summit features car design experts plus a green racer girl.

by on Feb.27, 2009

Chevrolet Volt: Wishing will make it so?

Chevrolet Volt: Wishing will make it so?

The Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California is a storied institution that has brought forth numerous automotive styling luminaries, including Wayne Cherry, J Mays, Henrik Fisker and Chris Bangle. For the past several years, the Art Center has hosted a Sustainability Summit that explores the role of design in addressing key environment challenges.

Among the Center’s graduates is Bryan Nesbitt, General Motor’s vice president of design for North America, who opened a panel discussion of what might lie around the many curves ahead on the road to sustainable mobility. Perhaps predictably, that panel — which included Bill Reinert, manager for advanced vehicle technology at Toyota USA, and John Waters, president of Bright Automotive and formerly of GM’s EV-1 team — didn’t agree on what’s just around the bend, let alone farther down the road.