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Design Meets Personalization at GM's Accessory Design Studio

DETROIT - General Motors is taking the vehicle personalization business to the next level with an investment in its GM Accessory Design Studio (GMADS) in Auburn Hills, Mich. The studio is dedicated to the design of high-quality accessories that integrate seamlessly into the style and function of GM vehicles, setting a new course for the company in the burgeoning and profitable accessories market.

The studio is an extension of the General Motors Design Center in Warren, Mich., and its designers and engineers work in concert with their counterparts in the vehicle development process (VDP) to create accessories that are designed specifically for GM vehicles. This integrated process results in early collaboration between accessory design and vehicle design versus a process where products are reverse engineered after a vehicle hits the streets, which is the way the aftermarket designs accessories.

"We know our GM vehicles better than anyone, so this makes perfect sense," said Nancy Philippart, executive director, GM Accessories. "Prior to the development of the studio, we frankly weren't working as closely with the vehicle designers, so in many ways, accessories were more of an afterthought."

Now GM has a dedicated staff to work on the integration of accessories that provide the best fit, best function and most tailored appearance possible for GM vehicles.

A process in development

Making the connection between the GM Accessories product development team and the GM Design and vehicle development teams was critical to ensuring a robust and efficient product development process.

"We're right there when the Design Center is creating initial renderings of the vehicle and determining what it's going to look like. If we decide we want a sporty ground effects package, we can better plan what this will look like right from the beginning," said Larry Sully, GMADS program manager.

During the past few years, GM has been moving toward greater integration of the accessory design process with vehicle design, rather than using reverse engineering. Before the Accessory Design Studio, resources from the GM Design Center were working on numerous new vehicles, therefore only a few vehicle programs had the design resources to focus on accessories. Two programs that emphasized accessories during the past few years included the HUMMER H2 and Chevrolet SSR.

Early integration into the vehicle development process enables GM to have a larger product portfolio available when the vehicle is launched. It also helps produce accessories that fit precisely with the vehicle - requiring no modifications to install.

"There are build variations when we produce a vehicle. We understand those variations, we design the accessory to accommodate the expected range of variation, so a GM accessory product is going to fit well," said Philippart.

With GMADS, "enablers" are built-in to make sure that the accessories fit seamlessly - drill holes and fasteners for running boards and ground effects, wiring and programming for plug-and-play electronics, and easily removable production trim pieces to allow for accessory interior trim kits. For example, with the Chevrolet Avalanche, GM anticipated that a majority of customers would want a tubular assist step, so it was designed up front - holes were pre-drilled on the vehicle and slots put into place.

"The entire installation process takes about 20 minutes. It's so easy that I can do it," said Philippart.

How GMADS works

Working closely with the Design Center and the divisional marketing teams, GMADS generates theme sketches for a particular accessory, based on vehicle design. Once a theme is approved, the designers, using computer aided design tools, create math data.

"We correlate the math data of the vehicle and the part so you can see the actual part on the vehicle in 3D on a computer - and then we keep perfecting it," Sully said. "When it's close, we make a physical model out of clay, wood, foam or whatever makes the most sense so we can verify that it looks just as good on the vehicle."

The part is then laser-scanned and that data is put back into the mathematical model. Once the A side (what's visible) and the B side (where the part is attached) are tweaked to the designer's satisfaction, the image and the data - the styling intent - are sent to pre-qualified suppliers for piece cost and tooling quotes.

"Early integration can save us money," Sully said. "We can verify part appearance and functionality before investing in expensive hard tools. Not only does that help provide a better quality product, it can save on costly tool changes."

A first for GM

GM's upcoming 2007 full-size utilities and pick-up trucks were conceived with accessories integration included early in the vehicle development process - the first platform to do so with a dedicated accessories design staff.

"With the 2007 pick-up the advantage is that we will have been working on accessory design and development 1.5 to 2 years prior to vehicle launch," said Sully. "We'll have a tremendous accessory portfolio for launch, and not only will these accessories fit the vehicle like a glove, but they will have been tested and validated to GM standards," said Sully.

That's one of the biggest advantages GM holds over aftermarket components.

"GM engineers are responsible to ensure that GM accessories meet GM safety, warranty and validation requirements," said Glen Durmisevich, GMADS design manager. "They are validated on GM vehicles as required, and they won't void the vehicle warranty."

What's more, with GM accessories installed properly, the GM vehicle will continue to meet all applicable Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS).

GMADS supports key going-to-market strategy

The GMADS gives GM the ability to more rapidly change its product portfolio to meet customer's changing needs and tastes. Its designers track the pulse of vehicle personalization through market research.

"We are constantly looking for the next trend," said Philippart. "Chrome is hot today, but what will be hot two or three years from now?"

For example, right now electronics comprise just 2-3 percent of GM's accessory product portfolio, but by working within the VDP, Advanced Engineering, and through the Accessory Design Studio, this portfolio will expand to meet the demands of this ever-growing market.

"Customers are willing to pay for what they want, and conversely, don't want to pay for what they view as unnecessary content," Philippart said. "We believe that giving customers more choice at the point of sale helps us sell more vehicles, and ultimately drives our bottom line."

GM Accessories and GM Performance Parts are sold in North America by Chevrolet, Buick, Pontiac, Cadillac, GMC, Saturn, Saab and HUMMER dealerships. For more information about GM Parts, GM Accessories or GM Performance Parts, visit or

General Motors, the world's largest vehicle manufacturer, designs, builds and markets cars and trucks worldwide, and has been the global automotive sales leader since 1931. More information on GM can be found at