Former Jaguar, Lotus designer spearheads GM’s new Europe studio

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Jaguar design head Julian Thomson
Jaguar

If you’re wondering why GM needs a design studio in Europe when it sold its Vauxhall and Opel operations to Stellantis back in 2017, you’re not alone. The answer is that while General Motors reorganized to focus on the North American market (i.e. profitable light trucks) it appears it have some amount of seller’s remorse.

Or not, because its plans have nothing to do with the value-oriented, fleet-minded vehicles it previously engineered, marketed, built, and retailed under the Vauxhall and Opel brands. The General’s new plan to get back into Europe centers around premium electric vehicles, a market whose customers would immediately turn their noses up to anything with an Opel or Vauxhall emblem on the bonnet.

Ian Allen Motors still sells Chevys and Caddys in the U.K. to this day. Ian Allen Motors | Google

Consider this more of a reboot, especially considering GM continued importing/retailing/servicing high-end Cadillacs and Corvette models after the 2017 disposition to Stellantis. Caddys and Vettes sold in the same dealership as cutting-edge EVs is an appealing proposition, with the luxury- and performance-oriented models providing a halo effect that competing, pure-EV brands can’t touch. If it worked for Dodge and the Viper…

No matter—back to GM’s plan for a Euro-centric design studio. The facility will be based in the U.K., with former Jaguar design chief Julian Thomson—who made his name with the Elise S1—leading the EV charge for Europe. A staff of 35 designers is expected to fill the studio under Thomson’s watchful eye. But hiring top talent isn’t necessary to make minor revisions to American iron. In an interview with Autocar, Thomson suggested that the “GM Europe studio won’t just work on ‘Europeanising’ existing models.” That might be the studio’s first project, however, as the Cadillac Lyriq and GMC Hummer EV are seemingly ready for their European launch parties.

Lotus Elise
Thomson’s claim to fame. Lotus

Future designs resting atop GM’s Ultium EV platform can be unique to the European market, but given what we know about EV costs and supply chain woes, this won’t be anything but a premium market ploy for years to come. It’s a logical move, considering these rigs will be sold next to gasoline-powered (for now) Cadillac SUVs and mid-engine (soon to be hybridized) Corvettes.

Electric vehicles are still a burgeoning market, and Europe has a lot of money to satisfy its needs for (and regulations surrounding) progressive transportation. Considering Tesla’s lack of customer support to one of Europe’s EV hotbeds, the need for a clean-sheet program to cater to these premium buyers is necessary. The Europe EV division almost feels like a reborn Saturn, except there are no other GM divisions actively seeking its demise. Having European designers in tow may not seem like a big thing, but odds are this investment will reap significant rewards in the coming decades. Kudos to General Motors for thinking this far forward.

range rover evoque
Thomson also influenced the design of the Evoque, JLR’s oh-so-chic compact SUV. JLR

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