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Chevrolet Designers Go Virtual to Maximize Space in SUVs

BANGKOK, THAILAND –When Chevrolet develops vehicles its designers often use advanced technologies such as a virtual reality simulator, advanced computer modeling and 3D printers to maximize and optimize interior space for passengers and cargo.

The need to leverage such high-tech tools is increasingly important in the highly competitive SUV segment as more consumers, especially young families, choose SUVs for versatile seating, seven-passenger capacity and usable storage, among other reasons.

With its globally developed Trailblazer premium American SUV, Chevrolet is giving customers what they want. Following a global trend, Southeast Asian customer preferences are shifting from passenger cars such as sedans to SUVs, with SUV sales up more than 7 percent since 2011 while passenger car sales have slipped 4 percent over the same time.

“Every customer wants more storage, so we focus on maximizing space in all of our SUVs for storage and cargo capacity,” said Tim Greig, GM Interior Design Manager. “In the passenger cabin we design bins in all seating areas for the many items customers bring with them, like beverages, mobile phones, tablets, purses, and the many things children might bring with them. We also architect the cargo area to be as large as possible, with a wide and tall opening, a flat floor for sliding things forward in the vehicle.”

While SUVs offer a clear advantage over sedans for their ability to carry long and/or tall items like furniture, large boxes, bicycles, Trailblazer users can also take advantage of the SUV’s ability to carry a lot of items, such as several pieces of luggage, camping equipment or sports gear. The size of the cargo area and the large rear opening make loading and unloading easier and less of a “Tetris challenge” than in a sedan or smaller vehicle.

Trailblazer’s intuitive three-row tumble fold-flat seating expands cargo space when needed. When passengers take priority, the premium SUV features “theatre-style seating,” allowing second- and third-row occupants a better all-round view. Individually-controlled air-conditioning vents are available even for third-row occupants.

Listening to customer feedback has led to many incremental improvements in Chevrolet vehicles over the years. Long before a vehicle is developed, Chevrolet’s design team researches the automotive market to identify global trends in interior spaciousness and utility.

When a vehicle program is initiated Chevrolet shows vehicle interior concepts to specific groups of customers that are designed to meet customer needs or address concerns they may have with their current vehicle offerings. The design team gathers customer input and use it to modify or enhance the designs to meet or hopefully exceed customer expectations. In response to such feedback, Chevrolet recently introduced the new “Phoenix Edition” trim package for Trailblazer in Thailand that includes new interior and exterior accessories.

As a vehicle program progresses, the design team relies on digital tools to find the most efficient package for the structure of the vehicle and its interior components. Packing all of those components together tightly and moving them away from passengers enables designers to open up space for storage bins and features. All of this starts at the earliest stages of vehicle creation when designers architect the vehicle, long before they begin conceptualizing interior themes.

Chevrolet’s digital tool kit includes advanced computer modeling tools, digital human ergonomics models and 3D Cave Automated Virtual Environment. Designers use a spaciousness calculator – a General Motors-exclusive tool – to analyze how customers perceive the vehicle’s roominess, and virtual human models to make the most of vehicle interiors based on an extensive database of driver sizes and postures. The 3D CAVE helps in evaluating design concepts for blind spots, reflections and visibility of objects inside and outside the car.

Designers also use 3D printers to “grow” prototype parts out of powder or liquid resin using specialized software, math data and digital lasers. 3D printing enables designers to quickly see, touch and test versions of individual components and systems in precise models without having to make changes to production tooling, which can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.

“Once we have a rough overall package of the vehicle we review it in virtual reality to begin to get a feel for the vehicle from a real-world customer point of view and adjust the package if necessary,” Greig said. “Most if not all of the work up to this point is done digitally because it is much faster, more complete and accurate, and more efficient. Virtual reality is vital to bring the car to life before there is an actual vehicle prototype or mockup.”

After optimizing the interior package and creating themes digitally designers use milling machines and 3D printers to sculpt and fabricate prototype parts to create physical “seating bucks” out of wood and foam for evaluating the overall package and clay models to evaluate the design themes.

“Our studio designers and sculptors work in both the digital and hands-on realms to create design themes that build on the efficiency of the interior package while giving the designs a more human touch and a hand-crafted appearance,” Greig said.

Despite the high-tech nature of vehicle design, Greig said the real secret to designing world-class interiors is the human touch the brand’s designers bring to each vehicle program. In the early phases of design Chevrolet’s studio team will typically run several “day in the life of a customer” brainstorming sessions where they problem-solve by replicating some of the scenarios they hear about in market research events and online research, but mostly personal experience.

“We’re all real customers too,” Greig said. “The best designs evolve from empathy, living as customers do, and testing the design through the same ways that our customers would experience. There are real people, parents, designing the interior of your vehicles and we really care and work very hard to make sure you have the greatest experience possible in our vehicles.”