Crystal Windham, GM’s Director of Design, Talks About Constructing the Inside of the Malibu LTZ

Crystal Windham with the Chevrolet Malibu

Crystal Windham of General Motors has an eye for vehicle interiors — an award-winning eye.

Among the accolades that punctuate her illustrious career portfolio, Windham boasts awards for helping to construct the 2008 Car of the Year with the Chevrolet Malibu and the 2007 Car of the Year for the Saturn Aura (just before GM consolidated its automotive lineup). Her acute ability to inaugurate dynamic designs that create lasting emotional connections with car consumers led to Windham being named the first African American female director of GM’s North American Passenger Car Design.

Standing in front of the Chevy Malibu LTZ like a college professor leaning against the lectern, Windham elucidated to journalists during the reputable North American International Auto Show the thought process on how and why the interior of the LTZ was constructed in the manner that it was. She also touches upon how she thrives in an industry that was traditionally, and mostly remains, a domain of testosterone.

What’s different about the interior of the Malibu LTZ?

We have great material that goes beyond what the competitor offers. One of the things that we offer is “tipped” — tipped surface. We try to simulate a look of rapt leather. It’s not leather, of course, but for this price point, it gives you that look, it gives you that touch of luxury. Plus you have bright and satin accents throughout the interior, more than what this customer expects. We have wood accents as well. Next, I’d like to talk about the graphics within the interior to make sure that our customer has easy use of their radio controls and keep their eyes on he road. And the cluster display have large graphics as well. We spent a lot of times talking to our potential customers to really understand how much of the controls are really functional. We were able to eliminate some of those buttons off of the face plate and put them up on the screen and enabled us to eliminate some buttons and put up larger buttons, larger graphics — easy to see, easy to use.

As far as the graphics on the cluster, we have the large round gauges, very sporty gauges. Its, like, a lot of Camaro influence there. We always like to give the surprise and delight for storage. They can get behind the screen with the flip of a switch. It articulates up and then you have concealed storage. That’s one thing that you will not find with our competitors.

Crystal Windham, GM's Director of Design, Talks About Constructing the Inside of the Malibu LTZ
Crystal Windham, on the right, with Nina Price of GM communications as they stand in front of the Chevy Malibu LTZ at the 2012 Detroit Auto Show

What are the “Crystal-specific” items that were included in the LTZ interior, the designs that you fought for and won?

The one thing that I mentioned that is the tipping process. We developed and embellished it in this vehicle. I don’t know if you recall in the Malibu that is on the road, we had this tipping process and getting a more luxurious look and it’s a way to get more detail into the leather and they thought it was fantastic. We wanted to build on that. So we said, “let’s embrace it. Let’s make more out of it.”

The second thing is, I love to have surprising device storage that is concealed. I’m from the city and I like to hide things where the normal people would not normally go. I don’t know if our customer base knows this, but our componentry is getting a lot smaller and thinner. If you look at computers, you look at TVs, the screen is getting a lot smaller. Same thing here. We pretty much don’t have anything behind the screen. We made sure that the screen could articulate open. Now we have all that storage space behind it. To me, it’s a unique opportunity the market, to be able to have these secret storage areas. So I love that.

How do you feel about being a woman in a male-dominated profession:

It feels like I have a huge responsibility. It feels like I have an awesome opportunity. It’s just a start. I have a lot of work to do, of course. It’s a top priority for my leaders. It’s really important to know that we feel that we are part of the team. That’s still the case that the majority of the time, [women] make the purchasing decisions.

–terry shropshire

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