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Australian Designer Revs Up GM Daewoo

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Korea Times News Story

Australian Designer Revs Up GM Daewoo

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By Reuben Staines
Staff Reporter

Max Wolff was one of those kids in school who sat in the back row of class doodling pictures of cars. At nine, trucks and buses were the main subjects of his fascination. But by the time Wolff turned 11, he had graduated to sketching rather racier vehicles such as sports cars.
Not even Wolff’s art teacher was entirely happy with his automobile obsession. ``I got an art report saying that if I wanted to be a successful artist, I had to diversify and draw something other than cars,’’ Wolff, now 33, told The Korea Times.

Thankfully, he didn’t take his teacher’s advice.

Twenty-something years on, the Australian is currently deputy director of advanced design at GM Daewoo’s design center in Bubpyong, just south of Seoul.

Wolff transferred to South Korea in February 2004 as part of General Motor’s efforts to integrate Daewoo into its international stable of automobile manufacturers. GM took over the struggling local carmaker in 2002.

As the only foreign designer working fulltime at the Bupyong design complex, Wolff admits he brings a slightly different attitude to the job than many of the South Korean designers on his team.

``There are car designers who are designers first and car enthusiasts second, and there are car designers who are car enthusiasts first and designers second,’’ he explained. ``I’m a definitely a car enthusiast _ I like cars that look and feel like they should be driven fast.’’

A graduate of industrial design at Monash University in Melbourne, Wolff handles much of the everyday management of the advanced design team as Dave Lyon, GM Daewoo’s regional director, spends about half his time on business trips abroad.

Wolff’s relaxed personality seems to have helped the team adapt easily to their new boss, despite the odd inevitable communication problem.

He said as an outsider coming into an established South Korean business, it was important to bring an open mind. ``The important thing was that my boss and I didn’t come in and say this is the way we do things back home and this is the way you are going to have to do things as well,’’ he explained. ``The team here has been together for a long time and they know how to get things done.’’

Part of Wolff’s role here is to ensure GM Daewoo’s new lines of vehicles appeal to non-Korean car buyers, particularly as most of its output is destined for export markets.
While the language of design is universal, he said there is a distinctly Asian aesthetic. ``I think from a Western viewpoint, things that are fairly well constructed and flowing are appealing,’’ he said. ``But I think sometimes here there is an element of decoration that is over and above what I would do. Rather than a line running straight through, a line may sort of break for no apparent reason for my eye.’’

That said, the Australian designer said he has been particularly impressed by the skill and efficiency of local design artists and sculptors. ``They work so fast and so accurately. There is a lot of talent and a lot of great new ideas,’’ he said.

Wolff believed South Korean consumer electronics are leading the world in terms of design and said the styling of local carmakers is also maturing fast.

Daewoo in the past outsourced its models to various Italian design groups, often resulting in a lack of cohesion in its design language. Now, however, Wolff said the team is working on its own designs from scratch and has a greater opportunity to develop good-looking vehicles.

Wolff has already put his stamp on GM Daewoo with the T2X, a compact SUV that debuted at this year’s Seoul Motor Show.

For a car-lover, moving to Seoul with its gridlock traffic was initially a little frustrating. Wolff’s apprehensions about driving in the capital proved well grounded when he crashed the company car just two days after receiving it.

However, now he said he has learned to understand the system here and even gets around on a scooter on the weekends. ``The traffic here appears to be completely manic but after you drive in it for a while you realize that it has its own rules and order,’’ he said.


10-04-2005 17:47

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