Blazing a trail in design

Childhood fascination put automotive designer on the right career route

The automobile had long caught the attention of Dagoberto Tribia since the Brazilian was a toddler, the youngest of three siblings whose father worked at the local Volkswagen factory in Brazil.

"Since I was three years old I loved cars. I was always looking for cars and always knew the difference between each brand by looking at the design, the chrome and the styling," said the director of Interior Design at General Motors do Brasil (GMB) Design who oversees all local and global vehicle interior programmes.

Dagoberto's career went into fast mode when he joined GMB Design in 2006 as design supervisor; in 2007 he was appointed design manager and is now responsible for managing interior development of Chevrolet's emerging market portfolio and has served as ambassador to GM Global Design on joint venture programmes.

"My father decided that I should study at the Volkswagen factory's Senai school, which was a three-year apprenticeship in sculpture where graduates go into low-level jobs like tooling and assembly line positions.

"I didn't like my job that much so I moved to the design department where our group got the opportunity to show a full-scale model at an autoshow. I met a lot of people who recommended transport design as a field of study," added Dagoberto who later read automotive design at the Universidade Presbiteriana Mackenzie in Sao Paulo, Brazil. "I have been working at the VW factory since I was 14 which is why I can say that I have 23 years experience in automotive design," he said.

After a 12-year stint as a VW designer, Dagoberto went to Germany in 1997 to specialise in design which landed him a job in the interior design department. "It was the best choice I made. They asked me what I wanted to do and I chose interior design. This allowed me to merge art and function with ergonomics as part of the challenge of my field," said Dagoberto, who claims he is the only automotive interior design specialist in Brazil and has seen his design team of six grow to approximately 200 at the design centre in Brazil.

"My first product assignment was the Colorado when I came on board in 2006. We got a lot of people from VW, we have a great team who are capable. I am very proud of them," he said.

GM has nine design centres worldwide in Los Angeles, Detroit (2), Brazil, Germany, South Korea, China, India and Australia.

"All of our design centres work at the same levels of the highest standards and are linked globally," explained Dagoberto.

He added that the main motivation that drives his work is based on the fact that all design centres work together.

Asked to comment on the significance of exterior design as opposed to interior design, he said, "In the past, exterior design probably had the upper hand but now if the car's interior does not look good then the customer won't buy the car. I say interior design shares more responsibility in the customer's decision to buy a car. Women are very discerning when it comes to design, comfort and functionality [as a Chevrolet female executive nods vigorously]."

So one wonders whether an automotive designer such as Dagoberto who has shifted to management level still misses the rank-and-file chores of sketching and sculpturing. "It's the toughest thing for me to be detached from the 'real' work. There was an incident where I sculptured a door handle to explain my ideas to my designers but slowly, I knew I had to stop. My job was to guide and manage, that's what I should be doing and it was difficult at first. But I am always sketching to pass on an idea," said Dagoberto.

As the rhetorical question about designers and engineers at each other's throats is brought up again, Dagoberto smiles and says, "I wouldn't call it fighting [with engineers]. The way our organisation is structured ensures that everyone has a target which conflicts sometimes. As a director I make sure that both designers and engineers reach a compromise but of course I always push for the design while engineers make sure about quality and cost factors. If and when the 'conflict' escalates to another level, then I view the problem from the customer's eyes and see what it is that they want."

Dagoberto then shifted our conversation to his "baby", the Chevrolet TrailBlazer, GM's newest mid-sized SUV which had its world debut in Thailand and will be produced at GM's Rayong-based production facility.

The new Chevrolet TrailBlazer, available in two- and four-wheel drive format is powered by a new GM four-cylinder Duramax turbodiesel engine, is built on GM's new global body-on-frame mid-size truck design and shares styling cues created by Dagoberto's design team in Brazil.

"Our biggest challenge for the TrailBlazer was to come up with a combination of ruggedness and sophistication. The key was its variation from the Colorado pickup. If you design a car with few lines then you did a great job. Sophistication was a premium along with controlled lines in our dual cockpit [GM's identity], which required elegance and toughness," he said.

As Dagoberto clicks through his PowerPoint presentation while loud music plays at a pub on Soi Thong Lor, the first adjective that comes to mind is roominess at the third-row seats in the TrailBlazer. "I can sit comfortably," says Dagoberto who stands at 191cm tall. "The rear has lots of sculpture with its well-done surface. It is well-sculptured which is why you get a sensation of space, sophistication and ruggedness. You need to pay attention to the dashboard and IP (instrument panel) display which presents a strong attitude. All equipment is integrated, the controls, the head unit, the modernity, are all well positioned. Ergonomics is the word.

"If I can summarise the TrailBlazer in one word, it would be flexibility. There are multiple seat configurations. However, the space for a golfbag with the third-row seats in use was a special request from a Thai customer."

That said, the Chevrolet TrailBlazer SUV will spearhead the brand into uncharted sales territory in Thailand's vehicle market that is expected to absorb an unprecedented new vehicle sales demand of one million units this year.

10 QUESTIONS

- What is your favourite car (that's not from the GM brand)?

The Chevrolet Camaro. How can you not love it?

- Favourite watch?

Breitling

- Favourite destination in Thailand?

Chiang Mai

- Favourite human being?

Steve Jobs

- Most famous export of Brazil to the world?

Ayrton Senna

- Favourite athlete?

A 20-year-old football player named Neymar. You will hear and see him soon. He's a forward for the Santos club. zGreatest achievement?

My son

- Favourite rock band?

U2

- Favourite pastime?

Sports

- If in charge of global automotive policy, what would you do?

Create an automobile product that would solve transportation problems. I am concerned about the future and we need a solution for the future.

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