Perhaps reflecting GM’s commitment to Cadillac as a brand, the company has named Clay Dean its Design Director. Dean was responsible for the styling of the Pontiac Solstice and Saturn Vue. It probably didn’t hurt that both of those were pet projects of Robert Lutz.

Dean also led the design teams that did the Chevrolet Cobalt, the Chevy HHR, the Saturn Aura, and the forthcoming Chevrolet Malibu.

AutoBlog headlined its story about Dean’s selection as “Cadillac names new global design chief, elation ensues.”But it didn’t cite any specific people who were elated and Cadillac specific blogs certainly have a number of people indicating that they are far from elated. Many view the styling of the Aura as copycat and the Malibu’s styling as tepid. The Cobalt certainly wasn’t a ground-breaker, either.

The situation is reminiscent of the time when Tom Peters was appointed to do the design of the C6 Corvette. To that point, Peters’ most notorious claim to fame had been designing the ugliest Pontiac ever, the Aztek. (That was so ugly that when I blanked on its name, needed only to Google “ugly Pontiac.” Came right up.) The fears proved founded when the C6 was revealed to be merely a more angular version of the previous car, one with odd, imbalanced proportions. 

While it is not entirely fair to predict a designer’s future efforts based on his past product, as management sets the parameters within which he must work, it is hard to view Dean as someone who will produce trend-setting designs.

His first assignment is the upcoming small Cadillac crossover, which is to replace the current SRX. Indeed, it may be that Dean has been selected more for his experience in packaging smaller vehicles than for his ability to produce striking design.

What do you think?
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