Where Culture and Creativity Happen — And Buick Gets a New Look 

We went behind the scenes to see the new face of Buick and how a new design center, a classic heritage and a culture of creativity are driving the transformation

General Motors Design West
General Motors Design West. Photo: GM

My, You’re Looking Stylish Lately, Buick

I might have shared recently that I’m a geek for corporate culture and the elements that go into a good — or bad— product or service. Think of companies filled with people who work behind the scenes to create something that you are sure was designed just for you

Manicures that last weeks. Water bottles that clean themselves. Sneakers that feel like walking on air. Cars with a natural place to put your handbag (which you will see in the new Buick Enclave, but more about that later…)

There are people behind all those ideas who have the same problems as you do, as I do. 

However, getting from the idea stage to product design to market debut is a challenge, and that is the function of culture. We got a peek behind the scenes at this exact process recently when we toured Buick’s new design space to see how the company transformed its entire lineup and created a new face for the brand.

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General Motors Design West Cafe Plus Art Installation By Sharon Que
General Motors Design West cafe plus art installation by Sharon Que. Photo: GM

It Starts With Space 

A company’s culture takes space — real or virtual — to work in, to collaborate, to meet, to chat, to riff, to laugh, to connect, to create.

In Warren, Michigan, just outside Detroit, sits General Motor’s Tech Center, a mid-century campus of low-slung buildings designed by famed architect Eero Saarinen. Inside each are the spaces that we’ve come to know as the typical work space— offices, studios, cubicles, gathering spaces. 

This year GM added to the space with a new building, Design West. It fits with the size and scale of other buildings on the campus but is more modern in its details and function. As companies that are focused on design tend to do, the building is filled with intentional touches, such as collaborative spaces, flexible offices and art. A lot of art— all of it created by current and former GM employees. 

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General Motors Design West.
General Motors Design West. Photo: GM

Classic and Modern Come Together in the Design Dome 

The center of the GM Tech Center is the Design Dome. This is where the design process for GM’s brands — Buick, GMC, Chevrolet and Cadillac — takes the stage. A circular space 185 feet in diameter with a roof that crests at 65 feet, the space can be customized with lighting, sound, texture and more. It’s essentially a fully controllable space, a stage where the players are also the audience.  

This is where everything from concepts to final prototypes are presented, considered and reviewed. Vehicles are revealed to executives, dealers and the media here. Since it was built in 1956, every important event in GM’s history had its first spotlight in the Design Dome. 

Next up on stage: Buick.

Front 3/4 Sketch Of The 2025 Buick Enclave
Front 3/4 sketch of the 2025 Buick Enclave. Photo: GM

Behind The Scenes of the Buick Redesign

The cadence of automotive design is like anything else, though with the weight of legacy and the necessity of physics. Designers dig deep to advance the physical needs of a car or SUV while honoring its ancestry. Yes, it might seem fun and fancy to sketch outsized wheels and sleek, racy rooflines, but in reality, a car has to function well and it needs to fit the brand’s heritage of both past and future. 

As a designer, you don’t want to be the one who designed an awkward bump in a brand’s elegant bloodline. The challenge is huge, and it’s real: To draw on the past, lead the future and serve the buyer, all at once. 

This was Buick’s challenge as the brand started to roll out its 2024 models last year. This exercise is rooted in first building a concept car that defines a car’s design language such as headlights, hood lines and the look of its materials. A concept hints at its technology, defines its colors and sets a tone for the future. 

In 2022 Buick rolled out the Wildcat concept, an electric car that set the stage for the future of Buick. Wildcat is notable for the headlights and taillights that we now see versions of on new Buick models, the expansive multimedia screens, the sculptural seating and its iconic new front ends. 

Even though each model is its own entity defined by size, performance, and passenger space, the Wildcat is where designers go for details such as upholstery styles, lighting signatures and more. 

The New 2024 Buick Envista Is Sleek Inside And Out.
The new 2024 Buick Envista is sleek inside and out. Photo: Sara Lacey

From Concept To New Car 

During our tour of the new Design West building, we stopped at GM’s modeling studio. I had always thought of clay models as an early part of the design process, where the vehicle takes shape, but really, it’s the opposite. Designers first start with sketches on paper, then design a car on a computer. 

Once that design is complete, it’s formed in clay and the fine details are sculpted. From there, a design can be finessed adding or removing creases, lights, and other details that ultimately define the design. We watched as both machines and designers played with the design of future concepts, the machine essentially ‘3D printing’ a car in clay and the designers refining the design. 

I was surprised to see that the studio also produces clay models of interiors — dashboards, seating and more, all in a smaller scale model. 

Once refined, the clay models can be wrapped in colored vinyl to mimic the painted, plastic and gloss surfaces of a car. When they are done and ready to be presented to leadership, they are moved to the design dome. 

Buick Wildcat Ev Angled View. Photo: Buick
Buick Wildcat EV Angled View. Photo: Buick

The New Face of Buick

Under the guidance of Sharon Gauci and her team, Buick’s transition has been stunning to watch. The face of each model has been chiseled and modernized, interiors refined, technology updated and overall shapes are more elegant and beautiful. 

Still, in my mind when I think of the modern era of Buick, I think of Envista, a compact hatchback with the most beautiful proportions. It’s like a perfect shoe or flawless haircut that lends its elegance to everything around it.

A huge part of its appeal is how its front facia — the front grille, lights and lower bumper — create a cohesive look with the roofline and the rear of the car, a simplified tailgate with just enough of a swoop to feel sporty but not so much it feels out of place or so little it feels unfinished.

We’ve seen this new look on the Encore GX and Envision SUV and soon, we’ll see it on the Enclave to complete the transformation of the lineup. And the transformation of Buick. For now. 

On our tour we saw a couple of concepts being worked on that looked pretty exciting — not just to us, but to the teams working on crafting, sculpting and refining them. The feeling was pretty effusive, but then again, that’s by design. 

Disclosure: I was a guest of Buick for this test drive. Travel and accommodations were provided but all opinions are my own. Additionally, A Girls Guide to Cars may earn a commission from affiliate links in this story.

Journalist, entrepreneur and mom. Expertise includes new cars, family cars, 3-row SUVs, child passenger car seats and automotive careers... More about Scotty Reiss