interview with liz wetzel, director of design – buick interiors
all images courtesy of GM




responsible for the interiors of the buick avenir concept vehicle and the buick cascada – which will be presented during the 2015 geneva international motor show, liz wetzel has almost 30 years of experience working at american automotive giant general motors. currently holding the position of director of interior design at buick, the michigan-native’s portfolio includes having a short stint working at GM’s european design studio in rüsselsheim, germany as director of interior design for opel and vauxhall and in 1997, she became the first female vehicle chief designer at GM. to learn more about her history at general motors and the future of buick, designboom has a few words with the detroit-based designer.

buick cascada buick avenir liz wetzel interview

the 2016 buick cascada convertible



designboom (DB): could you tell us briefly about your background and the evolution of your work?


liz wetzel (LW): I joined GM advanced engineering group in 1986 in the dual role of engineer and designer for chevrolet. two years later, I supported interior design programs for the cadillac aurora and olds silhouette concepts and chevrolet passenger cars. in 1990, I joined the cadillac interior studio for the 1996 seville STS and eldorado. three years later, I was appointed assistant chief designer for cadillac interiors, including the 1997 deville concours and 1998 seville STS that went on to win ‘interior design of the year-luxury category’ from inside automotive. I served as lead designer for deville in 1996 and june 1997 promoted to vehicle chief designer (a GM first) responsible for the buick rendezvous. I then served as the director of cross brand strategies for global color & trim, component, and human interface design.  


after this, I relocated to GM’s european design studio in rüsselsheim, germany as director of interior design for opel and vauxhall, as well as leadership of color & trim, component design, user interface and perceived quality from august 2010 to may 2013. in the spring of 2013, I returned to michigan to become the director of buick interior design studio.

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DB: how were you introduced to the world of automotive design?


LW: born and raised in detroit, I am the fourth generation in my family pursuing a career in auto industry. my great grandfather was a tool-and-die maker for the hudson motor car company, my grandfather worked for chrysler and my dad with general motors.  growing up, weekends were spent as a family at car rallies and racetracks. however, it was a tour of GM’s design center in warren, michigan as a student at the university of michigan’s school of art and design that really cemented my decision to pursue automotive design. everything about it – from the airbrushed renderings of future models and sketches on the tables to the full-size clay models – was captivating. even the smell of the clay was enticing. 

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DB: what is your design philosophy?

LW: my design philosophy is to create products that surprise and delight by being both visually compelling, intuitive and easy to use.


DB: you’ve overseen the designs of several vehicles since becoming the first female vehicle chief designer at GM in 1997 – what projects/programs stand out as highlights?

LW: my appointment to vehicle chief designer stands out for the opportunity to lead a dynamic team to develop the whole vehicle – interior and exterior – heightened by the fact it resulted in a truck of the year award.  the cross-brand strategy is another highlight for the autonomy and clean-sheet approach it offered, the life-long bonds building consensus with stakeholders, and for the strategic brand work that remains to the present day. my assignment in europe was also amazing from a cultural and career perspective. it was total immersion and focus as a team around the opel brand.  

buick cascada buick avenir liz wetzel interview

the buick avenir concept vehicle



DB: briefly talk about the design of the buick avenir concept vehicle and the buick cascada? with both cars, what innovations and details have designers emphasized the most?

LW: the creative brief we received for the avenir was simple: design the ultimate buick flagship.  as an interior design team, it was our opportunity to showcase a new higher level of passenger well-being, combining beautiful sculptural forms, spaciousness, a fresh, modern palette, and premium materials with device integration to an external audience.

the buick cascada is an invitation to get out and discover.  the interior environment supports the fun and sense of adventure you feel behind the wheel, with a lay out that is thoughtful, comfortable and connected. the cabin is inviting and smartly trimmed in leather and soft-touch materials with french stitching.  it also offers convenient storage, including deep door bins, large center console and seats that fold flat at the touch of a button.

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DB: how do you think these designs are helping turnaround and reshape the buick brand?

LW: following five years of growth, we have a lot of momentum around the future of the brand and expanding the portfolio into new segments that appeal to a broader array of customers. the avenir and cascada are two great new reasons to come take a closer look.

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DB: how has interior design in the automotive industry evolved over the years?

LW: there is a lot of momentum and excitement in the interior side of the business.  the interior of a vehicle is where your relationship with the customer is made.  at buick, our focus begins with an intimate understanding of our customers’ tastes, preferences, and use of the interior and technology. technology has been a major enabler – influencing every facet of visual, tactile and auditory facets of interior design.


connectivity is seamless, intuitive and without distraction. from beautiful forms, layout, and materials, to color, lighting, and layering, the sky is the limit when it comes to the fresh, modern and premium executions we are offering.

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DB: what can we expect to see from buick in the next five years?

LW: it is such an exciting time to be in the buick studio. young designers gravitate to this brand because there is no limit to where it can go when beautiful and sculptural are the foundations of your form language.  we are taking buick to the next level in both subtle and eye-catching ways.

buick cascada buick avenir liz wetzel interview

liz wetzel, director of buick interior design



DB: what is the best piece of advice you have ever received?

LW: my father has provided a wealth of great advice to me over the years, particularly in the area of leadership.  have a vision and be inclusive creating it, empowering people and bring genuine enthusiasm to your work are some of his best.