Black Auto Designer Michael Burton Knows Whip Appeal

Black Auto Designer Michael Burton Knows Whip Appeal

Published January 18, 2010

Ballers come in all shapes, sizes and sexes. If you don’t believe it, ask Michael A. Burton.

Burton, the director of design for General Motors front-wheel-drive trucks and luxury crossovers, attracts ballers to the vehicles that he conceives. But his eye for whip appeal in knowing what car-buyers like extends beyond urban consumers. Burton, whose design imprint can be seen by the public this weekend when the 2010 North American International Auto Show opens in Detroit, says that people from all backgrounds are gravitating to a particular style.
“I think that much of the hip-hop culture is reflected in what people like to drive,” Burton, 53, told “It’s a fashion statement.”
The same vehicle fashion statement that may appeal to your local concert promoter, adds Burton, can be eye-catching to suburban soccer moms. One example, he says, is the new Arcadia Denali, which he helped create in his capacity as one of GM’s top design executives. Other vehicles that he’s designed have similar cross-cultural, multi-purpose attractions, ranging from interior space to outer body lines, Burton adds: “You can go to the movies or the game, and then still go to a nice function without being ashamed of your vehicle.”
One of few Black automotive designers in the industry, Burton has worked at all three American car companies. A native of Lansing, Mich., about 90 minutes outside Detroit, he was influenced by the moods and aesthetic tastes that made the Motor City a center of the vehicle manufacturing world.
“Whether people think it’s the prettiest place or not, Detroit is still very influential with style and fashion,” Burton adds. “We’re known for that.”
Not only did he come to appreciate Detroit while growing up near the city and attending college there, Burton developed gifts in the other industry that put Michigan’s biggest metropolis on the map – music. With a gospel-singing mom, the artist inherited songwriting and piano as additional talents.
While the past year of auto industry struggle and suffering sales might suggest that musical pursuits are a better choice than car design, Burton says he’s optimistic. America’s love of cars, he adds, ensures that whip appeal translates to better days ahead.
“Buying a car and owning a car are still emotional experiences. If people were only concerned about green-friendly vehicles, everybody would own a Toyota Prius,” says Burton. “But everybody doesn’t own a Prius, and when we see that Camaro, we still turn our heads. So it’s still emotional when you buy a car. The vehicle is an extension of your personality.”


Written by <P>By Eddie B. Allen Jr.</P>


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