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Auto designers closely scrutinize new models

Pat Schiavone, Ford Motor Co. design director for trucks and SUVs, emerged from a sea of vehicles Tuesday onto the big blue dot in the middle of the Ford display.

Schiavone (pronounced SHEE-uh-vone) had been circling Cobo Hall looking at vehicles. When he gets done with this interview, he'll start circling again.

"I'm working," Schiavone said. "I'm going through every single vehicle down here."

As the North American International Auto Show opens to the public today, hundreds of thousands of people will descend on Detroit in the coming week to see the cars and trucks.

Only a few of these visitors will scrutinize the vehicles as closely as an auto designer does. General Motors Corp. sends a team of designers through Cobo each year with assignments for each, jotting down details on as many concept and production cars as possible.

"Sometimes, vehicles look great in photos," said Ken Parkinson, GM's executive director of global truck design. "You see them here and they don't, and vice versa. It's a big deal for us."

Wheels, grilles, headlights, gauges, glass, chrome accents, stitching on the seats. Great thought has been placed behind every inch of each vehicle.

Designers dream of creating a concept car, said David McKinnon, vice president for Chrysler Group's small, premium and family vehicle design. They also dream of seeing the concept go into production.

"The first test is does it have a business case?" McKinnon said. "Will it sell enough? Where does it fit? ... The first thing we need is a good response to it."

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