Image of a male presenter informing about the 2018 GMC Terrain small SUV to standing group.
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2018 GMC TERRAIN The Future of GMC Design

How best to describe the essence of GMC’s exterior design? According to the men and women who help shape vehicles like the Sierra HD Denali, the new Acadia All Terrain, and everything in between, it all boils down to one basic idea: be bold.

New vehicles typically debut at auto shows, not art museums. But the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit was a more than fitting venue to reveal the all-new 2018 GMC Terrain small SUV. Not only is the museum filled with art and design that is as bold, distinctive, and forward-thinking as the Terrain itself, but GMC’s designers immersed themselves in modern art, architecture, and design in order to inspire their first exploratory sketches for what would become the 2018 – and a bold step forward for GMC design.

“At GMC, we have some amazing designers; some really, really passionate individuals,” says Matt Noone, director of GMC exterior design. “They see and find inspiration in everything – art, architecture, product design, technology – everything. I think just being immersed in great art or great design – it inspires us as designers. It pumps us up; it gets us going, and our designs are better because of that.”

That’s why at the outset of the Terrain design program, Noone asked his team them to bring their ideal inspiration for the next-generation Terrain and share it with the entire team. “I was blown away,” he says. “Some brought sketches, some brought sculpture, some brought video. But most importantly, we collaborated and shared these ideas so our entire team could learn from each other, and ideate from there.”

  • Click to watch a video about how the 2018 GMC Terrain small SUV is guiding the future of GMC design.

Soon after that initial brainstorm, designers quickly begin sketching and sculpting a wide array of potential designs – or “themes” – that could be applied to the new Terrain. During this phase of a vehicle design process, imaginations run wild in order to maximize creativity before refining into a production-ready vehicle.

“There was a tremendous amount of passion and emotion behind the Terrain’s creation,” says Noone. “We had two of our designers essentially lead a design battle – we let each manage their own theme over the course of a few months. It was wonderful to see them inspire and challenge each other. If one designer’s work “won” during one review, the other would be inspired and driven to win the next time around. Both were feeding off each other, and ultimately led the team collectively to a point where we created a bold, distinctive, and surprising look for the new Terrain.”

  • Image of two male designers working with a wooden model of the 2018 GMC Terrain small SUV.
  • Image of a male and female designer working with a wooden model of the 2018 GMC Terrain small SUV.
  • Image of a male designer working with a wooden model of the 2018 GMC Terrain small SUV.
  • Image of a female and two male GM personel discussing the 2018 GMC Terrain small SUV.
  • Image of a male designer working in a drafting program on designs for the 2018 GMC Terrain small SUV.
  • Image of a male presenter informing about the 2018 GMC Terrain small SUV.
  • Image of a hand using a pencil to illustrate details on the front of the 2018 GMC Terrain small SUV.

How surprising? It only takes one look at the new 2018 Terrain to see it’s unmistakably a GMC, but a dramatic departure from everything that’s come before it.

“We’ve talked a lot about GMC design language reflecting a sort of industrial sculpture,” says Noone; “I think we’ve aimed for a similar goal, but we pushed as hard as it could to deliver the best possible interpretation of what GMC professional grade can be in a very striking, dynamic vehicle.”

The 2018 Terrain’s exterior is a flowing, holistic design - but there’s no doubt the front fascia sets the attitude for the rest of the SUV’s exterior. A bold grille and C-shaped LED signature lighting have been distinctive GMC design elements for some time, but they’ve been thoroughly rethought and reshaped on the 2018 Terrain.

Image of a the stylish headlights on the front of the 2018 GMC Terrain small SUV.

Take the headlamps, for instance – a C-shaped LED light pipe still provides a recognizable cue both day and night, but the headlamp assembly itself is no longer rectangular. Instead, it’s carefully sculpted around that light pattern, while simultaneously helping shape a bold, strong shoulder that runs along the entire vehicle.

“Terrain’s headlamps are some of the most surprising elements in its design,” Noone says. “Our team found inspiration in jewelry, in furniture design, in beautifully-engineered technology, and it really shows within the lens elements of these headlamps. The first time we showed our early, dynamic concept sketches for these lights to Design leadership, we were asked ‘Do you think you can build that?’ It was ambitious – but it was a wonderful challenge to collaborate closely between design and engineering to make dynamic ideas transform from a sketch to a production part.”

Bold surfacing isn’t limited to Terrain’s front clip, either – for instance, a strong character line, which also starts at those interlocking headlamps, carries through the SUV’s sides, all the way to the rear of the vehicle, providing a sense of confident strength and solidarity. The sides of Terrain are as dramatic as its front fascia, thanks in no small part to careful sculpting and a dramatic window opening and a roof that appears to float.

Image of a the the curved storage racks featured on top of the 2018 GMC Terrain small SUV.

“Our team really went over the sheetmetal lovingly; making sure there were some very clever, sculptural, three-dimensional transitions,” says Noone. “We didn’t want there to be a front, a side, and a rear; we wanted this to be a truly three-dimensional, holistic design; it has to look great no matter what angle you approach it from. I think we’ve succeeded -- we have a beautiful bodyside that’s very sophisticated, with surfaces that run out to the wheel openings to help give a planted, purposeful stance. There’s a premium quality to Terrain’s surfacing that gives a strong first impression.”

While Terrain’s bold form and surfacing deliver at a quick first glance, Noone prides his team on delivering on the details that are visible upon a closer look. “Whether it’s the flying chrome accent along the roofline or the details within Terrain’s headlamps, precisely-crafted details deliver the layered design approach we have at GMC,” he says.

“We want you to be impressed initially by Terrain’s handsome form and bold proportions from a distance – but we want you to pick up on these sophisticated, intricate details as you get closer and closer. That, I hope, speaks to the passion, the precision craftsmanship, and beautiful engineering that lies beneath every great GMC design.”

Grilles have long been an important design cue for GMC, and the Terrain is no exception. There are unique grilles for each trim level, but none is as distinctive or as powerful as the unique design reserved for the Terrain Denali. The Denali grille has long been an iconic GMC design element, but the GMC design team wanted to make Terrain Denali’s grille itself a work of art rivaling the remainder of the Terrain’s exterior. It’s more horizontal and dramatic than ever before, accented by three-dimensional block elements which are precisely crafted.

Image of the iconic grill and logo featured on the front of the 2018 GMC Terrain small SUV.

“We wanted this grille to be a wonderful piece of product design on its own,” Noone says. “Each of the block elements is carefully designed to catch light in just the right way. If you get close to the Terrain Denali grille, you can really appreciate how each block is precisely sculpted and crowned. It’s absolutely beautiful.”


The new 2018 Terrain isn’t just a chance to reshape what a premium-grade small SUV can be – it’s also the chance to lay the foundation for the future of GMC design.

Image of two 2018 GMC Terrain small SUVs with red and grey exetriors parked in front of a building.

“Above all, I really want us to surprise,” says Noone. “Anyone who comes to the table thinking they’ll know what the new Terrain will look like, I believe this will surprise them. We’ll always be bold, beautiful, precisely crafted and professional grade, but moving forward, we want that emotion to repeat itself as we continue to evolve our portfolio.”

“I’m really proud of the phenomenal talent within the GMC design studio, and equally proud of the finished product. When it came time to create the Terrain, our team didn’t leave anything on the table – and they have no intention of doing that moving forward. We’re proud that Terrain is a really strong, exciting, bold expression that can serve as a kickstarter for shaping the future of the GMC brand.”