The 1989 Chevrolet Lumina APV was a resolutely futuristic design. With its extraordinarily fast front windshield angle, its rounded box passenger compartment, its blacked-out roof, and its injected-molded plastic body panels, it looked more like a Syd Mead concept for an Eighties sci-fi thriller than a GM design for an Eighties suburban hauler. But if you think its appearance is bananas, the story of its genesis is a bit more bonkers, involving internecine GM rivalries, backdated concept cars, and the involvement of famed Italian design consultancy Pininfarina
In the mid-Seventies, General Motors faced a reckoning. The company, which had for years lobbied aggressively against new safety-, emissions-, and fuel-economy standards, faced the enactment of significant federal regulations on all of these fronts. In addition, affordable, fun-to-drive, fuel-efficient, reliable vehicles were being imported in exponentially growing quantities from Japan (and Europe), eating up market share. And the General was mainly putting ugly, ill-engineered bandages on its ugly, ill-engineered old vehicles. A new way of creating cars was required.
The Total Automotive Systems Concept (TASC) program was meant to assist in this process. “TASC was created by GM Design, and was essentially a strategic automotive development menu system,” says Dick Ruzzin, a former GM Design employee who led advanced design for Chevrolet during that time period, before moving on to stints as design director for Cadillac and GM of Europe. The program included three different front-wheel-drive sedans, as well as sports cars, and these vehicles were all originally slated to receive rotary engines, before four- and six-cylinder gas engines were subbed in. But there was one other category the corporation was investigating.