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Space is the fickle frontier for design engineer

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Engineer Chris Shinouskis designs cup holders and storage space for GM.

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WARREN, Mich. -- Chris Shinouskis has spent the last 12 years trying to perfect the use of storage space inside your car.

An engineer at General Motors for 30 years, Shinouskis designs everything from cupholders and glove compartments to pockets for your iPod.

"We bring all our stuff with us. We live in our vehicles," said Shinouskis, who works out of GM's Technical Center in Warren, Mich.

As engineering specialist for storage, Shinouskis said her best work goes unnoticed by GM customers every day, since drivers don't think about storage bins until something doesn't fit. If that happens often enough, inadequate storage can become a major source of frustration.

"What we're learning with storage is that what customers are looking for is just something that's functional so it doesn't have to be fancy." she said. "You just want it to work."

Cupholders became a permanent feature in vehicles in the 1980s, along with the proliferation of fast-food restaurants and urban sprawl, said Shinouskis.

And the most significant change has been their size, she added. "Cupholders have increased in size over the last 10 years because the drink containers that we are buying have got larger," she said. "The cupholder diameter has increased five to 10 mm."

While beverage containers were a top priority for designers five to 10 years ago, these days they are focusing on storage space for electronic devices, such as iPods, cellphones and even laptops, said Shinouskis.

"Now communications is the big thing; making sure that a vehicle has a place for all of our technology," she said. "Bluetooth has changed how we need to use our cellphone in that you don't have to pick it up to talk. But you still need a place for it in the vehicle."

Two GM vehicles -- the Chevy Equinox and GMC Terrain -- offer "ultimate storage features," she said. "They're like a closet on wheels. They have a lot of storage features, including a centre console that can accommodate a laptop."

The broader challenge faced by designers is overcrowding, said Shinouskis.

"The difficulty everybody is facing is so much more is being packaged into our vehicles, whether it's features, like charging locations." she said. "We're trying to make sure things aren't crowding, so there's this real fight for space right now."

Another challenge is preventing driver distraction she added.

"Any bin should be within a safe and easy reach," she said. "It has to be intuitive.

We have to make sure a driver keeps his eye on the road while reaching for a beverage or iPod."

-- Postmedia News

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