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High performance the GM way.

At first glance, it might seem a little strange that Mark Reuss has the title of executive director, Vehicle Architecture and GM Performance Div., since one job is immersed in the design and layout of mainstream transport modules, the other with the creation of performance variants of those same vehicles. Especially since hot cars and trucks often are afterthoughts--if thought about at all. To which Reuss responds: "We don't do things like that around here anymore."


Under the new organization, the people responsible for architectural engineering work on both production programs and advanced architectures. Which means they are involved in the design and development of the performance derivatives from the beginning. Derivatives are part of the initial planning process, not add-ons created halfway through a product's lifecycle to spice up sales. "The goal was to get out of the re-do and re-work mode, and get this process into the mainline programs. Often that includes," Reuss says, "writing in an extra 500 to 1,000 units with our suppliers so that we don't have to capitalize the cost of doing those components outside of the production environment." Though all high-performance variants go through John Heinricy's group--High Performance Vehicle Operations at GM Performance Div.--not all are asked to pass the same criteria. "This isn't a cookie-cutter operation," says Reuss. That becomes apparent when he is asked to outline the steps followed on a typical program. "I'm not sure we have any typical programs," he replies. "And that's part of the reason we're successful." Asked to elaborate, he describes how each program is crafted around its needs, and what the team wants to do with the car. And while he admits this is a bit vague, Reuss says this process produced five cars for last year's SEMA show that were production candidates, each of which was engineered so that a production version could be done quickly if approved.

"At the other end of the spectrum is the Cadillac CTS-V," he says. "The words 'V-Series' imply more than one, and we very carefully went in and did Vs for a number of members of the Cadillac lineup." Part of the process involved looking at the powertrains and chassis planned for the mainstream cars, and determining the appropriate time to launch them. "We didn't want to be upside-down from a business standpoint during the last year of the lifecycle doing something that wouldn't make a difference to anybody," he says.

Programs like this feed information back into the production organization, and alter the process in such a way that both mainstream and high-performance needs are satisfied. "The CTS-V was an after-the-fact addition to the Sigma platform," Reuss admits, "but we have discussed how the new version of the CTS will have an architecture quite different from the current one in order to support the next V-Series, as well as other variants." Another part of the integration process involves placing program engineering managers on each of the performance product programs. "We train them to be Level 3 drivers [the highest classification in GM, and one that makes them capable of driving at Germany's famed Nurburgring race track] and set them loose on a whole car very early in their career." Another process takes an expert in a particular system, and assigns them to a high-performance program. "That way," says Reuss, "they get a taste of higher capability, higher demand system, and bring that back into the mainstream organization.

GM's competitors, however, follow a different course, either placing these responsibilities with a satellite group, or with an outside organization. "We looked at doing the same thing," says Reuss, "and there were those who wanted us to buy a 'name brand' firm to do this for us." What tipped the balance in favor of an integrated approach were the ability to cost-effectively improve the base vehicle while increasing its performance capabilities, and the fact that the lessons learned were learned by people within the organization and could be applied on different programs. "It makes our engineers better. Period," says Reuss emphatically. It also keeps costs under control.

A perfect example is the Kappa rear-drive architecture created for the Pontiac Solstice. Reuss and his team created the show car in 14 weeks, then worked on creating a production architecture around the show car. "From there, we followed it through the mainline execution with the VLE team," says Reuss. The new way of thinking mentioned earlier became apparent when it was decided Kappa wouldn't be burdened with being all things to all people. Instead of thinking up all of the possible variants it could support, and altering the architecture to accept them, the decision was made to design Kappa as a flexible four-cylinder only architecture. Other powertrains can be added without completely tearing up the vehicle, but they--not every Kappa-based car--will have to carry the costs associated with this change. "That way," he says, "the Solstice will have the ride, handling, balance and power-to-weight ratio it needs, and none of the extra cost. From a traditional standpoint, it's very un-GM."

By Christopher A. Sawyer, Executive Editor
COPYRIGHT 2004 Gardner Publications, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2004, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:On Cars
Author:Sawyer, Christopher A.
Publication:Automotive Design & Production
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:May 1, 2004
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