PONTIAC, Mich. - From the outside, it looks like a recipe for chaos.
General Motors wants a global mid-sized pickup truck - the next-generation Chevrolet S10. It gives lead development responsibility to its Japanese partner, Isuzu Motors Ltd. But Isuzu doesn't do all of the heavy lifting. To make sure the vehicle is viable for the North and Latin American markets, Isuzu engineers work closely with GM engineers in the United States and Brazil.
Considering the different engineering procedures used at each place, not to mention the language and cultural barriers, that's not an easy task. But Tom Davis, GM's global process leader for engineering and design, thinks the common processes he and a team of senior engineers are developing throughout GM are speeding projects such as the next-generation S10.
Eventually it could give GM 'engineering around the clock,' Davis said. Basically that means when an engineer in Pontiac finishes his day, he could pass on his task to an engineer in Japan. When that engineer finishes her day, she can pass on her results to a counterpart in Europe. Soon, the task is back in the American's hands, closer to completion.
Last October, when GM merged its North American and international operations, President Rick Wagoner gave 13 of the company's top executives a new mission: Take GM's best practices from around the globe and create global processes. Each executive would oversee his or her area of expertise. Davis, the unflappable 53-year-old head of the GM Truck Group, was given engineering and design.
Streamlining engineering at GM is nothing new to Davis. He already had been working on that in North America. But for this project he needed international help.
Davis brought together a group of senior engineers from GM's four main regions - North America, Europe, Asia Pacific and Latin America - and its different global groups, such as truck, powertrain and car. Each was given a team and specific problems to solve.
For example, one was asked to find a common measurement for how much labor goes into a component. Another was asked to determine the best method for validating an engine design.
'If we're running an engine development test in Brazil, we want that data to be transparent to the data we would run if we were to run it in Pontiac. So we don't have to repeat it,' Davis said.
NOT AIMING TO PLEASE
Some GM engineers in the United States may bristle at the idea of adopting engineering processes from Adam Opel AG, and vice versa.
Davis admits the results won't please everyone, but that is not his goal. 'It's not perfect, but it's going to move us forward faster.
'Once you have the data on the same basis, you can begin to make comparisons and then you can begin to improve around the world based on a consistent database,' he said.
Already the methods are being used for global vehicles such as the next-generation S10, which is expected for the 2003 model year. In the past, GM may have developed a separate platform for each region. Now the automaker can take advantage of its resources to create a single vehicle that can be tailored to a number of different markets.
Davis said worldwide production of that pickup eventually will top 700,000 units a year, more than double the 300,000 units a year currently built in North America.
So far, Davis, a hard worker who occasionally can be seen riding his Harley Davidson in northern Michigan, is enjoying his new duty.
Said Davis: 'The results tend to drive me, and I can see results. I can see them quickly and I can measure them.
'Those kind of assignments are assignments I like.'