DETROIT -- General Motors engineering chief Jim Queen says GM's far-flung engineering centers are ready to work as a unified global organization that constantly shifts work back and forth.
That move, Queen says, will diminish a long-standing problem: the large fluctuations in engineering workload that occur as teams shift from intensive launches to less busy stretches of a product cycle.
"There are ebbs and flows of workload in all of our regions," said Queen, GM vice president for North American engineering. "To be able to move that stuff around 24-7 is extremely beneficial."
The move is part of GM's drive for efficiency.
The company has spent several years laying the groundwork for the network, says Queen, who heads GM's global design team.
The company adopted a uniform computer system that allows work to be moved easily. It also created a single product-development process using global architectures and components.
GM's engineering centers include its own major operations, such as GM North America, Adam Opel AG, Saab, Holden, Vauxhall and the GM Daewoo Auto & Technology Co. partnership. GM also draws on alliance partners Fiat, Suzuki, Subaru and Isuzu.
But GM is adding centers in emerging markets. It opened a joint-research-engineering center in Bangalore, India, last year, and it is working with Shanghai Automotive Industries Corp. in China.
In addition, it is studying increased work with the Russian automaker AutoVAZ.
The Indian center, in particular, has raised concerns that GM will shift large amounts of engineering work to low-cost markets.
Queen said that is not the intent; the Bangalore center is an "extremely modest" operation aimed mainly at supporting growth in the Indian market.
Centers in emerging markets initially will handle small parts, graduating to a component system after a few years, and ultimately could design cars for their markets, said Queen. But they also will pick up overflow work from other markets.
David Cole, president of the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor, Michigan, said that while engineering salaries in India are low, GM is not likely to move major product-development work there.
Experience in product programs and in using sophisticated computer modeling software is critical, he said.
The globally linked engineering network could be a competitive advantage for GM. It fits in with GM's efforts to standardize its components, development process, manufacturing and product architectures.
Cole said the recently developed Kappa architecture, to be used initially on the 2006 Pontiac Solstice, is a good example of the savings that can be wrung out of the integrated system.