To improve its products, General Motors has set up a powerful committee.
The Automotive Product Board will include the company’s top global executives and it will have control over which vehicles land in global showrooms in years to come.
The committee plans to cut costs, create innovative niche products and speed up GM’s ponderous product development. As the committee centralizes control, regional product development chiefs will lose some power.
One factor that led to the committee’s formation was the lack of coordination between GM brands in Europe and North America.
When GM engineers in the US wanted to create a Pontiac G6 convertible, they couldn’t use the Saab 9-3 convertible as the basis, even though the cars share the same architecture.
Saab engineers had changed the location of the points on the vehicle that attach it to the assembly line, GM CEO Rick Wagoner said.
The committee will “clean up those kinds of things,” Wagoner said in an interview at the Geneva auto show.
Learning from Toyota
GM hopes to emulate automakers such as Toyota.
Toyota takes a global approach to product development, says Robert Lutz, GM’s vice chairman of product development.
Until the global product board was created, GM’s four regions developed vehicles independently.
GM had created global architectures including Epsilon, the automaker’s architecture for mid-sized cars such as the Saab 9-3 and Pontiac G6. But in practice, each region modified Epsilon for regional needs, increasing cost and decreasing commonality.
“We call them all Epsilon, but Saabs can’t be built in a German Epsilon plant,” Lutz said. “German Epsilons can’t be built in a Saab plant. Malibu and G6 couldn’t be built in Europe. They are almost the same – but not quite.”
In the future, GM will cut costs by producing as many products as possible in each assembly plant.
By standardizing more vehicle parts and factory equipment, GM will save money by purchasing parts in higher volumes. GM also will be able to identify trends faster.
“We will be able to build a Buick Epsilon in China, a Saab Epsilon in Korea or the United States,” Lutz said. “A German Epsilon in Latin America, Germany and Korea with a minimum lead time. Once we get identical parts, we have these enormous savings in worldwide parts buying.”
The Automotive Product Board will enjoy equal status with GM’s Automotive Strategy Board, which previously controlled product strategy. The strategy board, which was established in 1998 to coordinate GM’s global business, will focus on business strategy, new markets and alliances.
– Dave Guilford contributed