DETROIT -- General Motors marketing chief Joel Ewanick likes to talk about keeping GM's four brands inside their own "swim lanes" to avoid product overlap and badge engineering. And he has set up a team to keep those brands from swimming under the rope.
His team of product managers works closely with vehicle-development staffs on everything from interior layouts and trim levels to the final sticker price. The team serves as a conduit between GM's marketing folks -- who pore over market research to glean what customers want -- and vehicle line executives who ultimately call the shots on content for GM's North American lineup.
The team, which was assembled in August, aims to ensure that the vehicle engineers and designers working on various GM programs don't tune out the work being done on other brands. The infotainment system on a Buick LaCrosse, for example, shouldn't mirror the one for the Cadillac CTS.
The move also tilts more control over product decisions to GM's president of North America, Mark Reuss, who oversees the new group. Reporting directly to Reuss is the team's leader, Rick Scheidt, a longtime GM product planner who was vice president of Chevrolet marketing from January through July.
"This gives us the opportunity to explicitly and up front drive the right differences between a Buick and a Cadillac and a GMC and a Chevrolet, to make sure that we're actively managing the brands," Scheidt told Automotive News.
"We're trying to play that strong role between what we're hearing from the customer through the research we do," he said, "and then translating that through to the vehicle line teams."
Scheidt's group consists of about 30 product managers and marketers. Underneath Scheidt are four directors who focus on different categories, such as trucks and crossovers. Each oversees five to 10 product managers who spend the bulk of their time working with vehicle line executives at GM's technical center in suburban Detroit.
Traditionally, those vehicle-line development teams haven't paid much heed to the work being done in other programs. The new group's job is to enforce distinction between the brands in content and price and to flag problems early on if the lines get blurred, Scheidt said.
He cites a key example: Making sure there's enough daylight between the trim levels and features on GM's next generation of pickups.
"We would want to make sure that the characteristics of the package that we would put on a GMC would be very different from the Chevy Silverado," he said.
"The GMC might have a little more content and a higher price position. And maybe the Chevrolet would have a different visual appeal," he said.
"So we could describe the sort of target we're going after customerwise, and then design goes to work on the right style."