DETROIT -- General Motors is assembling a team of 100 engineers to work hand-in-hand with suppliers ahead of a spate of key vehicle launches. They'll crawl deep into GM's supply chain, even down to tiers 3 and 4, to inspect parts for quality and ensure that those suppliers can deliver adequate volumes.
The move underscores the stakes during one of the busiest launch schedules in GM's history. Over the next 12 to 18 months, GM will introduce redesigns of its biggest money makers, including the Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra pickups and its four big SUVs.
"We're very aware of how important this launch is," CEO Dan Akerson told Automotive News last week at GM headquarters, citing the pickups' rollout. "How well we execute is critically important."
The pickups' launch has been a regular topic at the monthly meetings of GM's executive committee, a team of a dozen top executives. Akerson said GM is reviewing past launches that went flawlessly -- and ones that didn't.
"We do lessons learned here," he said. Akerson says GM is in "pretty good shape" on its quality metrics for the rollouts.
"We're locked and loaded with our supply base," he said.
The product offensive is a chance for GM to answer critics who point to the company's slipping U.S. market share, which through October was 18 percent, vs. 19.8 percent a year earlier, when Japanese brands were hurt by the earthquake and tsunami, and 19 percent in the same period of 2010.
Other key launches in 2013 include the next Chevrolet Corvette, the redesigned Chevrolet Impala, the new Buick Encore and the next generation of GM's mid-sized pickups, the Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon.
By the end of 2013, 70 percent of GM's U.S. nameplates will be new or redesigned. Chevrolet alone is readying 13 new or redesigned models for launch next year.
Compelling new vehicles could help GM jump-start its sales and potentially outpace the market in coming years. But that also will require smooth launches to avoid recalls and inventory bottlenecks that can sap sales momentum.
Mark Reuss, president of GM North America, said the 100 supplier quality engineers will focus on handoffs in the supply chain -- from, say, Tier 3 to Tier 2 suppliers -- to ensure quality and volumes. He said GM knows that suppliers have less room for error after cutting capacity during the downturn.
"When you run lean and run hard, you see the weak spots," he told Automotive News last week at the Los Angeles Auto Show. The closer collaboration with suppliers is aimed at ensuring that "we are in lock step on our quality plans."
Akerson said GM's market share erosion this year has been amplified because 2011 sales for GM and most other non-Japanese automakers were inflated by the March 2011 earthquake in Japan that interrupted the supply chain. And while he didn't dismiss market share as a measure of the company's performance, he said there are other indicators.
Akerson said he prefers a "broad perspective" on sales: "What are we doing on incentives? How are we doing on residuals?" He refuses to predict GM's sales or whether its market share will grow.
In other remarks, Akerson acknowledged that GM's strategy for pickup powertrains diverges from those of its domestic competitors.
While Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler Group tout the fuel efficiency of their V-6 pickups, GM seems ready to trumpet V-8 power and ruggedness. Sources say that at least initially, GM will not offer V-6s in its next-generation pickups. For fuel-conscious buyers, GM will offer the smaller Colorado and Canyon pickups. Their rivals have nothing in that size class.
Said Akerson: "If we're competitive, and our powertrains have better torque and horsepower, we're likely to do just fine."