DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Bloomberg) -- When the Daytona 500 starts this weekend with Danica Patrick in the pole position driving her Chevrolet SS, General Motors will be seeking something more than a winner's trophy: adding a greater sense of urgency to GM product development.
Mark Reuss, GM's North America president since December 2009, is seeding the automaker's racing operations with engineers who spend time helping Chevy and Cadillac racing teams, eventually rotating back into product development.
Race on Sunday, engineer better cars on Monday.
"Every week you've got to go put what you did on the track and try to win," Reuss said in an interview last weekend at Florida's Daytona International Speedway, where GM revealed the production version of the new rear-wheel-drive Chevy SS. "That's an urgency that we need in this company."
The SS is one of about 20 vehicles GM is introducing in the United States this year as it seeks to freshen showrooms that have grown stale since the company's 2009 bankruptcy reorganization.
GM's U.S. market share fell to an 88-year-low in 2012 as Toyota Motor Corp. rebounded from 2011 production problems with 19 new or refreshed vehicles.
GM needs personnel who aren't wedded to traditional long-term product development cycles, said Dave Sullivan, an analyst with AutoPacific Inc.
"They need people who can address issues in more rapid fashion than they have in the past," he said. "Vehicles like the Malibu could benefit from that kind of mentality."
GM isn't alone in looking to racing to better its product development staff.
Honda Motor Co., Ford Motor Co. and other automakers have long been active in racing.
Ford traces its motor sports roots to a 1901 race won by Henry Ford.
Honda founder Soichiro Honda would say, "If Honda does not race, there is no Honda."
GM founder Billy Durant used his association with a racecar driver named Louis-Joseph Chevrolet to create the Chevrolet Motor Car Co. in 1911, which eventually became part of GM.
What's new is the interest by Reuss, an engineer by training and a longtime racing enthusiast, in making sure GM executives see the experience as a career boost and rotating potential high-performers in and out of the racing teams for leadership development.
GM's racing effort has traditionally been under the company's marketing operations and separated from product development.
GM used its ties to popular drivers such as Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon and Patrick, a former IndyCar star, to promote product.
"It didn't used to be an incentive because once people went there, they never came back," Reuss said. "They couldn't leave because they were the 'race person.' So it had a bad stigma to it."
Reuss said he wanted to change that and, within the past year or so, has started an effort to rotate people through the program.
Twenty-four-year GM veteran Chris Berube was assigned to the automaker's IndyCar racing effort last March after working as the lead development engineer on the Cadillac CTS-V and ATS cars.
"The CTS-V program, the ATS program, those are three years, four years long," he said. "That's like four seasons wrapped in one. You tend to need to make decisions probably with less information in racing and more on gut feeling and experience, but you also get the answer right away whether it was the right decision or not. I'd like to take that back to the production side."