The electrification strategy is one example amid mounting evidence that GM, ever the stumbling giant, finally is getting out of its own way, leveraging its size and scale in ways that its competitors probably hoped it never would. It's spreading more models across a condensed number of improved vehicle platforms. It's got a new family of small gasoline engines that will account for a quarter of its global sales. It's locking suppliers into bigger, decadelong contracts spanning two vehicle generations to lower costs and improve quality.
Of course, GM is playing catch-up to its biggest rivals in many respects. Volkswagen AG, Toyota Motor Corp. and even Ford Motor Co. are considered further ahead in consolidating global vehicle and engine platforms, a key to improved profitability for global automakers. That lagging position shows in the bottom line: GM's goal is to push its global operating profit margin to 10 percent by 2020 -- a level Toyota hit in fiscal 2015. Still, GM appears to be closing the gap, David Whiston, an analyst at investment research firm Morningstar, wrote in a December report.
"It has taken a long time to turn around a company of GM's size," he wrote. "But we think it is finally just starting to realize meaningful scale."
Here are some other key examples.
The redesigned Chevy Cruze that hit U.S. dealerships this month embodies GM's new religion on platform consolidation.
In 2009, GM execs hailed the first-generation Cruze as the company's first global car. It was sold in more than 60 countries and became GM's top-selling nameplate.
But, speaking from his office at GM's engineering nerve center here, Reuss confessed: "The first Cruze was global -- kinda."
The underpinnings were developed in Europe for use by the Cruze, Opel Astra and other compact cars, known as the Delta "global" compact platform. But by the time engineers in Detroit were done with the U.S. Cruze, "it was a different car," watering down economies of scale, Reuss said. A torsion beam was added in back for handling, for example. It offered a bigger engine than in other markets, a 1.8-liter, which required reinforcements to the engine compartment, adding weight.
Those changes were rooted in the fractured nature of GM's product development structure. GM "wasn't global at all" in the early 2000s, says former Vice Chairman Bob Lutz, who took over product development around that time. "The company was four totally different, independent entities with their own capital budgets, design centers and engineering processes."
Those days are over, Reuss vows. The platform underpinning the 2016 Cruze and recently launched Astra marks a new era of lightweight, simplified architectures and powertrain lineups, he says. Developed in Detroit, the platforms will be deployed without tweaking in GM's major markets.
The global compact platform will underpin as many as 2.5 million of GM's vehicles annually, up from around 1.5 million for the outgoing one. That's partly because it will carry not just cars but crossovers, including the Buick Envision and the redesigns of the Chevy Equinox and GMC Terrain, due out next year.
GM used computer-aided techniques that shave unneeded mass from structural components, among other lightweighting tricks, which allowed it to downsize engines. It followed a similar playbook for its midsize global platform, used by the redesigned Chevy Malibu launched late last year. Because those underbodies shed so much weight and were engineered to easily adapt to safety requirements around the world, GM will be able to stick with those platforms for two vehicle generations, or at least a decade, GM President Dan Ammann told investors this year.
"The architectures ... and the powertrains that we are bringing are so efficient that they will carry us far into the future," Ammann said.
Customers should benefit, too, at least according to a March Car and Driver review of the redesigned Malibu. "Watch out," the magazine said, as if warning GM's rivals. "GM has finally put on its thinking cap."