By Jason Stein, Automotive News
General Motors has promised to run product development globally in the past. This time it's really happening.
After several false starts, GM is assigning global programmes to different vehicle development centres around the world.
The automaker now has globalised engineering, design, information systems and manufacturing, with global operating and capital budgets.
For instance, engineering work on the next generation of vehicles on the mid-sized, front-wheel-drive Epsilon architecture -- including the Chevrolet Malibu and Pontiac G6 -- now is led by GM's German unit in Ruesselsheim.
The goal is that vehicles on Epsilon 2 built around the world will share dimensions, components and manufacturing processes.
If necessary, they could be built in the same plant. Epsilon 2 is scheduled to debut in the 2009 model year.
The automaker has tried this before. GM executives touted the company's initial Epsilon architecture, and the fwd, small-car Delta architecture, as global platforms. But GM failed to deliver.
Adam Opel AG rejected Delta for its Astra small car. And each region that used Epsilon modified it, adding cost and making the vehicles just different enough that parts and production systems weren't interchangeable.
"Today's Epsilon is not interbuildable," GM Vice Chairman Robert Lutz admitted this year.
"We call them all Epsilon, but Saabs can't be built in a German Epsilon plant.
"German Epsilons can't be built in a Saab plant. Malibu and G6 couldn't be built in Europe. (Opel) Vectra couldn't be built in the United States."
To remedy the problem, GM has taken considerable autonomy away from regional presidents. In March, GM created the Automotive Product Board to keep an eye on the process. For better or worse, the board is meant to ensure that the variations of the past no longer can occur.
To take advantage of economies in purchasing, vehicles built on global architectures will have identical parts and connecting points under the skin, GM promises. Plug-and-play is the goal.
GM uses the term "architecture" to signify a set of common components, performance characteristics, a common manufacturing process, a range of dimensions and connecting points for key component systems.
Problems with G6
One car -- the G6 -- prompted the new push for truly global design.
GM engineers in North America wanted to create a convertible version of the G6. But they couldn't use the Saab 9-3 convertible as the basis for the G6, even though both are based on Epsilon.
Saab engineers had changed the points that attach the vehicle to the assembly line, GM Chairman Rick Wagoner said at the Geneva auto show in March. The product board will "clean up those kinds of things," Wagoner said.
To coordinate its transformation, GM appointed Jon Lauckner to the newly created post of vice president of global program management on May 1. Lauckner was a global vehicle line executive on the Epsilon program, coordinating development of products for Europe and North America.
GM created Lauckner's position to reduce overlaps in engineering and purchasing and to cut lead times.
Technically, GM's virtual reality centers in different regions, along with increasingly powerful computer connections, will enable teams to collaborate globally to design and engineer vehicles, executives say. That will allow different regions to influence product decisions.
GM's four regions are North America, Europe, Asia Pacific and Latin America/Africa/Middle East.
Borrowing from Opel
Saturn's next wave of North American products will include vehicles built on the Epsilon and Delta small-vehicle fwd architectures, but they will be engineered and styled with the help of Opel in Germany.
Now Opel will develop as many as three models that could be sold under its own name in Europe and as Saturns in North America.
Theta, GM's next-generation sport wagons, will expand with engineering help from GM Daewoo & Technology in South Korea.
"We will be able to build a Buick Epsilon in China, a Saab Epsilon in Korea or the United States," Lutz promises. "Once we get identical parts, we have these enormous savings in worldwide parts buying."
From Automotive News