General Motors' recent action to streamline its product-development process by eliminating 20 executive jobs is being praised within the automaker’s vehicle-engineering ranks.
Nine engineers working at various levels at GM’s Warren Vehicle Engineering Center, Milford Proving Ground, and Pontiac Powertrain Engineering Center were unanimously optimistic when contacted by AEI about the global product-development restructuring, which effectively eliminates two engineering managers from every major vehicle program. The new organization kills the three-tiered program leadership—Vehicle Line Executive (VLE), director, and chief engineer—initiated in 1995.
In the new structure, effective Aug. 1, an executive chief engineer will lead each vehicle program from inception to production and be accountable for product cost, quality, and the competitive set. In the move, GM aims to flatten its PD management structure and reduce administrative overhead. It will not reduce the number of line engineers working on its product programs.
“This is definitely a thumbs-up for us across the product-development arena,” said a veteran body systems engineer who, like his colleagues, requested that his name not be used in this article. Another engineer at the Warren VEC said, “The decision-making process has lost a major obstacle, more like quicksand actually. We can do without the VLEs. Our PD should be faster as a result.”
As part of the restructuring, GM also created the role of Vice President of Product Programs, to be held by Doug Parks. The former head of global electrified vehicle development, Parks will coordinate the efforts of the 12 new executive chief engineers who become his direct reports. He will report to Mary Barra, GM Senior Vice President of Product Development, who has made streamlining the organization a top priority.
“Parks is a no-bullshit engineer who knows how to get the best out of his teams,” a Powertrain engineer told AEI. He is widely respected within GM for his tenure as VLE on the Chevrolet Volt.
The executives whose positions are being eliminated will be reassigned, and the company announced no layoffs are expected as part of the restructuring.
“The realignment reduces complexity and drives single-point accountability for the execution of our vehicle programs,” Barra said in an official statement. “These changes allow the vehicle teams to focus on what they do best – develop industry-leading cars, trucks, and crossovers that delight customers and deliver solid profit margins.”
The new system returns power to the chief engineer—and brings a greater opportunity for early burn-out, some engineers remarked. In the previous system, the VLE was “responsible for the entire operation, to execute the vehicle on time, with excellence, and to generate the profitability that the car line or truck line is supposed to deliver,” said Dave Leone, who served as VLE on the 2013 Cadillac ATS program.
Interviewed by AEI during the ATS media launch in late June, Leone described his job as “essentially overseeing design, engineering, purchasing, manufacturing, and marketing—a lot to keep my eyes on." GM's transition to truly global vehicle architectures, led by the Epsilon midsize car program, greatly expanded the VLE’s responsibilities that are to be handled by GM’s new Executive Chief Engineers going forward.