Surprise accolades are always nice, but it came as no surprise to GM Brazil engineers last October when their boss, Pedro Manuchakian, received the SAE Brasil Award. Presented annually by the organization’s board of directors for outstanding contribution to mobility engineering, the 2008 award was deemed by all who attended the SAE Brasil Congress ceremony to be a perfect match to its recipient.
“It is a very great honor to be recognized like this by your peers,” said Manuchakian, Vice President of Engineering of GM Latin America, Africa and the Middle East (LAAM). His 38-year GM career has paralleled the rise of GM in South America’s largest country and biggest vehicle market.
Colleagues including GM’s head of global vehicle engineering Jim Queen consider him to be an engineer’s engineer who is people-focused and devoted to supporting his teams. They are delighted to note the long list of Manuchakian’s achievements. Among the highlights, he was the first director of the Cruz Alta proving ground, spearheading its expansion from “a little garage on farm land” into today’s 12 million m² (3000 acre) world-class development and testing complex.
Educated as a mechanical and production engineer, he led development and validation of many GM vehicles for the domestic and Latin American markets, and successfully integrated GM Brasil into GM’s global vehicle development network. And earlier this year, Manuchakian proudly promoted Fabíola Galera Rogano to be LAAM’s first female engineering director.
Capability over capacity
Every auto engineer dreams to reach the pinnacle of his or her career when the market is strong. For most veteran engineers, such a dream combination will remain elusive during the current economic recession. But amid GM’s dire straits, its South American operations were a bright spot through the end of first quarter this year.
In Brazil, where Chevrolet is one of the hottest brands and competes with VW and Fiat for market leadership, total industry sales of new vehicles (including trucks and buses) increased 17% in March compared with the same period in ’08.
GM has invested nearly $1 billion through 2013 to strengthen its market presence in Brazil and other major South American markets. According to Manuchakian, GM continues to add state-of-the-art capabilities to the Cruz Alta facility located in Indaiatuba, 110 km (68 mi) from São Paulo. Likewise it is expanding the technical and design centers in Sao Caetano do Sul. The design center itself is tripling in size to 9200 m² (99,000 ft²) and its staff is more than doubling to nearly 200.
The facilities investments are in order to keep pace with a dramatic renewal of LAAM’s product portfolio through 2012. Some 15 new vehicles are in the launch pipeline for the South American region.
Beginning in 2012, GM Brazil also will become the center of development for compact pickup trucks slated for global production. (Development of the full-size T900 successors aimed primarily at North America will remain in the U.S.) As a result of this growth and increased workload, Manuchakian has had to significantly beef up his engineering staffs.
“We grew from 2005 to 2008, adding approximately 500 engineers and designers during that period,” Manuchakian said. “For ’09, we see a kind of leveling. Our major objective this year is to expand our capability instead of expanding capacity. This year we’re concentrating on training our people for the many programs we are working on.”
Of the flurry of new vehicle programs in the works, by far the most important is Viva, Manuchakian said. On schedule for an August ’09 launch, Viva will include a new family of passenger vehicles including crossovers intended to span the B and C segments.
“The intent of Viva is to replace the current Corsa,” he said. “But we’ll probably keep them running in parallel for a while, perhaps a couple years, because we have a notchback on the Corsa which we don’t have on the Viva right now.” Viva is expected to debut as an entry-level five-door hatchback, the most popular body style in the South American market.
The Viva program represents a $500 million investment, according to industry analysts. Of all the aspects of its development, Manuchakian is most proud of the fact that the entire vehicle design and architecture were developed in Brazil. Ditto for engineering and manufacturing.
“Bumper to bumper, it’s been our program. This is where we’ve applied all of GM’s global learnings and all the global vehicle development processes,” he explained.
Those learnings have been incorporated progressively since 2000, as GM Brazil steadily integrated into the global P.D. network. Manuchakian credits two vehicle programs, the Chevrolet Meriva and Vectra GT, both based on Opel models, as being key steps in validating the organization’s global design, engineering, and manufacturing readiness. He said Meriva and the GT paved the way for Viva and the tidal wave of new vehicle programs to launch in the next five years.
A hint of the Viva architecture’s bandwidth is the GPiX compact crossover concept, unveiled at last year’s São Paulo auto show. GPiX was developed entirely in Brazil and targets Ford's popular EcoSport small crossover. The GM vehicle will be built in Brazil and Argentina and is intended for sale in those countries as well as other emerging markets outside South America.
A diverse, deeper talent pool
While executing Viva’s launch successfully is Manuchakian’s priority for the next three months, he continues to nurture and grow LAAM’s engineering team. He points to Fabíola Galera Rogano’s recent promotion to Director of Chassis, HVAC, and Powertrain Integration Engineering as an example of the new energy and talent that is powering the organization.
Galera Rogano herself explains. “This is a challenge and a big opportunity for me,” she tells AEI. “My degree is in electrical engineering and I started as an E/E when I joined GM in 1995. I was in the development group focusing on wiring harness and radio development. Since then I’ve been moving around within Engineering and learning. This is what really fascinates me.”
Her most recent position prior to the new job was manager of powertrain cooling and HVAC engineering—she had the development group and also the related test facilities at Cruz Alta.
“I’m really excited because my new job gives me the overview of the total vehicle—I’m directly responsible for vehicle performance and the areas the customer feels when he drives the vehicle. My first goal is to learn as much as possible and apply it all to satisfy the customer in every way.”
Manuchakian aims to continue strengthening LAAM’s engineering team, and even after four decades at GM and a top professional award, he shows no signs of slowing down.
“We have much more to do, and this is what I love,” he said.