Oracle of Delphi

Top GM execs tell how they first learned about the company

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BY KATIE MERX • FREE PRESS BUSINESS WRITER • September 21, 2008

As General Motors Corp. prepared for its centennial last week, the Free Press had a chance to talk with its top executives about when they first became aware of the corporation beyond the car brands and how they began their tenures there. Here are their stories:

RICK WAGONER, chairman and CEO

As a child riding the school bus in Richmond, Va., Wagoner rooted for what is now the other team.

But it was through a rivalry with a fellow school-bus rider, and Chevrolet fan, that he became aware of GM as an entity in and of itself.

"When I was a kid, whether I was 10 years old or 8 years old, on the school bus coming home, we used to count whether there were more Fords or Chevrolets," Wagoner recounted for the Free Press this month. "And, um, at that point my father drove Brand X and my friend's father drove a Chevrolet. And one day, there were more Brand X's and my friend said, 'That's not fair. I'm only counting Chevrolet, and not all of General Motors.' I said, 'Well, what are you talking about?' That's when I realized there's more to this than just the brand name on the car."

BOB LUTZ, vice chairman

Lutz recalls noticing the similarities among several car brands in his early childhood and asking his father about it.

"It was in the States," Lutz said. "When I was 3, 4, 5 years old I figured out that Chevrolets, Pontiacs, Buick, Olds and Cadillac all had a certain appearance and actually shared a good many body panels. ... So I asked my father, and my father, a banker, immediately explained the GM hierarchy to me."

Lutz said his father had an incredible respect for GM, though he was one of the only people in his Westchester Country Club circle that didn't drive a GM vehicle.

"Most everybody else had Buicks, Super or Roadmaster, convertible or coupes," Lutz said. "There were a lot of Cadillacs, '41 Cadillacs. 1941 was a particularly good year for American styling. Everything was beautiful ... and when I was at school and being picked up during the war -- there weren't any new cars during the war -- '42 was the last new car you saw and there were very few '42s around, so everybody that had a 'new' car had either a '40 or a '41 and as you were standing by the curb waiting for your mom to pick you up ... if somebody's mom showed up with that, you thought, 'Whoa.' ... Those were sort of the cars that got everyone's attention. So I was very aware of GM."

RAY YOUNG, chief financial officer

The Canadian child of Chinese immigrant parents, Young remembers sometime in elementary school noticing the GM mark of excellence on the footplate of his father's car.

"My parents, being Chinese immigrants, they always like things big," Young said. His first memory of a GM car was of the Buick Wildcat.

By the time he graduated from the University of Chicago with a master's in business administration, he wanted to work for an industrial company.

While he set up interviews with GM, Ford Motor Co. and Procter & Gamble, he was planning to join Nortel, where he had interned. He certainly didn't plan to work for GM.

His opinion was that it was a stodgy company run by an old, homogenous crowd. But the people he interviewed with showed a more diverse face to the company.

Once he was at GM, Young's aspiration became to get a job where he would receive a company car. Said Young, who's waiting for a new Chevrolet Malibu as his next company car: "Sometimes I can't believe I'm the CFO."

ED WELBURN, vice president of global design

Beginning at age 2 1/2 or 3, Welburn began drawing cars and trucks with crayons in his parents' books. Small ovals were cars; bigger ovals were trucks; really big ovals were trucks and construction equipment.

As if that weren't telling enough.

Welburn's dad, now 90, really liked GM cars and when Welburn was 8, took him to the Philadelphia Auto Show, where the future head of GM design saw the Cadillac Cyclone Motorama car displayed as if it were floating on a bed of angel hair.

"When I saw that, I said, 'That's what I want to do, design cars for GM,' " Welburn said.

At age 11, he wrote to GM and asked what school courses he needed to take to get a job there. He checked in again during high school to make sure he was on the right path.

If he hadn't worked for GM, Welburn said, he would have gone into fashion. He would never have considered working at another automaker, he said.

Link: http://www.freep.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article...ESS01/809210415

Edited by Pontiac Custom-S
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Lutz recalls noticing the similarities among several car brands in his early childhood and asking his father about it.

So that's where he got the badge engineering idea? Zeta, Kappa etc. I remember when he 1st came to GM, no more Badge Engineering was his rallying cry. Oh well.

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So that's where he got the badge engineering idea? Zeta, Kappa etc. I remember when he 1st came to GM, no more Badge Engineering was his rallying cry. Oh well.

Solstice and Sky don't share any body panels, IIRC. The Lambdas are well differentiated. Epsilon cars don't share body panels. G8 only shares them with another car that's not sold here.

Really, aside from the CSVs and G3, G5, and Torrent, along with the big trucks, most stuff is pretty well differentiated.

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What does "Zeta, Kappa, etc" have to do with "badge engineering" ?

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Daewoo G2X, Opel GT, Saturn Sky, all badge engineered. Same with the many iterations of the Zeta cars, and please don't tell me because they aren't in the same market that they are not badged engineered, because they are.

Edited by Pontiac Custom-S
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Daewoo G2X, Opel GT, Saturn Sky, all badge engineered. Same with the many iterations of the Zeta cars, and please don't tell me because they aren't in the same market that they are not badged engineered, because they are.

What company doesn't do that? Do you have any idea how expensive it is to make each one totally different for each market?

Essentially what you're saying is that all BMW's are just badge-engineered versions of BMWs sold elsewhere, but because they are all sold under the BMW nameplate they aren't badge engineered. Basically, you're saying if the G8 came here as a Holden Commodore, and was sold everywhere else as a Holden Commodore instead of all the other nameplates, it wouldn't be badge engineered, but because the various models have different fascias in some cases and have different names, they are badge-engineered. Wow, just wow.

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If GM were building all different versions for different countries in every instance, all I would be reading is 'what a stupid waste of money they don't have!'.

My, but the political threads are doing a lot to show the consistancy of logic around here.

I cannot recall when I first learned of GM, perhaps momma read me sales brochures as a baby.

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Daewoo G2X, Opel GT, Saturn Sky, all badge engineered. Same with the many iterations of the Zeta cars, and please don't tell me because they aren't in the same market that they are not badged engineered, because they are.

So? Who said they weren't badge-engineered? Nothing wrong with it when models are badge engineered across different markets. It's absurd, though, when they are badge engineered in the same market...i.e. a G3 in a Pontiac dealer cross the street from the Aveo at the Chevy dealer.

Or are you too thick to see the difference?

Edited by moltar
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So? Who said they weren't badge-engineered? Nothing wrong with it when models are badge engineered across different markets. It's absurd, though, when they are badge engineered in the same market...i.e. a G3 in a Pontiac dealer cross the street from the Aveo at the Chevy dealer.

Or are you too thick to see the difference?

Thick, me? Do you forget where I work? No I see the difference clearly, however Lutz said when he 1st came to GM that it would all stop, some people in GM took him for his word. There are those inside GM that want exactly what Northstar said, but at a more base approach, they want all platforms to be sold under the GM nameplate, so instead of 4 different versions of Kappa, you would sell only one, but that one to the whole world, for instance, the car would be called a GM Kappa, GM Zeta, GM Delta II, etc. There would be no more brands there would only be GM selling cars under the GM nameplate. I think after Lutz leaves, you may actually see this happen, if the economy stays the way it is.

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>>"Lutz said when he 1st came to GM that it would all stop, some people in GM took him for his word."<<

And his word was that no platform/model would ever be duplicated in separate markets worldwide? Some people read too far into a basic concept.

The utter lunacy of dumping all brand names and selling under the "GM" nameplate boggles the mind. The exact opposite has been what's missing for decades. It's like Proctor and Gamble dumping 'Mr. Clean', 'Dunkin Donuts' & 'Febreze' to call everything 'P&G'. :wacko:

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So that's where he got the badge engineering idea? Zeta, Kappa etc. I remember when he 1st came to GM, no more Badge Engineering was his rallying cry. Oh well.

Okay, first I thought Lutz response was just a well rehearsed PR piece to ready us for the bland-different grille, same body FWD barrage of Opel clones that we'll now be getting. Same with Wagoner and his "It's more than just a brand comment."

But now I see how ridiculous your comment made that seem.

How do you consider the Sky and Solstice to be badge engineering? How are ANY of the Zeta vehicles badge engineered? The CTS certainly isn't like the G8 and the G8 is certainly miles away from the Camaro and 'heritage inspired' Impala that was on its way.

Seriously, you sit there at an arm of GM that designs Chevrolets to look like Daewoos (Intentionally, none-the-less) Insignias that ARE badge engineered as Saturns, that apparently look too much like Buicks and 2 Saabs that are the same size and same price, yet different entities entirely?!?!

If ever there was badge engineering at GM outside of trucks, GME is where it's at.

Then again, everything from your shores (out of GM anyway) is so damn generic and forgettable, who could tell?

Edited by FUTURE_OF_GM
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Daewoo G2X, Opel GT, Saturn Sky, all badge engineered. Same with the many iterations of the Zeta cars, and please don't tell me because they aren't in the same market that they are not badged engineered, because they are.

They're not badge engineered, because they're not in the same market.

Are you advocating against your stance on a global GM?

Typical hypocrisy... Again, from an arm of the company that sells the EXACT same thing under both Opel and Vauxhall.

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Thick, me? Do you forget where I work? No I see the difference clearly, however Lutz said when he 1st came to GM that it would all stop, some people in GM took him for his word. There are those inside GM that want exactly what Northstar said, but at a more base approach, they want all platforms to be sold under the GM nameplate, so instead of 4 different versions of Kappa, you would sell only one, but that one to the whole world, for instance, the car would be called a GM Kappa, GM Zeta, GM Delta II, etc. There would be no more brands there would only be GM selling cars under the GM nameplate. I think after Lutz leaves, you may actually see this happen, if the economy stays the way it is.

Wow...

And I thought those in charge of GM were ignorant now.

What a dumb f*cking idea.

Seriously, you guys have really outdone yourselves with this one.

Then again, with the way this industry is heading (appliance only, that by GM's own admittance will drive themselves for the sake of "the greater good") I guess that might make A LITTLE sense... But it'll still fail.

Edited by FUTURE_OF_GM
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How do you consider the Sky and Solstice to be badge engineering? How are ANY of the Zeta vehicles badge engineered? The CTS certainly isn't like the G8 and the G8 is certainly miles away from the Camaro and 'heritage inspired' Impala that was on its way.

The Sky and Solstice are platform mates, not badge engineered. But the Sky, Opel GT, and Daewoo whatever are.

The CTS isn't Zeta (it's Sigma).

Some Zetas are badge engineered across multiple markets--i.e. the Holden Commodore exists as a Pontiac G8, Chevy Lumina, etc but in different markets., likewise for the Holden Statesman--it's a Buick Park Avenue a China, a Chevy Caprice in the Middle East, and a Daewoo in SK.

Nothing wrong with badge engineering across markets. It's bad when the badge engineering is within a single market, like the G3 and G5 in NA simultaneously with the Aveo and Cobalt. See the difference?

So many posters seem to be incapable of understanding the difference between badge engineering and platform sharing.

Badge engineering occurs when the car is given a different brand and/or name, with trivial styling differences (usually grille and taillights) and little or no interior differences. G3 and Aveo. Commodore and G8. Dodge Neon and Plymouth Neon (a particularlly extreme example). Sierra and Silverado (though the differentiation is more with this generation than previously). The U-vans. Torrent and Equinox. Nothing wrong with badge engineering across different markets. It's when it is within the same market that it becomes egregious.

Platform sharing occurs when a number of models are built across brands (or within the same brand) with shared dirty bits underneath, and often the wheelbase and other hard point dimensions... Malibu, Aura, G6 and Vectra. LaCrosse, Grand Prix, and Impala. Sky and Solstice. The Lambdas. Equinox and Vue. ES and Camry. Usually no sheetmetal is shared, though windshields many be. In the past, GM shared entire greenhouses on some platform shared models (like the B-bodies of old), but in recent years (like with the W-bodies), each brand gets completely unique metal.

Make sense??

Edited by moltar
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