NINETY EIGHT REGENCY

GM officials take time to Cruze

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GM officials take time to Cruze

Execs test-drive new cars and the competition, offer candid evaluations

BY Scott Burgess / The Detroit News

After test driving the Chevrolet Cruze and other promising vehicles in recent weeks, General Motors Co. executives Wednesday predicted a continued rise in sales for the troubled automaker.

"We expect to increase our sales next month and the month after that," said Mark Reuss, president of General Motors North America, after tooling around in the Cruze outside of Ann Arbor. "We can't control how many vehicles the market sells, but we can continue to sell more cars."

Reuss and other top executives meet weekly outside Ann Arbor for what they call Knothole Rides. They test drive new GM vehicles and their competition and then offer frank assessments to vehicle line executives and chief engineers.

These rides -- and their critiques -- have become even more important as GM prepares to launch a series of essential vehicles in the coming months.

"They have all got to be home runs," said Tom Stephens, GM's vice chairman, global product operations. "And we're going to keep enhancing these vehicles through their life cycle. You should see some of the improvements we'll have for (the Cruze) for 2013."

GM will roll out new heavy-duty trucks and will launch the midsize Buick Regal and compact Chevrolet Cruze, both vehicles that could help re-establish the automaker known for trucks and SUVs as a carmaker.

In November comes the long-awaited electric Chevrolet Volt with a range-extending gas engine, which Stephens called GM's "highest-profile launch of the year."

But on Wednesday, executives were focused on the Cruze, a compact car that arrives in dealerships in September and is designed to outperform the top-selling Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla.

"We have never really built good small cars," Reuss said. "But we are now."

Gary Altman, Cruze chief engineer, said the discussions at these rides are frank and sincere.

"If there is something wrong, they'll let you know, and you fix it right away," Altman said.

While driving a Cobalt, Karl Stracke, vice president of global vehicle engineering, was blunt: "Look at this car, it's horrible. How did this get through so many people."

But such candid evaluations have helped the automaker develop new entries -- the Chevrolet Malibu, Buick LaCrosse and Chevrolet Equinox, all of which have been critically acclaimed and well received by consumers.

"The mission is simple and clear: design, build and sell the very best," said Terry Woychowski, vice president, global vehicle program management.

The group is even willing to take advice from outside sources. On a previous Cruze drive, Woychowski called his 17-year-old daughter to meet him and offer advice.

"She had lots of great insight," he said. "I need her, and here she was teaching me things about the car."

While flying down a bumpy road in a Cruze, Sheri Hickok, director of global noise and vibration, purposely hit as many bumps as possible to listen to any noise infiltrating the cabin.

"You can have two vehicles that ride exactly the same, but if one has a solid sound and the other one has high-pitched squeaks and rattles, people will think the quieter car has a better ride," she said.

"I'm very pleased with the improvements since the last drive. There were some wind noise issues that seem to have been fixed."

The final of four test drives during the development of new vehicles comes as the cars are ready for dealerships.

The group is keenly aware that every auto manufacturer will continue to improve their small cars. While the Honda Civic is the benchmark GM wants to pass, it knows Honda will bring out a new Civic as early as next year as a 2012 model.

While looking over his notes, Stephens said the Cruze's ride and handling bettered the current Civic.

But Reuss, standing nearby, noted, "We've got to beat the next generation."

From The Detroit News: http://detnews.com/article/20100513/AUTO01/5130376/1148/auto01/GM-officials-take-time-to-Cruze#ixzz0noOUi0Tn

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GM has car people try out the products

'To see what we have to do to beat' rivals, N. American chief Reuss says

BY MARK PHELAN

FREE PRESS AUTO CRITIC

Nobody ever designed a great car in a conference room, but GM's leaders behaved as if they could for a generation.

"A bunch of us realized we need to have the true car people looking at our cars and the competition to see what we have to do to beat them," GM North America President Mark Reuss said Wednesday.

Having eight to 10 of the company's top engineers and executives spend several hours a week actually driving GM's future vehicles and their competition was unthinkable at pre-bankruptcy GM.

Corporate leadership spent most of its time worried about generating enough money today to pay tomorrow's retirement and health care bills. In a business where developing a product takes years, GM behaved as if long-term planning were predicting the next quarter's financial results, not figuring out how to build a car that would outdo Toyota three years from now.

To change that, Reuss instituted weekly "knothole drives" at which the company's top engineers would figure out where GM's upcoming vehicles stood and how to make them better.

The name came from Reuss' idea that every new GM vehicle would have to pass through "a small knothole of excellence" and intense scrutiny.

"This is the fun part of what we do," GM Vice Chairman Tom Stephens said as he began a drive to test the Chevrolet Cruze against the Toyota Corolla, Honda Civic and Mazda 3.

"Today, we try to do the 5% that's the difference between being competitive and winning. I have no interest in being competitive. I want to be the very best. This is why I went to engineering school."

Through April, GM sales are up 14%, while industry sales are up 16.7%. That caused GM's market share to dip slightly this year, to 18.7%.

After driving the cars over winding roads near Ann Arbor, Reuss declared: "I feel really good. This car is a watershed for us. GM is around 20% market share (in May) without a (good) small car. The opportunity we have is huge."

At the end of the day, the Knothole Gang had a list of areas in which the Cruze needs improvement.

"The transmission calibration needs more work," Stephens said. "The idle quality needs to be smoother. I like the chassis refinement, steering feel, quiet, ride and power. We just need a couple more things and we'll be best in segment."

The post-drive meeting in a parking lot on a cold, windy day embodied the last year's changes at GM, development engineer Nichole Dean said.

"When top management takes half a day out of their schedule every week to drive our cars, you can tell they're serious about being winners. We feel that."

link:

http://www.freep.com/article/20100513/COL14/5130403/1331/business01/GM-has-car-people-try-out-the-products

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67impss    89

What a difference pre/post bankruptcy I really liked this quote

"A bunch of us realized we need to have the true car people looking at our cars and the competition to see what we have to do to beat them," GM North America President Mark Reuss said Wednesday.

I'm thinking that Mark Reuss may be able to fill Big Bob Lutz's shoes (not personality) and GM actually letting engineers do their jobs well thats a breath of fresh air!

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hyperv6    774

Mark is continuing many of the good things Lutz started that I had hoped he would. He is of the similar mind set as Bob and let the Warren gang do their jobs with out their hands tied.

I also hope Mark will speak up and stand firm for what he wants with the board. This will be important to him and any new product. I hope he is a fighter for what he believes.

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GXT    11

While driving a Cobalt, Karl Stracke, vice president of global vehicle engineering, was blunt: "Look at this car, it's horrible. How did this get through so many people."

I can't believe he actually said that. Not even "average", but "horrible"!

Take that Cobalt owners. :deadhorse:

Ah, seems like only yesterday that the Cobalt was the ultimate car that was destined to turn GM around.

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smk4565    350

"We have never really built good small cars," Reuss said. "But we are now."

While driving a Cobalt, Karl Stracke, vice president of global vehicle engineering, was blunt: "Look at this car, it's horrible. How did this get through so many people."

Those are pretty telling statements, at least they realize what garbage their previous small cars have been. But at the same time, when the Cobalt came out, they said the same thing, how the Cavalier was horrible, and the Cobalt would rival the Corolla and Civic. The Cobalt failed just like everything else before it. Since GM has never built a good small car, I am still skeptical that they will jump to the head of the class with the Cruze and ATS. They said the Malibu would beat the Camry and Accord and the Malibu is pretty much dead in the water at this point. I do like that Ruess said they have to beat the next generation Civic, they need to aim high.

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hyperv6    774

Just to note the group that GM assembled of Camaro fans for feed back is still together and will be brought together soon for more feedback on future Camaro ideas.

GM had brought them together several times and plan to keep them working on future feedback for the car.

Some of the soon to be seen changes are a result of their past feedback.

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RjION    59

i would be more than happy to have them pay me to beat on their cars and offer feedback.......

Not if I have to drive under powered cars like the CRUZE.

Edited by RjION

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