General Motors Restructures its Engineering Organization

General Motors has split its Global Vehicle Engineering department into two new departments, Global Product Integrity and Global Vehicle Components and Subsystems. Supplier quality issues will come under the purview of Global Product Integrity in order to ensure that problems like the Chevrolet Cobalt/Saturn ION ignition switch defect doesn’t escape notice, says Mark Reuss, executive vice president for Global Product Development, Purchasing and Supply Chain.

Asked whether the reorganization is the result of the ignition switch recall, Reuss replied, “Yes, it is.”

However, Reuss said that the retirement of John Calabrese, 55, vice president of Global Vehicle Engineering, is not related to the recall. With the reorganization of Calabrese’s department, Ken Kelzer will be vice president of Global Vehicle Components and Subsystems, and Ken Morris will be vice president of Global Product Integrity. This organizational change turned out to be the right opportunity for Calabrese to retire after thirty-three years, Reuss said.

“The vehicles produced over the last four and a half years,” under Calabrese’s leadership, “have won more quality, safety and Consumer Report awards” than ever for GM, Reuss said.

Calabrese was one of several executives listed as a recipient of a 2011 email regarding a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration investigation of a steering problem with the Saturn Ion, a separate issue that critics say is an example of post-bankruptcy GM’s bureaucracy and slow response.

“John’s departure is in no way connected” to the ignition switch recall, Reuss said.

The reorganization adds thirty-five product investigators to GM’s current team of about twenty. Ultimate management responsibility for safety defect issues like the ignition switch problem goes to Morris, at Global Product Integrity, plus recently named Global Vehicle Safety Vice President Jeff Boyer, who reports to Morris.

“This is the result of the car and the market becoming more complex,” Reuss said in a phone conference from Detroit on Tuesday. The reorganization will allow for better cross-system integration.

Now, with fifty-five to sixty product investigators, “we want the same set of expert eyes looking at different safety issues.” These product integration experts “know absolutely the ins and outs of [Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard] compliance.”

Reuss pointed out that recalls of the Chevrolet Volt and the new full-size pickup trucks and SUVs were done voluntarily, without the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Four Volts were recalled for a brake valve defect, and 2013 models were recalled for a software glitch that could cause the electric motor to shut down. More recently, 490,000 full-size GM pickup trucks and sport-utility vehicles were recalled for potential faulty transmission oil coolers.

“We’re going to take the variation out of this [the way GM reacts to potential defects] and how the [GM investigators] will react,” he said. Rather than rely on an organizational response to potential defects, GM needs “the right people and processes” to prevent defects from getting to market, Reuss said.

The product investigators will test pre-production models’ components and systems the same way it has tested such cars for vehicle dynamics, with a small, internal group known as the “knothole.”

“It’s a fundamentally different way we go to market with our cars and trucks,” Reuss said.