It started with consensus.

General Motors Corp. and its GM Daewoo Auto Technology & Co. subsidiary in Korea decided jointly to develop a compact cross/utility vehicle for the Asia/Pacific markets, and that a version would be available for North America and Europe, as well.

For Saturn Corp., that meant a new-generation Vue was on tap.

GM Compact Crossover Vehicle Chief Engineer Bob Reuter tells Ward's that over the course of the program more than 500 engineers from several countries participated in the project – all part of the U.S. auto maker's strategy to leverage its worldwide design and manufacturing resources.

The all-new 5-door CUV, set to make its national sales launch in the U.S. and Canada this month, rides on GM's Global Compact Crossover Architecture (formerly Theta), was co-developed in North America and South Korea and is being built in Mexico, says Mike Allen, vehicle line director.

For North America, production of the new Vue shifts from Saturn's Spring Hill, TN, plant to GM's Ramos Arizpe, Mexico, facility, which already builds the Chevrolet HHR CUV on the same architecture.

Job One was April 16 at the Ramos Arizpe plant, but Saturn officials are cautious not to reveal production numbers, saying only that builds will match market demand. The facility has straight-time capacity for 224,000 units annually, according to Ward's data.

For Asia and Europe, GMDAT is producing the Winstorm for Korea and also its twin, the Chevrolet Captiva, aimed at more than 100 export markets outside North America.

In Australia, GM Holden Ltd. was brought into the engineering mix for a right-hand-drive Holden Captiva version, Allen says.

The first public hint of the coming transcontinental CUV program was the premium Opel Antara, unveiled at the 2005 Frankfurt auto show, which was a modified version of the Winstorm.

Offering a stiffer suspension with European ride and handling characteristics, the upscale Antara pretty much is a carbon copy of the new Vue, with the exception of its powertrain offerings.

Production of the Winstorm launched first at GMDAT's Bupyeong, South Korea, plant and went on sale in Korea last June.

The Chevy Captiva, introduced at the Geneva auto show in 2006, has been available in Europe since September. Its 2.0L 150-hp diesel mill, the first ever for Chevy in Europe, was developed jointly by GM Daewoo, GM Powertrain and Italy's VM Motori SpA.

The Antara in Europe went on sale at the end of 2006 and is built at Bupyeong alongside its stablemates in a contract arrangement with GM's German subsidiary, Adam Opel GmbH, which maintains a strong hand in the program.

Nick Reilly, president-GM Asia/Pacific, told Ward's at the Winstorm/Captiva's sales launch that at full rollout in all export markets, GMDAT expected to sell 150,000 units in the first year, including 28,000 deliveries in Korea.

The logistics of such a worldwide engineering and manufacturing endeavor would be daunting for any auto maker.

But GM has confidence in Allen, a veteran executive whose history with the auto maker started with Buick and encompasses nearly every aspect of the auto maker's global expansion, including competing for the opportunity to build Buicks in China.

Having worked directly under Rudy Schlais in Japan – who was president of GM's China operations in 1994 and then head of GM Asia – and later as international planning director under Lou Hughes in Europe, who oversaw GM's consolidated international operations, Allen has a thorough understanding of the auto maker's vast manufacturing operations.

In 2003, he was appointed vehicle line director for GMDAT products sold in North America, including the Chevy Aveo, Epica and Optra.

He also was assigned responsibility for the next-generation Saturn Vue, as well as the current Vue Green Line hybrid. GM announced in 2006 a 7-year strategy to consolidate its Saturn and Opel brands to provide European-styled vehicles for consumers on both sides of the ocean.

"We wanted to produce a compact (CUV) for Asia/Pacific that could be sold in Europe, and the manufacturing synergies were part of that element in Korea," Allen says.

Due to their different time zones, the program's global engineering teams have been able to work on a tag-team basis around the clock. Allen says conference calls continue to be conducted at 7 p.m. Detroit time, which is 7 a.m. in Korea.

Discussing the proposed project in the beginning with GMDAT's Korean management was no problem, as all spoke English. But working along with Reuter to communicate with Korean-speaking engineers at times was a challenge, Allen says.

And that was only the tip of the iceberg. Numerous interpreters were required and countless hours spent translating English and Korean into German and Spanish and back again.

Then there was supply chain logistics. Decisions had to be made as to which parts would be shipped to Korea and Mexico and what component makers would set up greenfield operations near the manufacturing facilities they served.

Lear Corp., for example, which provides the seats, set up a production joint venture in Korea.

"Several suppliers based in Korea received the (CUV) business based on starting up a business in Mexico," Allen says.

"Others determined it was better for their overall business to locate in Mexico, rather than ship."

Allen says the CUV project confirms that GM's global synergies work. "What it brought together was the best minds in multiple arenas," he says.

The CUV program also demonstrates that GM has "no one mothership of engineers," says Mark Reuss, executive director-global vehicle integration, safety and virtual vehicle development. Reuss says the key to managing GM's global design process is understanding the unique capabilities of each engineering center.

"Not every center is the same. They don't all have the same skill sets," he says. "There's no way we can pretend the North American organization is the same as the one in Brazil or Korea in terms of efficiency and throughput.

"By getting common, you can totally leverage who is being utilized and who isn't, and leverage where knowledge is being retained."

Reuss points to Milford, MI, where GM's vehicle dynamics expertise is, and says a standardized process allows Korean engineers to take advantage of that knowledge the same as their counterparts in Michigan.

Various requirements around the world impact significantly how auto makers approach vehicle engineering. For instance, Reuss points to the need for a brand-specific center stack for the Opel Antara and the need to have diesels in that vehicle for Europe.

"If you don't have a global approach, you won't be able to handle the variation," he says. "You have to think about that up front in order to keep the 'soul' of the car."

In the end, global consensus can be a powerful motivator.

– with David E. Zoia

bmcclellan@wardsauto.com