GENERAL MOTORS SAYS IT WILL SLASH the number of vehicle and engine architectures over the next decade, while drastically cutting the amount of effort it takes to produce a new vehicle over the near term, as it looks to improve its bottom line and boost its global-market standing.

Mary Barra, senior vice president-global product development, says the goal is to smooth out product-development investment plans, eliminating the hills and valleys caused when GM started and stopped vehicle programs due to swings in the market and its financial troubles.

“Start/stop is a great technology for fuel efficiency, but it's a horrible way to run the product-development business,” she says as part of a presentation on the auto maker's plans for the next three to five years.

“Straight-line investment is critically important. It allows us to have better quality and productivity and get to the market faster.”

Barra points to GM's Lambda-based midsized cross/utility vehicles (GMC Acadia, Buick Enclave, Chevrolet Traverse), saying those models could have been on sale 18 months earlier had it not been for GM's financial problems shutting down the development program at times.

“It creates frustration (for engineers),” she says, adding stopping a program midstream also puts GM well behind the competition in bringing innovations to market.

CEO Dan Akerson says product-development hiccups cost GM $1 billion annually in the past.

To improve efficiency, GM will trim its global vehicle architectures from 24 in 2010 to 14 in 2018.

It also will better utilize those platforms. Last year, those 24 global architectures covered 31% of GM's vehicle volume. The 14 remaining platforms will cover 90% of its volume in 2018.

Engine architectures will be slashed from about 20 now to 10 over the next decade. Barra points to a new family of 1L-1.5L gasoline powerplants that will replace three engine families around the world as one example of consolidation.