More stories related to SAEDETROIT – General Motors Corp. likely will decide by year’s end where to center development of its next small-car platform, a top program manager says.

GM, which earlier this month re-jiggered its executive ranks, shifting Bob Lutz’s responsibilities to global product development, is in the process of redefining its vehicle-engineering game plan and assigning new-vehicle development programs to its worldwide engineering teams. (See related story: Wagoner Takes GMNA Helm)

The auto maker wants to take a more global approach to platform engineering to ensure better economies of scale and greater manufacturing flexibility worldwide. (See related story: Lutz Says GM Finally Global)

Next-generation Delta platform awaits home.

One thing that won’t go away as part of the process is the position of vehicle line executive, says Lori Queen, VLE-small cars.

“One thing that will stay stable is the VLE position,” she says at a special session sponsored by the Original Equipment Supplier Assn. outside the Society of Automotive Engineers exhibition here. (See related story: Trust a Must If Perfect Launch Is Goal)

“GM will stay a function-based organization,” she says. “And as you cut across these (in developing a new vehicle), it gets even more challenging as you go global. There are so many decision to make, I think we’ll retain the (VLE) position.”

Queen, who last oversaw the launch of the Delta-based Chevrolet Cobalt and currently is heading up the development and rollout of the Pontiac Solstice roadster and Chevrolet HHR retro-styled cross/utility, says the next-generation small-car program is up for grabs between North America, Europe (Adam Opel AG) and the Asia/Pacific (GM Daewoo Auto & Technology Co.) region.

A decision on where to engineer the Delta platform successor should come in the second half of this year, Queen says, adding North America has as good a chance as the other two regions to land the program.

“It’s really about workload,” she tells Ward’s. “GM has so many programs planned, its really about figuring out who has the capacity to do what.”

Still to be determined is whether current cycle timing would allow the next-generation small-car platform to be engineered for all three regions at the same time.

“Europe (Astra) and North America (Cobalt) are close together (in terms of where those cars are in their lifecycles) right now,” she says. “But the Asia/Pacific is a bit off. Maybe we’ll end up just doing two (regions) at once, or we may try to do all three.”

Meanwhile, Queen says she is visiting the Wilmington, DE, assembly plant this week to monitor the production launch of the Kappa-based Solstice roadster. She says she will be taking delivery next week of the first of the captured-test-fleet cars that GM insiders will drive to shake out any quality problems. About 150 of the cars will go into the captured test fleet, she says.

GM expects to begin getting Solstices to dealers in October, and Queen says about 5,000-6,000 of the cars will be built this year.

Production of the Saturn Sky version of the roadster will launch in first-quarter 2006 and output of the Kappa-based Opel model will follow later next year. (See related story: Wilmington to Build Opel Roadster)

In discussing product-development trends, Queen says the Solstice is “the poster child for no prototypes.”

Five years ago, a program of this type would have taken 48-52 months for development. “This one is 27-28 months,” she says. “So we went straight to production tools.”

dzoia@primediabusiness.com