Three years ago, General Motors showed drawings of a new design for the Chevrolet Equinox, its top-selling crossover, to consumer focus groups. They weren't impressed.
Too bulky. Odd styling. Not compelling enough.
With the compact crossover segment heating up fast in Canada and the United States, the poor feedback stung. Development work was in the early stages, but major changes at that point can still blow the budget for a vehicle program and risk delaying the launch. That could have been especially troublesome for the Canada-made Equinox, given the importance of the segment and with recessionary spending cuts already having forced GM to stretch the current generation's life span well beyond the industry norm.
"Back in the day, we would have probably just kept going," said Mark Cieslak, who had been named chief engineer of the Equinox just four weeks before that. "What we had on paper we felt was not going to win."
Instead, GM -- eager to prove itself as genuinely reborn after bankruptcy and under the leadership of newly minted CEO Mary Barra and product boss Mark Reuss -- decided to change course. The company already was scrambling to fix a botched redesign of the Chevy Malibu amid weak sales and bad reviews, and the Equinox was more important to get right, even though sales of the aging vehicle had continued to be strong.
In contrast to the bean counters' influence on such decisions at old GM, Cieslak said the edict to those on the Equinox team was refreshingly simple: "We're in this to win -- go get it done." They did, and without falling off schedule.