The Unobvious Ones is a monthly look at movers and shakers who fly below the radar in the Canadian auto industry.
READING THE CRYSTAL BALL
Craig Couch, product manager of full-size trucks and commercial/fleet operations at General Motors Canada, prioritizes allotment in this country.
“I analyze customer needs and history of what we’ve sold in the past, and how I think the market will change,” he said. Couch determines how many pickups he’ll need to requisition from factories four to five years ahead, “and I need this number of them to be crew cab, this number regular cab, and diesel or [gasoline]. The segment has so many variables.”
Couch works primarily with planning teams in the United States, and “my whole day is meetings.”
In addition to model variants, he also must ensure that Canadian vehicle requirements are taken into account, such as unique technical specifications and heaters that sufficiently warm the rear cabin.
“Police in the U.S. can turn off their daytime running lights but that’s not allowed in Canada, so I have to tell the factory we can’t have that.”
Couch, 57, became a mechanical engineer through a GM program, working at the company’s Oshawa plant and going to school at the General Motors Institute (now Kettering University) in Michigan. He held various roles in all of GM’s Oshawa facilities, from metal forming to quality assessment, before taking his current position 15 years ago.
“I’m defining the future of Canadian product availability, the volumes and packaging and value proposition. I understand how a vehicle is built, how to fix a problem, and the tradeoffs you have to make. The best time for a product decision four years from now is today, because it’s less costly than a change at the last minute.”
MAKING THINGS BETTER ‘OVER AND OVER’ AGAIN
Auto manufacturing needs to be efficient and safe. Those two priorities fall on Ioan Buzdugan at Honda Canada Manufacturing in Alliston, Ont., 100 kilometres north of Toronto, where he’s the engineering lead and equipment safety lead.
“My first responsibility is to improve and streamline engineering in the plant, identifying the best systems and processes and supporting them to be successful. Then I give direction and support on equipment safety. I also help recruit engineering interns and new hires, helping them get training and teaching them to analyze complex problems and come up with solutions.”
The plants have numerous departments and hundreds of engineers, and while Buzdugan regularly walks the factory floor, “I’m only one person and I can only see so much.”
Representatives from the departments come to him with concerns, “and I help them figure out the issues. If I see a better way to do something, or another department does it a different way, I’ll help modify the procedure or find someone who can.”
Buzdugan, 37, studied electrical engineering at the University of Toronto, interned at Honda during his last two years and joined the company in 2008.
His job was installing new equipment and processes for model changes or assembly line updates. “I liked equipment safety and that led to becoming lead safety two years ago, and I’ve been engineering lead for a year.”
Buzdugan credits his communication skills for his success.
“A big part of my job is bringing people to consensus, and I’m able to listen to people and they feel their concerns are heard. I’ve learned people skills, how to deal with someone who has done that job for 30 years and explain why [changes are being made]. It’s a continuous improvement mindset. You make something better, and then you keep making it even better over and over.”