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GM Pitches Competitive Collaboration

GM's Jesse Clark returned to Lehigh Univesity this January to speak with IPD students about an active rear spoiler project.

For finance and economics major Tracey Sandor ’07, the opportunity to complete a market analysis for global auto manufacturer General Motors doesn’t happen too often. Neither does the chance to influence product specs and help design prototypes for active rear spoilers.

But that’s exactly what Sandor, Matt Culik ‘07, and 16 other Lehigh students participating in Lehigh’s Integrated Product Development (IPD) program will do over the course of the next few months.

Three teams of students—each consisting of at least one undergraduate representative from the P.C. Rossin College of Engineering and Applied Science, the College of Business and Economics, and the College of Arts and Science—have been assigned to the GM project. We’ll follow them throughout the semester and the remainder of 2007 as they determine whether active rear spoilers are accessories that shoppers of the GM product line would find appealing.

"IPD is a great opportunity to work with students from design, arts and science and engineering,” said Sandor. “As a finance and economics major, I do tons of projects with students in other business disciplines, but not as many with students outside of the business college."

Culik sees potential in the project as well. “IPD offers us a great experience—the opportunity to work with a legitimate, well-known company,” he added. “And we get to do this while in college, to do this before it really counts.”

GM is a returning partner with the IPD program. Professor John Ochs, the director of Lehigh’s IPD program, says “GM and other IPD sponsors provide Lehigh undergraduates with the opportunity to work as team, to be creative and innovative while working in a business context, in this case the highly competitive, global auto market.”

“While competing against each other, these teams are acutely aware that they are really competing against auto makers from around the world,” he added.

GM is providing the teams a Chevrolet Cobalt that will be located in the Wilbur Powerhouse for their use and modification. And at the end of each semester in IPD, the student teams have the rare opportunity to present the results of their efforts to GM executives at the company’s Detroit, Michigan headquarters.

It’s an undergraduate experience in collaboration you won’t find many other places. IPD has even been honored by the National Collegiate Inventors and Innovators Alliance 11 times since the early 1990’s.

The IPD story is one that GM’s Jesse Clark knows well. As an alumus of Lehigh, Clark was on hand to talk with IPD students this past January during the IPD program’s corporate sponsor fair.

“IPD was a unique team experience that introduced me to the cross-functional diversity prevalent in today’s workplace,” she said. “These challenges allowed each member to better understand their role as a team player and develop a tool belt of teamwork skills to apply throughout their career.”

The 2007 IPD/GM project focuses on the automotive exterior. The students on each of the three IPD teams will combine their skills in marketing, styling, finance, and engineering to create an active rear spoiler.

A few high-end vehicles, like the Porsche Boxster, currently use this technology to achieve high speed stability without interrupting the vehicle’s overall styling theme.

Each of the teams are being tasked with determining whether active spoiler technology will allow GM’s designers more flexibility in creating vehicles that achieve a balance between aesthetic appeal and driving performance. The company ultimately hopes to improve its position in the increasingly competitive automotive industry.

"We're going to do the marketing research and concept generation this spring. We're going to talk with mechanics and dealers to find out who buys the Cobalt and what people are willing to pay for it,” said Sandor. “Then, in the fall, the team will start on a prototype."

--Tom Yencho

Posted on Wednesday, February 28, 2007

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