New Paddock Corvette Club New Paddock Corvette Club


Flounders, Anne
1,806 words
1 February 2005
Career World 26
Volume 33; Issue 5; ISSN: 07441002
Copyright (c) 2005 Bell & Howell Information and Learning Company. All rights reserved.

Many people work together to design and build a dream car.

Barbie drove a pink one. Prince sang about a little red one. In the 1960s, it was the automotive star of the TV show Route 66.

The Corvette is a car with a wild and wonderful past. But it is the present and the future of this car that really drive the team behind the newly redesigned 2005 Corvette.

"Everyone remembers their first ride in a Corvette," remarks Tom Peters, the chief designer of the Corvette. "The car is so emotional, and so much passion surrounds it-as opposed to, say, a pickup truck or an SUV or a sedan-it's very special." Automotive designers Sang Yup Lee (start ing) and Tom Peters imagined every design detail on the 2005 Corvette and made them a reality.

The Corvette first hit the road in 1953. Since then, many people at General Motors (GM) have worked to develop the Corvette's sleek design, its powerful engine, and its safety and aerodynamic features.

It's almost impossible to talk to one person who's worked on the car without hearing about the contributions of others. The Corvette is truly created by a team.

"If I took a Corvette C6 apart and put it in the parking lot, piece by piece, and laid it out, would it assemble itself? The answer is no. It took a team to put the Corvette together," says Dorian Tyree, the car's safety and performance engineer. "It took great leadership and vision. I can't say enough about the excitement of working on a car like this."


The team leadership Tyree speaks of comes from Dave Hill, the vehicle line executive and chief engineer. "We're organized like a little car company operating inside big General Motors," explains Hill. "The [departments] we have include design, engineering, manufacturing, purchasing, quality, and marketing. It's my responsibility [to see] that the business runs successfully, satisfies customers, and makes a profit."

Success is determined by producing a great car that sells. Hill makes sure that happens. "It's all about getting people to work together, [having] ideas that are compatible, solving problems, always thinking of the customer and what it would take to delight the customer and exceed their expectations," he says.

What makes a car great? Ask 10 people, and you'll probably get 10 answers. "When people purchase a Corvette, they expect top performance, along with an unusual amount of comfort and sophistication that they don't see in other products," says Hill. Designers and engineers work together to produce a comfortable, sophisticated car that performs well-in terms of both safety and speed.


Peters leads a team of designers who start by drawing sketches of their ideas on both paper and computer.

Sang Yup Lee is a creative designer who imagined details on the 2005 Corvette's exterior and brought them to life through sketches and models. Lee had an early start in sketching cars. "When I was 9 or 10, I saw the [Porsche] 911, and I thought the shape of it was so beautiful," he says. "I went home and started sketching." He admits that his early sketches resembled spaceships more than Corvettes. He went on to earn bachelor's degrees in fine arts and automotive design from the Art Center College of Design in Los Angeles.

Lees focus is the exterior design of the car. He takes into account safety, aerodynamics, and engineering. He begins by researching previous Corvettes and thinking about where he can make improvements.

Is it hard to design a car that's become such an American icon? "My approach is not to do something that's a retro statement," says Peters. He explains that he considers the elements that made the car so successful in the past and then reinterprets them in a fresh way. Building life-size clay models of a car helps designers and engineers perfect the details.

One example of an improvement inspired by older-model Corvettes is the return of the exposed headlamps (replacing the pop-up headlamps), which haven't been a feature on a Corvette since 1962. But they don't look retro. They seem to add a sleek, futuristic look to the car.

Peters explains that the computer tools used to build the cool effects in such movies as Jurassic Park and The Matrix are the same as the ones used to build and animate images of a vehicle. After the sketches, the next step is to sculpt actual-size Corvette models out of clay. That allows designers to work out such details as the shape and feel of the car's knobs and controls.

"There's no substitute for being able to feel and touch and see something three-dimensional, as opposed to on the screen," says Peters of the model cars. "It's moving sculpture. It's rolling sculpture that you can ride in and experience. So that part of it [is] very important to develop by hand."

The designers work diligently on the car's details and make sure that every square inch will deliver speed, safety, and beauty. Once they've hit that perfect combination, the final design is scanned into a computer and sent to engineering and production.


One of the challenges with the new design that Tyree faced as a safety and performance engineer was that the front and rear of the car are shorter than in previous models. The safety team engineered a way to reinforce the car to absorb more of the energy of a crash, even though there was a shorter space between the vehicle's occupant and whatever might hit the car. "[We hope] you won't have to experience what we've engineered in the car, but if you do, the car has a safety cage, and it has crumple zones," Tyree explains.

Tyree and his team need to make sure that the Corvette meets national safety requirements as well as GM's strict safety requirements. The process begins with computer simulations of crashes but also requires repeated crash tests with actual cars.

Can you imagine crashing a new Corvette-on purpose? Tyree makes sure that the car will keep its occupants safe in a crash. "My daughter says, 'You mean, you take a Corvette, and you crash it into the wall?' and I say, 'We have to do that to ensure that we have a safe car for our customers.'"

Peters adds, " [Safety engineers] do computer simulations [the way] we do computer designs, but there's no substitute for taking the real thing and smashing it against the wall or grinding it out full-size. These realworld experiences help give absolute assurances that you're getting what you expect."


Once the new Corvette is designed, engineered, and found roadworthy, it can finally be built (in a factory in Bowling Green, Ky.) and delivered to the public. Each detail is a potential selling point: Not only is the car safe and fast but owners don't need a key to open the door or to start the ignition-each car works with the push of a button.

Selling points are important to marketing manager Nathan Love. He can rattle off the features with no hesitation: 400 horsepower, 0 to 60 in 4.1 seconds, push-button start, flush door handles and headlamps, better gas mileage than the C5 (the last version of the Corvette).
It's Love's job to persuade people to buy a Corvette. Part of that job is getting current Corvette owners interested in buying the new model. He is in close touch with Corvette enthusiast clubs around the country. "That's a big part of the marketing," explains Love. "Word of mouth. These are folks that really, really embrace the Corvette."

Another part of the job is persuading drivers of other sports-car models to give the 2005 Corvette a try. Love's strategy involves developing advertising campaigns and organizing events that allow people to get in the car and try it out. He expects that new Corvette drivers will love the car's looks, handling, and value.


Once a consumer makes the decision to buy the car and take it home, he or she will need to maintain the car and occasionally fix it.

That's where Ralph Sylvester of Southfield, Mich., comes in. Sylvester, 23, is training to become a master service technician in the automotive service educational program at Macomb Community College. Sylvester's love for cars was fueled by a 1987 Corvette that his dad owned. Father and son would change the oil and do minor repairs on the car together. "I live cars," says Sylvester. "I first got into them for fun. Now it's a way of life."

Though he's always loved cars, Sylvester initially thought about a career in computers. By training to be a service technician, he's combining his interests in computers and cars. "Nothing's really mechanical anymore. It's all electronically controlled," he explains.

The Corvette, like all new vehicles these days, is full of high-tech computers-the power train, the body control, the doors. Computers are also used to diagnose engine problems. Much of Sylvester's coursework covers computers and electronics as well as automotive service and maintenance. "You learn tons of stuff in the program," Sylvester says. "From the headlights to the taillights, from the tires to the roof. Everything."

Sylvester loves working on Corvettes but says he rarely sees any with serious problems. It seems that the teamwork done in the early stages of designing and engineering really pays off As Peters points out, "No car can be done by any one or two or three or a handful of individuals, because it is so complex. It takes many people with different talents, experience, and expertise. It's a result of a lot of collaboration. That's how it comes out to be a balanced product." Service technician Ralph Sylvester knows his way around a computer-driven engine.

From those who create the earliest design sketches to the service technicians, everyone on the Corvette team agrees that what's really cool about their job is working together on a product that makes people happy. "We work really hard to delight [people] and exceed their expectations and bring them joy," says Dave Hill. "We're not in the transportation business. We're in the business of fulfilling dreams."

Automotive service technology is a high-tech career that requires good problem-solving skills and a knowledge of electronics and mathematics. Training is available through vocational/technical schools and community colleges.

Copyright Weekly Reader Corporation Feb/Mar 2005

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