View Single Post
Old 09-20-2007, 07:41 AM   #1
Moose's Avatar
Drives: '99 Camaro SS #1392
Join Date: Jun 2006
Location: Newtown, Pa.
Posts: 3,982
Camaro Product Manager - interview

Camaro Product Manager, Cheryl Pilcher

Camaro's engineering and marketing expert,
Cheryl Pilcher.

While there are no longer thousands of people at "Chevrolet Engineering" there are still engineers and hardcore product specialists at Chevrolet. They decide, from an engineering perspective, what a Chevy Camaro needs to be and then, during the design, engineering and development processes, communicate those needs to the "folks over in engineering" along with facilitating communication back, the other way.

Don't kid yourself. This is no easy job. Not only do the people responsible for that task on a car like the Fifth-Generation Camaro need to be skilled engineers (so they can understand, say--how the new car's engine will meet "Bin4 emissions), but they must have marketing experience (so they can understand why a V6 Sport Coupe is the most important model in the line), they need to have excellent communicative and leadership skills (so they interface effectively between Chevrolet and GM's engineering organization), they need to have grace under pressure (so they can keep engineers, who sometimes say, "Those people at Chevy don't know what they need", and the marketing folks, who sometimes say, "Those people in engineering won't give us what we need." all working together effectively) and, last but certainly not least...they need to be Camaro enthusiasts.

The top person at Chevrolet responsible for engineering and product issues related to the new Camaro is Cheryl Pilcher. Not only does she have the engineering credentials, the marketing skills, the communications savvy but, she's worked on Camaros since going to work for GM in 1986 and been smitten with the car the whole time. Does this make her the Camaro Nation's "Wonder Woman"?

That just might be the case.

In the Spring of 2007, the Camaro Homepage staff sat down with Mrs. Pilcher near her office in Detroit, Michigan for a lengthy, comprehensive discussion on the state of the Camaro program.

What follows is the first of this three-part interview.

"Camaro is a sports car. Its buyers are a specific audience. (They) are not folks who will seek-out hybrids."

First question. If you didn't get coffee this morning, this'll wake you right up. What's Chevrolet to do if, by early next decade, V8 performance cars become "undesirable" in a market influenced by the greens' evangelistic advocacy of "global warming" and fuel economy and alternate fuels becoming social/political issues?

Cheryl Pilcher: Camaro is a sports car. Its buyers are a specific audience. (They) are not necessarily folks who will seek-out hybrids, biofuels or things like that.

We're well-aware of fuel economy initiatives and global warming. Any technologies available today, or even technologies that need to be developed; we're working on them.

Again, this is a sports car, so where it's appropriate, I see us applying those technologies but, I don't believe a Camaro is the right place for, say, a hybrid (powertrain). That's just not right.

Now, active fuel management, for fuel economy improvements, or E85, to help us use less of gasoline? Those are things we would consider because they might be right for Camaro.

CHpg: No hybrid powertrain.

CP: (laughs) No hybrids

CHpg: You were born and raised in Michigan?

CP: Yes. My Father worked for General Motors, so I grew up loving cars. We lived in West Bloomfield. I haven't gone very far from my home base.

CHpg: What high school?

CP: Andover High School in Bloomfield Hills.

CHpg: You went to the University of Michigan, and your degree is in?

CP: Mechanical Engineering.

CHpg: ME from the U of M. Minor in anything?

CP: No

CHpg: Girl, I think you minored in "Camaro"

CP: Yeah (laughs) Actually, I should say I "minored in sports cars".

I always loved sports cars. When I graduated from college, the first car I bought was an '86 Trans Am. It wasn't a Camaro but it was as close as you could get. At the time, my Father worked for Pontiac, so it was the right thing to do politically, too. I loved that car.

As I worked in (vehicle) development, I realized: oh my gosh, I'm driving brand new Camaros and Firebirds. Why do I have my own just sitting in my garage? Eventually, I sold that car. I had the luxury of driving development cars all the time. What a dream job!

CHpg: Ok, let's get more into your career at GM. We met at the 1993 Camaro launch but I know you worked on the car before that.

CP: After I graduated from University of Michigan, my first General Motors assignment was F-car Development, a dream assignment.

Chpg: When was that?

CP: 1986. I was at the Milford Proving Ground (GM's 4000-acre test facility, 23 miles west of Detroit), working in the development group. It was an exciting time. We were working on the third-generation (1982-1991) car in maintenance mode, following-up on miscellaneous items, but we knew the 4th-gen car was coming.

I was really interested in aerodynamics and the wind tunnels. As we started on the '93 car, I got the opportunity to work on wind noise. That may sound simple but, because you have such an aerodynamic car, things like outside-mirror wind noise became a big concern.

CHpg: So, when a car has good aero, things that stick out make a much bigger...

CP:...noise. Yeah. It causes people to be able to pinpoint a noise source, so you want a "zero dB mirror"--no noise associated with it.

Also, the windshield wipers for the 4th generation car were an issue. We had to develop what we called "beauty panels"--maybe a misnomer because it was a prominent element forward of the wipers--to help get the airflow, up and over them, so we didn't have turbulence around the wipers causing noise. I did work on drag development, too--all sorts of fun things in the wind tunnel.

I worked on squeaks and rattles, which might seem funny, but they drive customers crazy when they've got an itch or a squeak in the instrument panel or something in the door. I got to work under the hood, on suspension components, on the underbody and all over the interior. It's amazing, all the different noise sources. For example: a stabilizer bar bushing squawk that you hear in colder temperatures. You're trying to figure out what kind of material can we use to stop the noise and yet maintain the suspension performance?

So, it was a great opportunity. I think of those kinds of jobs as: "jack-of-all-trades, expert-in-none." You're a little bit of everything. You're in-touch with the whole car.

So that was my start on Camaro at the Proving Ground.

CHpg: F-car Development on aero and squeaks and rattles. Then what?

CP: I spent about nine years at the Proving Ground. Then, I went to Pontiac on what would become the, all-new, 2000 Bonneville. I got to spend a little time on sedan work. In 1996, I came back to Camaro and worked at Chevrolet as the Assistant Brand Manager for Product.

CHpg: You were working with Scott (Settlemire, formerly, Camaro Assistant Brand Manager for Marketing and now the Director of Chevrolet Shows and Exhibits who continues to guard the fire of the Camaro Nation)

"It was a great opportunity. I think of those kinds of jobs as: 'jack-of-all-trades.' You're in-touch with the whole car."
Image: CHpg Staff.

CP: I remember when we hired Scott Settlemire. No doubt he was the guy for the job. His enthusiasm was beyond apparent. Scott and I were counterparts. I, on the product side, and he, on the marketing side. I learned much from him about Camaro's history.

I worked there from 96 to 98 on some of the minor changes we did for '97, the bigger changes in '98 and on the SS. Shortly after, I, also, started working on the C5 Corvette. That workload kind of took over and I ended-up going on to the C6.

CHpg: What'd you do on Corvette?

CP: Similar position to what I have now. I was the liaison between Chevrolet and engineering, a product manager who helps identify: what content we want in the next generation Corvette? What's most important to those customers? The wonderful thing about Corvette, just like Camaro, is that we get a lot of time with enthusiasts at different events. Nowadays, lots of input from websites...

In Pilcher's time at Chevrolet on the Corvette, she worked on the launch of the 2001 Corvette Z06. Shown is an early production "C5Z" during the car's media launch at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in the Spring of 2000. Image: CHpg Staff.

CHpg: Ya think?!

CP: We get so much good data. It's valuable to hear what people want.

CHpg: When were you at Corvette?

CP: '98 through 2002. We were doing the Z06 launch--C5 Z06--and planning C6.

CHpg: What'd you do after Corvette?

CP: A short stint as the TrailBlazer Marketing Manager. That was a great assignment for an engineer, to work in the marketing arena and understand what goes on behind the scenes with advertising, incentive plans, promotions. That's a benefit of General Motors. It is so large that, if you're an engineer, you get to experience those (different) areas and it was something I wanted to do.

Then, I had some children--twins. I have four-year old twins. A boy and a girl. And then, I have a two-and-a-half-year old little girl. I came back in '05 (to Camaro) and, since we were starting work on the Camaro concept, I was thrilled. That was just the plum assignment in my mind, to work on the car that I had started with.

CHpg: That covers your career and building a family. Now, you're on Camaro, but you don't own a Camaro.

CP: Thatís true. Don't own a Camaro right now. But I can tell you what my favorite is.

CHpg: What?

CP: The '93 Pace Car--the black and white car. I was reflecting this morning why that car has always been my favorite. First of all, I know how much work we put into the '93 F-car. To see it come to fruition was really cool. Then, I love black and white. It's such a great contrast. There was so much put into that Pace Car that made it different than some of the other pace cars we've done. It's just an excellent execution of a pace car. So that's my favorite.

CHpg: Ok, let's turn up the heat a bit. It's still going to be about 24 months before anyone can get a 2009 production unit...

CP: One this point, we've not announced a model year. Right now, we're terming it the "new" Camaro.

CHpg: Let me will be two years before we can get a production version of the new Camaro. Then, you have Mustang, a "retro" exercise which will have been in production for four years. There's gonna be this Challenger--way, way retro--and the Concepts have a kinda-sorta relation to PT Cruiser, Chevy HHRs and the, unfortunately unsuccessful, Chevy SSR.

All these choices, inspired by cars from past. Are you worried this retro stuff might peak before your first Camaro rolls on a sales floor?

CP: There's no doubt that the Concept (Chief Designer) Tom Peters and the design team (styled) is a Camaro. In my mind, that's success. It goes back to some first generation (styling) cues, but it's a contemporary interpretation of them. I call it: an evolutionary design done in a contemporary way.

Older folks, who remember the first generation Camaros and think that was the best time ever, will see it as a positive. Yet, I've gone to auto shows with the Concept Cars and, as I stand around and listen, I've been amazed that a lot of folks in their 20s, they just love it 'cause it's a good lookin' car. They don't remember the '69, but they say, "My God. That's a sexy car. I've gotta have it."

So I'm not concerned. I don't think that Chevrolet is concerned. We don't think of the Concept Car as "retro". It's a much more contemporary interpretation.

The Dodge Challenger Concept Car, the exterior of which is said to be very close to the 2008 Challenger production model.
Image: Chrysler, LLC.

CHpg: I use "retro" figuratively. Tom made it clear in the interview we did with him a year ago that it's "inspired by" the '69 Camaro, so let's say that. The '69 Mustang "inspired" the current Mustang. The '70 Challenger inspires the Challenger

CP: And, that's a very literal interpretation on the Challenger.

CHpg: Indeed. There's little that's visually new on the Dodge.

CP: And, I have no idea what their (Chrysler, LLC) thoughts were behind that car but I suspect that was a purposeful decision on their part.

As Tom Peters elaborated, it is a Camaro we're designing and we can't ignore history, so I think it's important to get the right amount of heritage cues in the car, but it's not a literal interpretation of the '69 Camaro. There may be people disappointed in that, but by far, the majority love the look.

I think there's always going to be a place for "inspired by". It's characteristics each generation that continue on, but not in a literal sense. The Camaro Concept taillamps and the way we've got the four lamps there. It just gives you enough recognition of, yes, this is a Camaro, but it's not very literal. It's important to me, as a Chevrolet member, that people recognize the car as a Camaro. I think it's ok--I think "inspired by" is ok.

The Challenger will be, as the showcar demonstrated, a very literal interpretation of the 1970 Challenger. I think Mustang has different components of its different generations in the current design. The Camaro Concept is probably the least "inspired-by". It seems to have the most newness.

CHpg: You put Camaro past Mustang on the "newness scale"?

CP: I would say so. It has some cues from the 1st Gen car. Overall, it looks like a Camaro but it's done in a really fresh way. I see some Corvette cues, as well--the strong rear quarters--that, to me, is a positive.

CHpg: Camaro is some type of relative of a Corvette,.

CP: Definitely. In some cases we talk about "big brother Corvette". In fact, whether it's technology or styling cues Tom Peters is able to bring to us because of Corvette; there's definitely a relationship and I think there always will be.

CHpg: Camaro almost was the child that ate its mother because, at one time, there was talk of Corvette and Camaro on the same architecture.

CP: I'm glad that that never happened.
Moose is offline   Reply With Quote