Behind the scenes, in wind tunnels, design studios, labs and on the test track, General Motors Co. engineers have been working the past few years to develop the all-new 2013 Chevrolet Malibu, which hits the streets this year.
To get the vehicle just right, GM tapped four of its female engineers — and moms, too — to help redesign the Malibu. The popular family car will be sold not just here in the U.S., but around the world in nearly 100 countries.
Women buy slightly more than half of cars in the U.S. and participate in 80 percent of family car-buying decisions, according to industry statistics provided by GM.
It’s not uncommon for automakers to turn to women engineers to help design vehicles, auto industry experts say.
The new Malibu, GM’s first global midsize sedan, has special touches from women engineers who ensured the gamut of child safety seats work in the vehicle, helped boost fuel economy and made it quieter so moms — and dads — can hear their children in the backseat.
And these engineers aren’t who you might expect.
Single mom and aerodynamics development engineer Suzanne “Suzy” Cody and a colleague spent more than 400 hours in the wind tunnel at the Warren Tech Center to reduce drag on the car.
Cody, who sports blue hair and in her spare time laces up roller skates to compete as “Shovey Camaro” with the Bath City Roller Girls, led efforts to make the car more slippery through the wind, which helped gain 2.5 mpg in highway driving over the Malibu’s predecessor.
As a mother of two young boys, Cody said fuel economy is important to her and she knows how important it is to families.
“You’re worried about money, and when you can do small things to a car like shape the exterior, it doesn’t cost the program any money to have the right exterior shape because you do it far enough in advance,” she said. “You can affect the car in a way that doesn’t cost the company any money, but saves the consumer money in the long run.”
The new Malibu also uses new materials to help it earn the Malibu’s quietest title to date.
Materials were placed behind the instrument panels, in panels, doors and in carpet to absorb noise. The Malibu also uses acoustic laminated glass to cut noise from big semis that zip by and interrupt conversations with kids, said Kara Gordon, a vehicle performance engineer for noise and vibration acoustics.
“We’ve got voice-recognition technologies, we’ve got all this stuff we’ve loaded into the car and if it’s not quiet enough, it won’t work,” said Gordon, who spent hours in a lab listening to Malibu noise recordings.
The 2013 Malibu Eco, which features eAssist technology to boost fuel economy to 25 mpg city and 37 mpg highway, is already on sale, with a starting price tag of $25,995. In April, it sold 1,600 units. Additional Malibu models will be on sale later this year.
‘Very safe vehicle’
Child safety engineer Julie Kleinert, a 27-year engineering veteran who tests child safety seats and works to improve interior designs to more easily accommodate them, also tested the air bags in the new Malibu.
The mother and grandmother also volunteers with Safe Kids USA’s Buckle Up to teach people about proper child seat installation.
“Three out of four car seats are not installed correctly,” she noted.
The Malibu’s Vehicle Line Manager, Tracy L. Mack-Askew, has already logged nearly 40,000 air miles in the past year flying back and forth to Kansas to GM’s Fairfax plant to ensure Malibu production happens on time. The Malibu also will be built beginning this summer at GM’s Detroit-Hamtramck assembly plant.
“It’s a very safe vehicle,” said Mack-Askew, a mother of two. “We have 10 standard air bags, the latest and greatest in safety technology.”