Interview: Jeff Luke, GM executive chief engineer, Full-Size and Midsize Trucks
Would you be surprised to learn that Jeff Luke is a transplanted Canadian? He was born into a GM family in Oshawa, Ontario, where his father and assorted uncles, aunts, and cousins worked in GM facilities.
His career began in 1986 as a co-op student at General Motors Institute (now Kettering University) in Flint, Michigan, with work assignments at the Scarborough, Ontario, full-size van plant, where he logically landed following graduation in 1991. He transferred to the Oshawa truck plant in 1993, then, in 1995, to GM Truck and Bus headquarters in Pontiac, Michigan.
In 2004, several promotions and an MBA (from MIT) later, he was named vehicle chief engineer for full-size trucks. Within five more years, he was global chief engineer for full-size trucks and vans. "I've always had a strong pull toward trucks," he says.
At a recent auto show, we asked Luke about his product philosophy.
"My philosophy is to build the number-one truck in the marketplace."
JL: To build the number-one truck, SUV, van, or crossover in the marketplace. The elements of that are quality, reliability, durability, styling, performance, fuel economy, safety, ride, handling, NVH, towing, and hauling capabilities -- all at an affordable price. Each of our brands has a brand promise, and it's my job to deliver each vehicle in accordance with that brand's performance expectations.
TT: How can you realistically do that? How can GM trucks be the best at everything?
JL: That is a very challenging opportunity. We spend much of our time every day working to balance those imperatives. Some people use the term "trade-off," which implies giving something up, but I don't believe in that term. I prefer "balance."
TT: Your competitors say exactly the same thing: They intend to be best at everything.
JL: Our competitors are always up for the match. That's the great thing about competition. I love it.
TT: All of the things that make trucks as good as or better than the competition tend to add cost and weight and work against fast-accelerating Corporate Average Fuel Economy requirements. How can you balance those things and affordability?
JL: The current industry recipe, whether for cars, trucks, or crossovers, is largely internal-combustion engines, six-speed transmissions, and direct injection. But the regulations get more aggressive all the time. So I spend a lot of time thinking about and researching and working on technologies that are cost-effective and don't sub-optimize what makes a truck a truck, including towing, hauling, and interior spaciousness. It's a great time to be in the technical field because there are so many new things that have to be done in order to meet those regulations, both fuel economy and safety. That is my challenge; it's part of my job.
TT: Do you really see a market for midsize pickups in the U.S.?
JL: Oh, yeah, we believe there is a real market for great midsize trucks here in the U.S., and we believe our next Colorado will deliver all the promises I indicated earlier.
In every issue, Truck Trend conducts interviews with people involved in designing, building, and equipping current and future trucks. Have any suggestions for interviews you'd like to see? E-mail us at email@example.com -- Ed.