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  • Interview: Jully Burau Chief Engineer, GM Full-Size Trucks

Interview: Jully Burau Chief Engineer, GM Full-Size Trucks

Gary Witzenburg
May 29, 2013
Jully Burau knew from childhood that she wanted to work in the auto industry. A hands-on car enthusiast who "always wanted to work on things," she was born on Long Island and raised in western New York, one of three daughters of a district school superintendent.
Photo 2/19   |   Jully Burau 01
Jully left home in 1975 to attend what was then General Motors Institute (now Kettering University) in Flint, Michigan, as a Buick-sponsored co-op student.
Following graduation in 1980, she went to work full-time for Buick. A variety of assignments and promotions led to her current responsibility as chief engineer for GM's full-size pickups. She's married with two adult children, one of whom also works in the auto industry.
Photo 3/19   |   Jully Burau 03
TT: What kinds of work did you do prior to your current job?
JB: I was fortunate to have a number of assignments in engineering and manufacturing, including instrument panels and brake systems, which led to my first opportunity to work with trucks. I worked in validation for a wide range of vehicle systems, was promoted to engineering group manager, then promoted as director in safety and interior. In 2001, after serving as director of safety for all GM products, I moved over to the truck world to become a chief engineer and almost immediately into the launch of the 2003 GMT 800. So I got immersed very quickly.
Photo 4/19   |   2001 2006 Chevrolet Silverado 1500HD
TT: What is your product philosophy?
JB: The competition is tough, which is what makes it so exciting and challenging. We know that customers rely on these vehicles not only for safe transportation, but also as their offices in many cases. They rely on them for their livelihoods, and they're looking for many conveniences. We interact with our customers and get to know them so we know what they want.
TT: If you're going to be able to brag about best power, best towing, and everything else, how do you balance that with fuel economy while retaining capability and affordability?
Photo 8/19   |   2014 Chevrolet Silverado Front Three Quarters
JB: That is what it takes to be a winner in the marketplace, and that just about sums up my job. We touched every part of this truck from the front bumper to the rear bumper in every aspect: mass, aerodynamics, refinement, quality, reliability, and durability as well as performance, fuel economy, safety, and styling. Putting all this together is what I do every day, whether we're tackling specific areas or the whole vehicle.
TT: We've been reading about gram-by-gram "light-weighting" of General Motors vehicles beginning with the Cadillac ATS, but these 2014 pickups were done before that comprehensive process.
JB: I'd like to think that we led the process for light-weighting. We have been at the lower end of each test-weight class, sometimes a weight class below the competition. We have traditionally looked at mass as very key in designing every part because we know how important it is. We use high-strength steel for capability as well as for structure, and we've added quite a bit of aluminum to these trucks with the hoods and engine block. So this is not new to us but something we continue to build upon. Mass is part of our DNA on how we execute products.
Photo 9/19   |   2014 GMC Sierra SLT Rear Left Side View
TT: These trucks don't look that much different from the ones they'll replace, and we don't yet know of any high-tech advancements in them. How do you respond to that?
JB: We believe in building on the strong basis of the trucks we have today, so when we were touching every part from front to back, we were refining them and making them more capable. We've reduced noise and vibration so the cabins are quiet, and the dynamic driving experience is very confident in terms of steering, ride, and handling. The exteriors are evolutionary, but the interiors are all-new with a real focus on function as well as appearance. Infotainment is a key element, the controls are very functional and there's a lot of storage. It's not just how they look, but how they drive and perform -- the whole recipe.
Photo 10/19   |   Jully Burau 02

In every issue, Truck Trend interviews people involved in designing, building, and equipping current and future trucks. Have any suggestions for interviews you'd like to see? Email us at -- Ed Loh



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