Truck Trend Leader Interview: Dean Perelli, Vehicle Chief Engineer, GM Midsize Crossovers
Growing up in the Detroit suburb of Dearborn, Mich., Dean Perelli's father was an accountant, and young Dean started in that same direction. But besides being good at math, he liked working on cars as a kid. “I used to keep my family’s cars running,” he says. But a year and a half into his accounting studies at Henry Ford Community College, he took a physics class. “I had never taken physics in high school,” he relates, “and I found that it was fun, and I was pretty good at it. So I transferred to Lawrence Technological University to pursue a degree in mechanical engineering. I love mechanical things, working on nuts and bolts projects, and I'm big into dirt bikes.” Perelli earned his mechanical engineering bachelor’s degree from Lawrence Tech in 1985, then went to work in manufacturing development for General Motors. Five years of after-work night school at the University of Michigan earned him a technical MBA in 1990, then he moved to a design release engineering job at GM Truck Engineering. He was promoted to engineering group manager in 1997, vehicle performance manager in 2001 and vehicle chief engineer in 2007. We recently sat down with him at the 2018 Buick Enclave media launch.
Truck Trend: What were the primary objectives of this new Enclave? Dean Perelli: Number one was styling, both interior and exterior, so that people want to come in and buy it. Second was making the cabin environment a great place to converse, so we spent a lot of time making sure that the cabin was very comfortable, quiet and intuitive from behind the wheel. By intuitive, I mean that we put a lot of smart technology into it to ensure that it will be easy to drive with all the latest active and passive safety technologies and a lot of great features such as the rear-vision camera and the available surround-vision camera. We have 17 cameras and ultrasonic sensors to help customers drive in a very safe manner.
Chassis and powertrain? One objective was great ride and handling. The previous Enclave was a great vehicle that did very well in the marketplace. People raved about its ride, and its handling was okay. But the right prescription for this chassis on its all-new architecture with McPherson strut front and five-link rear suspension was challenging for our development group. They put in a lot of isolation and preloaded-valve shock technology, plus continuously variable damping control (CDC) in the Avenir version. Both are very advanced shock technologies that give a soft, supple ride. Yet we also achieved the handling. This vehicle is nimble and fun to drive. It handles well without a lot of roll steer and drives like a much smaller vehicle. We added two inches to the wheelbase but shrunk the turning diameter, and it is 360 to 400 pounds lighter than the previous Enclave, depending on the version. We made improvements throughout the existing V-6 to improve its fuel efficiency, and this nine-speed automatic transmission operates in very efficient modes, almost acting as a CVT.
Interior accommodations? The Enclave is the type of vehicle that customers will take on long vacations, so our goal was to make the seats very comfortable. We spent a lot of time getting the foam and the bolsters and the comfort right. We have an eight-way power seat on the driver side and six-way on the passenger side. Three rows are standard -- two, two and three on the Buick -- and you can fold them down for a flat load floor large enough for a 4 x 8 sheet of plywood.
What were the toughest challenges? Integrating all the latest safety technologies, the infotainment system and the many computers all over the vehicle that have to talk to each other, and the wiring harness bundles are giant for all the wires running around the vehicle. Tying in the electrical system and making sure it is problem free was a challenge that I think the team overcame very well.
Balancing performance vs. efficiency? Sub-seven-second 0-to-60 for a midsize crossover this large is incredible. It has plenty of power to load up completely and effortlessly pull around a 5,000-pound trailer with a 22-foot boat. And we’re also proud of the fuel efficiency, 26 mpg highway with front-wheel-drive. The Driver Information Center gives average fuel economy for the last 25, 50 and 250 miles, and I've heard from other GM people that they been achieving better than 26 mpg on the highway. I think our customers will be absolutely delighted with the fuel economy on long trips.
Competitive advantages? We do a lot of benchmarking of competitive vehicles, and I think the things you’ll find when you compare this vehicle to others are the quietness of its cabin, the isolation of its ride and its overall refinement. Legroom in all three rows is huge, the seat articulation for getting into the third row is best in the industry, and it has a lot of great features -- one of the industry’s best infotainment systems, tri-zone climate control, USB ports in every row, auxiliary power and 120-volt outlets -- and all the latest safety technologies. We also offer a tow/haul mode, and a huge fuel-economy enabler is the all-wheel-drive disconnect that decouples the rear axle and driveline when it’s not needed. The roof rail airbag that goes from the A pillar back to the third row and all the way down with rollover protection is one of the largest in the industry, and I think the center side-seat airbag that prevents the driver and passenger from impacting each other in a side impact is a GM exclusive.
What is your product philosophy? To get the vehicle right for the customer. Trying to keep the cost down while enabling the styling and execution, my focus is to enable the design studio to achieve as close as possible to their vision. Once we start the engineering execution, my goal is focused on the customer, achieving refinement that customers pick up on and appreciate.
And your leadership philosophy? It's all about the team. Every team member has something to contribute, so I'm a big proponent of listening to and receiving everyone’s input to make sure we have our technical experts weighing in, don't repeat mistakes and achieve the best vehicle we possibly can.