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  • Interview: Buick Envision Chief Engineers

Interview: Buick Envision Chief Engineers

Visualized: Behind Buick's New Right-Size CUV

Gary Witzenburg
Sep 21, 2016
Photographers: Buick
Judy Brennan and John Cockburn (pronounced "co-burn") have followed different career paths to arrive from different directions at different times to the same mission. Judy, based now at the GM Technical Center in Warren, Michigan, is Global Chief Engineer for Buick's all-new Envision premium compact CUV (crossover utility vehicle). John is Envision's Regional Chief Engineer in Shanghai, China. "While John was in the United States developing the Envision, I was in China working on other programs,” Brennan said. “Then he came to China to launch it, and a year ago I returned here to launch it in the United States."
Photo 2/10   |   2017 Buick Envision Side View
Photo 3/10   |   2017 Buick Envision Judy Brennan
Born in Detroit and raised in nearby Warren and Harson's Island, Michigan, Judy was good in math and science and saw her engineer father as a role model. Then, when she attended a Women in Engineering workshop at Michigan Technological University, she was sold. "After a week of that," she says. "I knew I wanted to be an engineer."
She landed a co-op job with General Motors while pursuing her degree at Michigan State University, and after graduating, she was hired by GM's Fisher Body Division in 1983. A whirlwind series of assignments of increasing responsibility have followed since early stints there in manufacturing engineering and body tool design. She worked in two assembly plants, as a field engineer in Chicago, then in 1988 earned a GM fellowship to attend the Sloan School of Management at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). That led to management jobs that begin with prototype build shop manager, then vehicle engineering group manager, vehicle line director, and vehicle architecture and design studio engineering manager. She then served three years at GM Australia as Holden's first female engineering director, followed by 5 1/2 years leading vehicle programs at GM China.
Photo 4/10   |   2017 Buick Envision Rear Quarter
Photo 5/10   |   2017 Buick Envision John Cockburn
Canadian-born mechanical engineer John was born and raised in Toronto, Ontario, then started in GM's Canadian Parts Fabrication organization following his 1988 graduation from the University of Toronto. He moved up to first-line production supervisor, then transitioned to vehicle assembly, and then chassis engineering at GM Canada's regional product engineering center. He moved to Detroit to work on Corvette and Camaro/Firebird chassis, working up to lead chassis engineer for Corvette. He moved to powertrain and chassis engineering for GM compact cars, which gave him some global experience working with Opel in Germany. Then he moved up to overall vehicle program engineering manager for compact vehicles and then transferred to Europe to lead engineering of the award-winning Opel Zafira.
"And when I was in Europe, we were bubbling up this new global compact SUV,” he relates. Then I was asked to move back to the U.S. to lead the engineering of an all-new dedicated architecture for the premium compact SUV that ultimately became the Envision."
John's passion for cars was solidified as a teen when he rebuilt an old MGB GT sports car at a cousin's shop in Glasgow, Scotland. His cousin said, “If you can get it to run, lad, it's yours to drive." And that sealed the deal: He decided he wanted to be an auto engineer.
Photo 6/10   |   2017 Buick Envision Front
Both recently took time from a busy day in Shanghai to get us up to speed on Envision:
Truck Trend: Does Envision share its platform with any other vehicle?
John Cockburn: No. It's an all-new premium compact SUV architecture with extensive use of high-strength and ultra-high-strength steels and extensive chassis isolation. For me, it was a profound opportunity to get in on the design of a brand-new architecture tailored just for premium compact SUVs.
Truck Trend: What is the powertrain?
Judy Brennan: For ’16, it's a 2.0L turbo with our third-generation six-speed automatic and all-wheel drive. For model year ’17, we've added a 2.5L base engine and front-wheel drive.
TT: Buick has needed a CUV between the three-row Enclave and subcompact Encore.
JC: Our mission was a right-size Buick SUV, partly to give people an option to move down from the larger Enclave, which they continue to love. We wanted something between Encore and Enclave in size, so Envision is 15 inches longer than Encore and 15 inches shorter than Enclave. We also wanted a premium ride and spirited handling, with very aggressive targets. We've advanced our modeling and manufacturing methods to be able to develop a structure that is exemplary for noise and vibration and stiffness, which allowed the chassis engineers to set up outstanding ride and handling. And it absolutely had to be segment-leading in noise, vibration, and harshness, a trademark of Buick, which we also have achieved.
JB: It rides and handles like a sedan but with the amenities and benefits of an SUV. It's agile and responsive, the first crossover with HiPer Strut front suspension.
TT: What is the all-wheel drive system?
JC: It's a twin-clutch system with two rear clutches for instantaneous and anticipatory response. Not just driving-in-the-snow all-wheel drive, it's a really dynamic system that even looks at steering angle inputs as you're driving. On dry pavement, it senses what you're trying to do to give you the best turn-in and corner exiting performance. It can shift torque 100 percent front-to-rear and side-to-side, and it's very good off-road with 200 millimeters of ground clearance.
TT: How did you achieve the very quiet cabin?
JC: It has triple door seals, active noise cancellation, and proprietary acoustic materials. It's a dissipative acoustics system with equivalent performance to a barrier system but about 15 kg lighter. We went after efficient fundamentals to keep the mass as low possible, and it's 200 pounds lighter than the Audi Q5 2.0L turbo all-wheel-drive with more available options.
JB: The interior was a top priority with premium materials. Everything you see and touch from the driver seat—steering wheel, armrests, door trim—is soft, supple, and very premium. We wanted an environment that would give the driver a sense of well-being but was also inclusive for all passengers, with heated and reclining rear seats and tri-zone automatic climate control.
TT: With all the latest driver assistance and safety features?
JB: Yes, it offers the best of GM's active safety technology with a combination of ultrasonic sensors, radars, and cameras. With side blind zone and rear cross-traffic alerts and lane keep assist, it's a very confident vehicle for me as a mom. We also use the seats that vibrate to warn if you're going out of your lane or if it sees imminent crash conditions. My two teenage daughters, who are going through driver training, love the braking and handling and feel very confident in this vehicle.
TT: Since it's assembled in China, should potential buyers be concerned about quality?
JB: Absolutely not. It was designed, engineered and validated by engineers in North America, then revalidated in China. All GM plants, no matter where they are on the globe, adhere strictly to our Global Manufacturing System with the same quality standards.
Photo 7/10   |   2017 Buick Envision Rear

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