truck tales article

2018-5-25 | Chevy New Roads Magazine

Truck Tales

We listen in on a conversation between two generations of Chevrolet engineers as they share work stories—and take a call from Mary Barra.  

Paul Hitch, age 101, spends his days on a coastal island in Georgia, down a quiet road, where pine-scented breezes waft through swaying Spanish moss. But the centenarian didn’t always live such a tranquil life. He had a long and distinguished career as an engineer with General Motors before his retirement in 1978. Hitch began work with GM in 1935, eventually becoming Chevrolet’s chief engineer for trucks, a position he held for more than a decade. He witnessed the transition of trucks from work tools to family-hauling vehicles, the rise of women from trim-shop seamstresses to GM’s leadership positions, and the replacement of some human labor with computer programs.

 

As Chevy Trucks celebrate their own 100th anniversary, Hitch sat down with Eric Stanczak, current chief engineer for full-size trucks at General Motors, to talk shop—one generation of engineers to another.

Knee Pads in the Design Studio

In Hitch’s day, clay models of vehicles were scanned and drawn on aluminum plates 10 feet by 20 feet by engineers working on their hands and knees, wearing knee pads. Hitch asks Stanczak how that process is done today.

 

“How we digitize it is very different,” Stanczak replies. “It’s all done with coordinate measuring machines now. So they basically take points on the surface and a machine digitizes it automatically. So, it knows exactly where that point is in space. Then it takes all those points and it creates that surface on a computer. Now you have a complete, perfect vehicle, visualized on a computer.”

 

The beauty of this system is that the points can be stored and referenced anytime, anywhere, Stanczak says. “We have a lot of collaboration between the different engineering and design centers around the world,” he says. “I tell people the sun never sets on General Motors, and on Chevy engineering specifically.”

 

Hitch says that in his era, the work included buying competitor vehicles, tearing them apart, and laying everything out for study, and he wonders if that practice still holds.

 

“We have an awesome benchmarking activity. Yes, we do,” Stanczak says. “In fact, we tear our competitors’ vehicles down to every last bolt and nut and rivet, and they’re all catalogued, with details of every single part, how much it weighs, what material it’s made of, etc.”

The Details Matter

24 MPG HWY

BEST AVAIL. V8
EPA-EST.

420

HORSEPOWER

12,500 LBS

MAX AVAIL. TOWING

An appreciation for details

Paul Hitch, who turned 101 this year, and Eric Stanczak talk Chevrolet trucks in Savannah, Ga. Hitch worked as Chevrolet’s chief engineer for trucks from 1965 to 1976; Stanczak is General Motors’ current chief engineer for full-size trucks.

Points of Pride

The pair’s conversation was punctuated by a call from General Motors Chief Executive Officer Mary Barra, who was just 15 when Hitch retired.

 

“We are really pleased to be able to talk to you,” Barra says. “For you to be 101 years old and have such a rich history of General Motors and for you to be able to share it with us.”

 

After introductions, Barra asks Hitch about his favorite truck. “1973 was my best truck. It’s still a good truck,” Hitch says proudly of the Chevy pickup. “I had some good engineers, and they did a great job on ride and handling. We hadn’t really done too much development work on ride and handling before. That was the biggest improvement we made.”

 

At the time, pickups were just transitioning from utilitarian work trucks to pleasure vehicles people could get around in. So the emphasis on ride and handling became more important. It’s something the company still focuses on today, Barra tells Hitch.

 

Another innovation Hitch took pride in during his career was the development of the first Blazer in 1969: “We were trying to compete with the Ford Bronco, so we discussed it. I said, ‘Why don’t we just take a Chevrolet pickup, cut the wheel base to 104 inches, marry the pickup box to it, and see what that does?’ 

 

“We put it out to the sales department,” Hitch continues. “They estimated they could sell 300 a year. Pete [Estes, then general manager, Chevrolet] said, ‘Well, go ahead and do it anyway.’ And, that year, we sold 5,000 and we didn’t have enough tooling capacity to make any more. That was one funny, unusual situation.”

Paul Hitch's Truck Timeline

Paul Hitch shares highlights from his 40-year career at General Motors.

1935

Hitch begins work as a General Motors Tech student at the old Martin Parry plant in Indianapolis. GM builds over the old site, resulting in the largest stamping plant in the United States.

1941

Shortly after Pearl Harbor, GM transfers Hitch to the Chevrolet Central Office in Detroit. The following year he’s transferred again, to Cadillac Engineering. In February 1943 he’s commissioned by the U.S. Navy.

1946

Hitch returns to Chevrolet, in Indianapolis. After several years, he’s assigned with a group of engineers to go to Allison Engineering to plan the building of the Allison J-35 jet engine in New York. When it’s completed, he returns to Chevrolet in Detroit.

Hitch returns to Chevrolet, in Indianapolis. After several years, he’s assigned with a group of engineers to go to Allison Engineering to plan the building of the Allison J-35 jet engine in New York. When it’s completed, he returns to Chevrolet in Detroit.

1955

Hitch’s job moves to the new Chevrolet Engineering Building at the General Motors Technical Center in Warren, Mich., where he remains until 1976.

1976

GM asks Hitch to go to Vauxhall Motors in Luton, England, as its director of engineering. Hitch and his wife, Mildred, move to England. He retires there in 1978, and the couple move to Savannah, Ga.

Market Research at the Junk Pile

“We have values inside the company that we live by every day, and one of them is putting the customer at the center of everything we do,” Stanczak says. “Tell me a little bit about how you thought about the customer when you were designing and engineering trucks.”

 

The sales and service department didn’t interact much with the engineers during the first part of his career, Hitch says, so they had to get creative to find out what was and wasn’t working for customers.

 

“I would ask my fellas any time they go by a dealership to stop by and look at the junk pile. What’s in the junk pile? So that was one source of [finding] problems that we had,” Hitch tells Stanczak. “What changed is that the philosophy moved from, ‘Hey, let’s not tell them about it, we can handle it,’ to, ‘Maybe it’s better if the engineers work on it?’”

 

Former Chevrolet Chief Engineer Ed Cole changed it, Hitch says. Cole’s “refreshing” management style generated excitement among the engineers and throughout the organization, Hitch tells Stanczak, and the dealers really took to him. “[Cole] was a great man to work for,” Hitch says. “He was hands-on. He would go to the drafting rooms. We would go over drawings.” That gave engineers confidence that, when Cole gave direction, he knew what was going on.

 

“One of our executive chief engineers who works on the next generation trucks, Mr. Tim Herrick, has a phrase that I really like, and I use it in the right situation,” Stanczak says. “He says, ‘Those of us working in the company today, we stand on the shoulders of giants.’ And I would say thank you because I think I’m standing on your shoulders in my position today. I’ve really enjoyed it—thank you very much.”

 

STORY: LESLIE ELLIS/PHOTOGRAPHY: ROBERT ADAMO

*The Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price excludes destination freight charge, tax, title, license, dealer fees and optional equipment. Click here to see all Chevrolet vehicles' destination freight charges.

  • EPA-estimated 18 MPG city/24 highway with available 5.3L V8 eAssist engine (2WD). Class is half-ton full-size pickups.

  • Requires Crew Cab Short Box 2WD with available V6 engine. These maximum payload ratings are intended for comparison purposes only. Before you buy a vehicle or use it to haul people or cargo, carefully review the Vehicle Loading section of the Owner’s Manual and check the carrying capacity of your specific vehicle on the label on the inside of the driver door jamb.

  • With available 6.2L V8 engine.

  • Silverado 1500 LTZ 2WD Double Cab Standard Box or Crew Cab Short Box with available 6.2L V8 engine and Max Trailering Package. Before you buy a vehicle or use it for trailering, carefully review the Trailering section of the Owner’s Manual. The weight of passengers, cargo and options or accessories may reduce the amount you can tow. Class is half-ton full-size pickups.

  • The Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price excludes destination freight charge, tax, title, license, dealer fees and optional equipment. Click here to see all Chevrolet vehicles' destination freight charges.

  • Dependability based on longevity: 1987 – July 2017 full-size pickup registrations.

  • Dependability based on longevity: 1987–July 2017 full-size pickup registrations.

  • With 5.3L EcoTec3 V8 engine. Based on GM Large SUV segment and EPA-estimated MPG highway: 23 (2WD), 22 (4WD).

  • EPA-estimated MPG city/highway: Sonic with 1.8L engine and 5-speed manual transmission 26/35; with 1.8L engine and 6-speed automatic transmission 25/34; with 1.4L engine and 6-speed manual transmission 28/37; with 1.4L engine and 6-speed automatic transmission 27/35.

  • EPA-estimated 53-mile range based on 106 MPGe combined city/highway (electric); 367-mile extended range based on 42 MPG combined city/highway (gas). Your actual range may vary based on several factors, including temperature, terrain and driving technique.

  • The Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price excludes destination freight charge, tax, title, license, dealer fees and optional equipment. Click here to see all Chevrolet vehicles' destination freight charges.

  • MyLink functionality varies by model. Full functionality requires compatible Bluetooth and smartphone, and USB connectivity for some devices.

  • Do not use summer-only tires in winter conditions, as it would adversely affect vehicle safety, performance and durability. Use only GM-approved tire and wheel combinations. Unapproved combinations may change the vehicle’s performance characteristics. For important tire and wheel information, go to my.chevrolet.com/learn/tires or see your dealer.

  • With rear seats folded. Cargo and load capacity limited by weight and distribution

  • EPA-estimated 29 MPG city/39 highway with 5-speed manual transmission and 30 MPG city/38 highway with available Continuously Variable Transmission

  • EPA-estimated 29 MPG city/38 highway with 5-speed manual transmission and 30 MPG city/38 highway with available Continuously Variable Transmission.

  • EPA estimated with 3.6L V6 engine.

  • Cargo and load capacity limited by weight and distribution.

  • EPA estimated with 3.6L V6 engine

  • Chevrolet Infotainment System functionality varies by model. Full functionality requires compatible Bluetooth and smartphone, and USB connectivity for some devices.

  • Vehicle user interface is a product of Apple and its terms and privacy statements apply. Requires compatible iPhone and data plan rates apply. Apple CarPlay, Siri, iPhone and iTunes are trademarks for Apple Inc, registered in the U.S. and other countries.

  • Always use seat belts and child restraints. Children are safer when properly secured in a rear seat in the appropriate child restraint. See the Owner’s Manual for more information.

  • EPA estimate for Sonic with available 6-speed automatic transmission.

  • With rear seats folded. Cargo and load capacity limited by weight and distribution.

  • Always use seat belts and child restraints. Children are safer when properly secured in a rear seat in the appropriate child restraint. See your vehicle Owner’s Manual for more information.

  • Connected Services include navigation services and Remote Access Plan, and 1 month/3 GB of 4G LTE data (whichever comes first) from vehicle delivery date. Services are subject to User Terms and limitations. Certain services require working electrical system, cell service and GPS signals. OnStar links to emergency services. Visit onstar.com for more details.

  • Model year 2018 and newer vehicles include: 1 month of OnStar Safety & Security Plan and 1 month of Chevrolet Connected Services which include navigation services, Remote Access Plan and 1 month or 3 gigabytes of 4G LTE data (whichever comes first) from vehicle delivery date. Services are subject to user terms and limitations. Visit onstar.com for more details. Data plans offered by AT&T. Availability subject to change.

  • Connected Services include navigation services and Remote Access Plan, and 1 month/3 GB of 4G LTE data (whichever comes first) from vehicle delivery date. Data plan offered by AT&T. Services subject to user terms and limitations. Certain services require working electrical system, cell service, and GPS signal. OnStar links to emergency services.  Visit onstar.com for more details.

  • If you decide to continue service after your trial, the subscription plan you choose will automatically renew thereafter and you will be charged according to your chosen payment method at then-current rates. Fees and taxes apply. To cancel you must call SiriusXM at 1-866-635-2349. See SiriusXM Customer Agreement for complete terms at siriusxm.com. All fees and programming subject to change. Sirius, XM, SiriusXM and all related marks and logos are trademarks of Sirius XM Radio Inc.

  • With rear seats folded. Cargo and load capacity limited by weight and distribution.

  • EPA-estimated 238-mile EV range. Your actual range may vary based on several factors including temperature, terrain, and driving technique.

  • With second row seats folded flat. Cargo and load capacity limited by weight and distribution.

  • EPA-estimated 238-mile EV range. Your actual range may vary based on several factors including temperature, terrain, and conditions.

  • Read your vehicle owner's manual for important feature limitations and information.

  • Read your vehicle owner's manual for important feature limitations and information.

  • EPA-estimated MPG highway for Cruze Sedan with 1.4L 4-cylinder engine and transmission.

  • With rear seats folded. Cargo and load capacity limited by weight and distribution.

  • Read the vehicle owner's manual for important feature limitations and information.

  • If you decide to continue service after your trial, your selected subscription plan will automatically renew thereafter. You will be charged at then-current rates. Fees and taxes apply. To cancel you must call SiriusXM at 1-866-635-2349. See SiriusXM Customer Agreement for complete terms at siriusxm.com. All fees and programming subject to change. ©2018 Sirius XM Radio Inc. All rights reserved.

  • EPA-estimated MPG highway for Cruze Sedan with 1.4L 4-cylinder engine.

  • EPA-estimated 37 MPG highway for Cruze Premier Hatchback.

  • Cargo space for Cruze Hatch with rear seats folded. Cargo and load capacity limited by weight and distribution.

  • EPA-estimated 53-mile range based on 106 MPGe combined city/highway (electric); 367-mile extended range based on 42 MPG combined city/highway (gas). Your actual range may vary based on several factors, including temperature, terrain and driving technique.

  • EPA-estimated 53-mile range based on 106 MPGe combined city/highway (electric); 367-mile extended range based on 42 MPG combined city/highway (gas). Your actual range will vary based on several factors including temperature, terrain and driving conditions.

  • Read the vehicle owner's manual for important feature limitations and information.

  • EPA-estimated 1.5L engine 29 MPG city/36 highway.

  • Cargo and load capacity limited by weight and distribution.

  • Visit my.chevrolet.com/learn for vehicle and smartphone compatibility.

  • Available late 2018.

  • Read the vehicle Owner's Manual for important feature limitations and information.

  • Requires available Performance Exhaust or Z51 Performance Package.

  • Requires available Performance Exhaust or Z51 Performance Package.

  • Before you buy a vehicle or use it for trailering, carefully review the Trailering section of the Owner’s Manual. The weight of passengers, cargo and options or accessories may reduce the amount you can tow.

  • EPA-estimated 28 City/39 Hwy MPG

  • With second row seats folded flat. Cargo and load capacity limited by weight and distribution.

  • The Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price excludes destination freight charge, tax, title, license, dealer fees and optional equipment. Click here to see all Chevrolet vehicles' destination freight charges.

  • Read the vehicles Owner’s Manual for more important feature limitations and information.

  • Does not detect people or items. Always check rear seat before exiting.

  • Vehicle user interface is a product of Google and its terms and privacy statements apply. Requires the Android Auto app on Google Play and an Android compatible smartphone running Android 5.0 Lollipop or higher. Data plan rates apply. Android, Android Auto, Google, Google Play and other marks are trademarks of Google LLC.

  • Service varies with conditions and location. Requires active service plan and paid AT&T Data plan. See onstar.com for details and limitations.

  • Premier shown seats seven. Standard on L, LS. Available on LT.

  • EPA-estimated 18 MPG city/ 27 MPG highway 3.6FWD.

  • With second and third row seats folded flat. Cargo and load capacity limited by weight and distribution.

  • EPA-estimated 18 MPG city/ 27 MPG highway 3.6FWD.

  • Read the vehicle owner's manual for important feature limitations and information.

  • The system wirelessly charges one PMA- or Qi-compatible mobile device. Some devices require an adaptor or back cover. To check for phone or other device compatibility, visit my.chevrolet.com/learn for details.

  • EPA-estimated 25 MPG city/31 highway (FWD models).

  • With rear seats folded. Cargo and load capacity limited by weight and distribution.

  • With second and third row seats folded flat. Cargo and load capacity limited by weight and distribution.

  • With 5.3L EcoTec 3 engine. EPA-estimated MPG city/highway: Suburban 2WD 15/22, 4WD14/21.

  • Based on GM Large SUV segment. With 5.3L EcoTec 3 engine. EPA-estimated MPG city/highway: Tahoe 2WD 15/22, 4WD 15/21.

  • With second and third row seats folded flat. Cargo and load capacity limited by weight and distribution.

  • Model year 2018 and newer vehicles include: 1 month of OnStar Safety & Security Plan and 1 month of Chevrolet Connected Services which include navigation services, Remote Access Plan, and 1 month or 3 gigabytes of 4G LTE data (whichever comes first) from vehicle delivery date. Services are subject to user terms and limitations. Visit onstar.com for more details. Data plans offered by AT&T. Availability subject to change.

  • Read the vehicles Owner's Manual for more important feature limitations and information.

  • EPA-estimated 15 MPG city/ 20 MPG highway.

  • Requires short box. Cargo and load capacity limited by weight and distribution.

  • Vehicle user interface is a product of Google and its terms and privacy statements apply. Requires the Android Auto app on Google Play and an Android compatible smartphone running Android 5.0 Lollipop or higher. Data plan rates apply. Android, Android Auto, Google, Google Play and other marks are trademarks of Google LLC.

  • Colorado 2WD with available Duramax 2.8L Turbo-Diesel 4-cylinder engine. Before you buy a vehicle or use it for trailering, carefully review the Trailering section of the Owner's Manual. The weight of passengers, cargo and options or accessories may reduce the amount you can tow.

  • 308 horsepower with available 3.6L V6 engine.

  • Before you buy a vehicle or use it for trailering, carefully review the Trailering section of the Owner's Manual. The weight of passengers, cargo and options or accessories may reduce the amount you can tow.

  • 308 horsepower with standard 3.6L V6 engine.

  • Dependability based on longevity: 1987 – July 2017 full-size pickup registrations.

  • EPA-estimated 15 city/20 highway for 4x4 with 4.3L V6.

  • Requires Long Box. Cargo and load capacity limited by weight and distribution.

  • 910 lb.-ft. @ 1600 rpm with available Duramax 6.6L Turbo-Diesel V8.

  • Gross Combination Weight Rating. With available Vortec 6.0L V8 engine

  • Express Cargo Van with extended wheelbase. Cargo and load capacity limited by weight and distribution.

  • With available Vortec 6.0L V8 engine.

  • With available Vortec 6.0L V8 engine.

  • Equipment from independent suppliers is not covered by the GM New Vehicle Limited Warranty. GM is not responsible for the safety or quality of independent supplier alterations.

  • Requires available 6.0L V8 engine.

  • The Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price excludes destination freight charge, tax, title, license, dealer fees and optional equipment. Click here to see all Chevrolet vehicles' destination freight charges.

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