By whatever name - project leader, product manager, or chief engineer - the trend in the auto industry is to give one person responsibility for leading the development of a new vehicle. Inspired by the Japanese model, project managers have been central to the product renaissance among Europe's carmakers in the 1990s. These individuals, who often report directly to senior management, authorize the thousands of decisions that give each car its character. They coordinate the development, testing, and production launch of a new car. They also head the cross-functional project teams that integrate design and engineering with marketing, production and aftersales departments, and with key suppliers.
Here are profiles of seven project managers who oversaw key models launched this year in Europe.
Rose Mary Farenden
Rose Mary Farenden likens being project manager of the Ford Focus to making rope - 'If a particular strand among the many strands loses tension, you end up with poor rope.'
She says the Focus and the team that produced it will always be a part of her life. Her next challenge is related to it - a multi-activity vehicle based on the Focus platform and due after 2000. Farenden will be body manager for the project.
The job will be familiar, balancing specifications and customer requirements with engineering, manufacturing and commercial constraints.
With her gentle voice and soft looks, Farenden is not many people's idea of an automotive engineer. But her climb up the Ford engineering ranks has been swift. Farenden was appointed powertrain systems engineer in 1990 and worked in the quality office before joining the Ford 2000 globalization team in 1995. She was made Focus quality manager in the same year and took on her current role in 1997.
She studied mechanical engineering, specializing in in-car entertainment and design, at Queen's University, Belfast. She joined British Petroleum in 1985 as a mechanical engineering trainee, and moved to Ford three years later as Cad-Cam systems analyst.
Born in Belfast, Northern Ireland in 1964, Farenden is married with two young children - John, 10, and Mary, seven. The family lives close to Ford's plant in Dagenham, Essex, UK. Farenden divides her working week between design and manufacturing facilities in the UK and Germany.
Few women in Europe's auto industry have risen as far as Farenden.
Regis Beauvallet began his career in 1968 as a manufacturing engineer at Poissy, the former Simca plant near Paris that was eventually taken over by Peugeot.
Beauvallet was in charge of the press shop at Poissy and eventually rose to deputy plant manager, a job he held from 1987 to 1991.
In November 1993, after spending two years as a production executive at PSA headquarters, his career took a new course. He was appointed project manager for the T1 project, the code-name for the Peugeot 206. It was a crucial job. The T1 would replace the 205, the highly successful model that saved PSA in the 1980s.
'We wanted an outstanding exterior style for the 206,' said Beauvallet. 'As for the interior, the point was to build the car around the passengers. But we wanted to retain all the qualities Peugeot cars are renowned for, such as road handling and comfort.'
Beauvallet's manufacturing background was useful on the T1 project. 'A key point was to break the trend by making a car that was cheaper than the previous one, yet had better performance,' he said. 'The cost reductions applied equally to capital expenditures, engineering and manufacturing.'
The 206 was the first Peugeot car project to fully use the team organization set up by Jean-Yves Helmer, PSA's former No. 2 executive. 'I had more power and more autonomy to deal with my colleagues who run the company's main departments,' said Beauvallet.
PSA's low-key style means its project managers are less in the limelight than their Renault counterparts - but they do tend to move on to big jobs. Yvan Plazanet, for example, became plant manager at Peugeot's huge Mulhouse complex after running the 406 project. In March he was named head of PSA vehicle engineering.
Ford and Jaguar make no secret of the fact that they collaborated on the new S-type. The mid-luxury contender shares its platform architecture with the new Lincoln LS. But the man in charge of the collaboration team on the Jaguar side, David Szczupak (pronounced 'shoe-pack'), says his car did not suffer as a result.
'It's difficult to put a percentage figure on how much is common between the two models,' he says. 'You can't draw a line and say, 'This is ours and that is theirs,' because there were no compromises when it came to making the S-type a genuine Jaguar - a Jaguar in performance, ride and feel.
'Components like fuel tanks and hardware such as air conditioning are common. The V-6 engine is Ford-derived. We used the same wishbones and suspension geometry, but we had a major design input in the first place. We went out of our way set up the suspension to make the car ride and handle as a Jaguar.'
Szczupak said that collaboration with Ford didn't necessarily save much time or money.
'There was some investment saving and saving in the development of sophisticated manufacturing equipment,' he said, 'but collaboration provided us with better solutions rather than straight financial gains.'
Szczupak, a friendly Yorkshireman, was born in 1955 in Sheffield, UK. Married with a teenage son, Jonathan, and a 12-year-old daughter, Christina, he lists among his relaxations kart racing, cycling and rebuilding a stripped-down Lotus Europa.
He joined Jaguar in 1985 as senior manager for advanced powertrain. He began work on the X200 (S-type) project in 1996 -and sees it as 'a never-ending program; we shall evolve the car all the way through to production and beyond.'
BARCELONA - Vicente Aguillera admits he often had trouble understanding what his colleagues were saying in the many meetings held during the Toledo development program.
The discussions at Seat's giant technical center in Martorell, Spain, would not have been out of place in the United Nations.
'According to who was giving the presentation, we would have to translate from German, French, Flemish or English,' says Aguillera, the Seat director of project management.
'It was complicated and quite challenging. But now I think I can say that what we have created stands for 1/8good' in any language.'
After spending four months sifting through the body-style choices available for the Spanish rendition of the new Golf platform, Aguillera's team took the Toledo to Job 1 in 34 months. During most of that time, more than 600 people were involved in the project.
'This has been our most important development so far because it has been completed in-house,' says Aguillera. 'In the past, much of our engineering has been done on a turnkey basis. But this time there has been a lot less outsourcing, and everyone here has been much more deeply involved.'
Assuming total responsibility represented a 'big change' for Aguillera and Seat. But at the same time, the Toledo project allowed the company to reach a new level of maturity.
'Toledo is a milestone car for many reasons, not least in terms of quality,' says Aguillera. 'Now our next task is to take quality still further - and we're busy bringing six big projects to production before 2001.'
In 38 years at Rover, Peter Morgan has seen dozens of launches.
But the former engineering apprentice says the proudest moment of his professional life came when the Rover 75 was launched at last month's British International Motor Show in Birmingham.
'It was great to feel part of the team behind the car, which will help put the company back on the road,' said Morgan.
Morgan, 56, spent several years working in production and quality management. After the launch of the Metro in 1980, he switched to prototype testing before being made responsible for new projects.
As large cars' project director, Morgan had made a start on the 800 replacement in 1993, when Rover was taken over by BMW. But by the end of 1994, the RD1 project to replace both 600 and 800 models was under way.
He says the 75 launch was in stark contrast to the day he arrived at Rover's plant in Cowley, UK, eight years ago. 'It was a shock to find the cupboard was bare in terms of new model plans. We're filling it up nicely now.'
Since joining Renault as an engineer in 1971, Pierre Beuzit has worked on as many as 38 individual projects.
'The last one was X-65 (Clio 2),' said the 56-year-old engineer. It was his biggest job and greatest achievement. He led development from the start of the project in 1992 to the Clio 2's eventual launch this March. Six months later, Beuzit was named head of Renault's research department.
'The X-65 was a watershed,' he said. 'Before that we were continuously improving the system. Now the point is to speed up all the processes inside Renault.' The lead time for the Clio 2 was 40 months, compared with 45 months for the Kangoo and 50 months for the Megane. The next target is 36 months for the Laguna replacement, due in 2000.
Renault began using project managers in 1988 when Jean-Baptiste Duzan, now head of purchasing, took over the Safrane program. 'Duzan was alone; he was more like a coordinator,' said Beuzit. 'On the Laguna, Raymond Savoye started to share responsibility for costs. Then Yves Dubreil passed a landmark with the Twingo, which had a platform team that included people dedicated to the project. Michel Faivre-Duboz followed on with the Megane. I had more power and more duties with X-65. I ran an autonomous organization of 600 people responsible for all aspects of the project.'
Carlos Ghosn, head of product development and manufacturing, rewarded Beuzit with his new job in September. It is a big one. As head of research, Beuzit will oversee development of hybrids, fuel cells, low-emission diesel engines, lighter cars, and intelligent vehicles.
Mitsubishi Space Star
NAOKI SHOJI spent much of his time as head of the Space Star project on a plane, commuting between Japan and the Netherlands.
Mitsubishi's new small MPV is built at NedCar, but the main development work was done in Okazaki, Japan, where Shoji is based.
'The first concept model was built in Japan,' said Shoji, 46. 'The basic layout and structure were also developed in Japan. NedCar's product development division and Mitsubishi Research & Development Europe only joined the project after they had finished the Carisma.'
Shoji has worked at Mitsubishi for 22 years. He spent 11 years in the engineering design department before joining the Carisma project in 1991. He was named Space Star project leader in 1994.
Negotiations with suppliers, parts cost management and production preparation were done by NedCar and Mitsubishi in Europe.
'I did not have to guide them directly,' Shoji said. 'I delegated those activities. But I took a lot of flights to Europe.'
Wim Oude Weernink