An increase in responsibility had Grace Lieblein tossing and turning through many sleepless nights in 2006 as the pressure mounted for both her and her employer, General Motors.
With the top-selling U.S. auto maker losing ground to Toyota in market share, GM mounted a restructuring plan that included cutting jobs and placing a heavy emphasis in high-growth areas, such as "crossover" vehicles. And the company plugged Ms. Lieblein, a chief vehicle engineer, into a key role in its campaign to produce the smaller sport utility vehicles.
She led a team of engineers in creating the 2008 Buick Enclave, marketed as the brand's first luxury crossover vehicle. It was unveiled on the eve of November's Los Angeles Auto Show and it hits showroom floors this summer.
"This has been the pinnacle of my entire career," says Ms. Lieblein, the highest-ranking Hispanic woman at GM. "We've spent the last year launching [the Enclave], showing it to our dealers and promoting the vehicle at media events. It's the most responsibility I've had as well as the most challenging thing and the most rewarding thing I've done. I've been involved in some great projects at GM, but this tops the list."
Along with the responsibility came a lot of late nights as the new vehicle approached its launch date.
"This is no exaggeration: There were a lot of sleepless nights," Ms. Lieblein says. "From an engineering standpoint, I was the final person who has ultimate accountability for the vehicle. Hundreds of engineers have their fingerprints on it. They had stakes in pieces of it, but the whole thing was my responsibility.
"On one hand, it's great that GM has the confidence in me to put me in charge of this all new product, and in an area that's so critical for GM to succeed in. On the other hand, you lose a lot of sleep."
The Enclave features a 3.6-liter, six-cylinder engine that nets 18 miles per gallon on city streets and 26 on the highway, a six-speed transmission and a cab that seats eight.
Ralph Gray, an auto editor for Hispanic Business, says the Enclave is a "significant vehicle for General Motors."
"It looks to me as if the Enclave will fit nicely into the luxury end of the crossover segment," he says. "More importantly, it signals Buick returning to its brand heritage – the styling, the equipment, and the features. ... Buick is using new design cues like a waterfall black chrome grille with the Buick tri-shield emblem and three portholes. All hark back to Buick's historic look."
Ms. Lieblein, 46, has her own history with GM. Her father, Rolando Larrinua, was an hourly employee at GM's Los Angeles plant, and she proudly says she grew up with GM blood in her veins. She started her career in the auto industry as an 18-year-old co-op student in the assembly division at GM. She earned an engineering degree from the General Motors Institute, now Kettering University, climbed the corporate ladder, and now she's responsible for overseeing all the aspects of engineering for GM's current and future front-wheel drive trucks, including crossover vehicles.
Since following her father into the auto industry, Ms. Lieblein has remained family oriented. Despite having a challenging job, she says she finds a way to put her husband, Tom, and daughter, Ally, first.
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