Mom engineers’ unique skills, insights enhance Chevrolet’s first global midsize sedan
“This just in from Detroit or is it Malibu?” Said Christina Selter, HerHighway Editor in Chief. So is this some type of blonde joke because I’ve heard them all and they don’t normally include Harvard Masters Degree. So what can unite a blue-haired, roller derby jammer; a crash expert; an organic gardener with specially trained hearing skills, and a Harvard master’s degree candidate with a patent for lighting technology?
Malibu moms Suzanne Cody, Julie Kleinert, Kara Gordon and Tracy Mack-Askew also help demonstrate the important role women and mothers play in engineering today’s family vehicles.
The Malibu is Chevrolet’s first global midsize sedan, and will be sold in 100 countries on six continents. Though based in Metro Detroit, the Malibu moms’ work will be felt from Birmingham to Bulgaria, Ann Arbor to Austria and from St. Clair Shores to Seoul, Shanghai and beyond.
“People spend a lot of time in their vehicles,” said Gordon, the Malibu’s lead acoustic noise engineer and mother of two active young boys. “It’s really important for me to spend that time with my kids in a positive way. If your car isn’t quiet, you can’t hear your kids talking to you in the background, and you can’t hear how their day went.”
Gordon recalls an incident that drove home the importance of her work.
“We were about to get on the freeway and my younger son was mumbling something I couldn’t hear. I kept asking him over and over what he was saying and my older son finally yelled, ‘His seat belt isn’t buckled.’ So I pulled over – luckily – before we actually got on the highway.”
Involving more engineer moms in vehicle development is happening as women continue to take a bigger stake in the market. Women buy a little over half the cars sold in the United States, and take part in 80 percent of all family car buying decisions, according to traditional industry statistics.
Yet according to the American Society of Engineering Education, the percentage of undergraduate engineering degrees going to women in 2009 was 17.8 percent, a 15-year-low.
Recognizing this need, General Motors and the GM Foundation support several programs aimed at encouraging women to pursue science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) subjects, including high school robotics programs and college scholarships.
“Women are major automotive consumers, and automakers that want to appeal to them need to understand what their needs and requirements are,” said Rebecca Lindland, director of research at IHS Automotive. “Women engineers can provide a unique perspective to the design and engineering process. For example, women are generally smaller than men, so ergonomic needs are different. We also have a heightened awareness of safety, and tend to be more sensitive to the needs of family.”
“We need to encourage more young women and girls to venture into engineering and show them it’s not just numbers, but it’s color and style and design,” she said. “Women add a necessary element to enhance a vehicle’s appeal and the entire development process benefits from that added dimension.”
Meet the four accomplished women engineers and moms behind the 2013 Chevrolet Malibu:
The Malibu Moms
Suzanne “Suzy” Cody, aerodynamics engineer – Cody is a rocket scientist – literally – with a degree in aerospace engineering. Known for her “GM blue” hair highlights, she is also a force to be reckoned with in the wind tunnel and on the roller derby track.
A mother of two young boys, she has been responsible for the aerodynamic performance of the new Malibu, and her work has resulted in a vehicle with a superior wind drag rating – close to that of the Chevrolet Volt electric vehicle – which means increased gas savings for Malibu drivers. In fact, aerodynamic improvements on the new Malibu provide up to 2.5 mpg more on the highway.
“I’m a single mom, and every dollar I spend on gasoline is a dollar I’m not investing in my boys’ futures,” said Cody. “So this is personal to me.”
Her knowledge of wind drag also helps her on the Bath City Roller Girls roller derby team, where fans know her as Shovey Camaro, after her passion for the Chevrolet Camaro sports car. Cody is also a passionate leader of a local moms club that helps support local charities.
Julie Kleinert, child safety technical lead – As the lead engineer responsible for child occupant protection, Kleinert’s job is to evaluate and develop the safety performance requirements for the vehicle restraint systems that will protect children who ride in the Malibu and other GM vehicles.
“Knowing that the work I do helps protect other people’s children is very rewarding,” said Kleinert, a mother of four and grandmother of two. “I love to be able to tell people what I do, and how much work goes into the safety of every GM vehicle.”
Kleinert relies on her 27-year engineering career and extensive knowledge of restraint system performance and vehicle safety integration, along with her real-world experience and perspective as a mother and grandmother. Her commitment to child passenger safety doesn’t stop at the end of the work day.
As a certified child passenger safety technician, she volunteers with Safe Kids USA’s Buckle Up educational programs to teach parents and caregivers about proper car seat installation and about child safety in and around vehicles. She utilizes her experience from working in the field with parents and caregivers to help drive interior designs that make child safety seat installation easier in the Malibu and other GM vehicles. Because three out of four child safety seats are incorrectly installed, Kleinert said, she urges parents to take advantage of local check-up events, even if they believe they are using their child safety seat correctly.
“When my kids were teenagers and learning how to drive, they didn’t always appreciate having a mom who was a safety engineer,” said Kleinert. “Now that one of my sons has two children, I put my child passenger safety training to good use by teaching him and my daughter-in-law how to properly install car seats in their vehicles.”
Kara Gordon, lead acoustic noise engineer – Gordon is a specially trained audiologist whose sensitive hearing skills – always a tactical advantage for a mother – helped her identify where certain noises may have originated, and how to reduce, block and absorb the noise from entering the cabin of the new Malibu. She is key part of a team that eradicates the main sources of noise – wind, road and tire – from entering the interior of the new Malibu.
Her work has helped make the new Malibu the quietest Chevrolet ever for interior cabin noise and, as a result, customers around the world can expect a quiet ride.
With two young boys, Gordon’s home isn’t always as quiet as the Malibu, but she adds a little serenity with yoga and enforces a house rule of quiet time until 9 a.m. on weekends.
“At 9, all bets are off and the house becomes a circus!” she said.
Gordon is also a passionate environmentalist who hopes to live “off the grid” soon and loves tending to her organic garden and remodeling her 100-year-old home.
Tracy Mack-Askew, vehicle line manager – Mack-Askew’s passion for science and math was sparked during a high school field trip to view a vehicle crash test. That experience led her to pursue an engineering degree from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and an engineering career at GM following graduation.
Today, Mack-Askew serves as lead engineering manager responsible for the timely development and launch of the Malibu, a role with great challenges and responsibilities – and one typically held by men. She also has a patent in lighting technology that helps prevent premature lamp burnout.
As a wife, a mother of two young children, and a Harvard University master’s candidate (she already has a master’s degree from Purdue University), Mack-Askew is also an accomplished multi-tasker.
Ultimately, she says, it’s her commitment to cultivating and nurturing a strong family that drives her. Mack-Askew won’t travel on her husband or children’s birthdays, and despite a hectic travel schedule that saw her log about 40,000 miles in less than a year in support of the Malibu launch, she is adamant about picking up her children from school on Fridays.
“The Malibu is a vehicle that is very kid-friendly, that’s easy for you to use to transport your kids to their activities – whether it is soccer or swimming – and that makes you look good and stylish while doing it,” said Mack-Askew. “So not only are you a mother, but you are mother with pizzazz.”
The 2013 Malibu Eco is Chevrolet’s most fuel-efficient Malibu ever, delivering an EPA-estimated 25 mpg in city driving and 37 mpg on the highway.
The Eco is the first model of the all-new Malibu lineup to launch in the United States. It went on sale earlier this year and starts at $25,995, less than competitor full-hybrid vehicles.
Other Malibu trim levels, including LS, LT and LTZ, are scheduled to begin production this summer at plants in Fairfax, Kan. and Detroit-Hamtramck, Mich. The 2013 Malibu will serve as a flagship Chevrolet midsize in many parts of the world. The Malibu is also built in China and Korea.
Founded in 1911 in Detroit, Chevrolet is now one of the world’s largest car brands, doing business in more than 140 countries and selling more than 4 million cars and trucks a year. Chevrolet provides customers with fuel-efficient vehicles that feature spirited performance, expressive design and high quality. More information on Chevrolet models can be found at www.chevrolet.com.