Tom Wallace Leaves Vette Role and Departs GM

November 01, 2008

Early in 2006, General Motors made a very positive announcement about the naming of Tom Wallace as Vehicle Line Executive (VLE) of performance cars and vehicle chief engineer of the Chevrolet Corvette in Detroit, Michigan. At that time Wallace was also put in charge of compact rear-wheel-drive performance cars, including Pontiac Solstice and Saturn Sky. The company emphasized how Wallace wanted to “learn from car buffs” to improve the products he managed.

Apparently, getting tuned into the enthusiast market doesn’t count any more, as GM has now confirmed Wallace’s November 1 departure. The company will tack Wallace’s responsibilities onto those of Gene Stefanyshyn, who is already VLE for the new Camaro and other rear-wheel-drive cars. The scuttlebutt among Corvette collectors is that Wallace's departure was connected to delays expected to keep the C7 (Gen VII) Vette from arriving until 2014, two years late.

Before his Corvette job, Wallace was VLE of small and midsize trucks. He looked at the Corvette post as his “dream job.” Wallace told reporters in 2006 that the job tied into his background and hobby of racing cars. "As part of the job I will spend a considerable amount of time at professional races like Sebring and I will talk to drivers when our Corvettes are running,” Wallace noted

Wallace had replaced Dave Hill, who worked 41 years for GM. Hill helped turn the Corvette into a World Class car. Like Dave McClellan and Zora Arkus-Duntov, he was a true car guy who carved out a niche in the legend of the Corvette. Back in 2006, Bob Lutz described Wallace as, “A car guy and racer and the perfect choice to lead the Corvette and Performance team.”

Wallace and his team were responsible for the development and launch of Chevrolet Trailblazer, GMC Envoy, Buick Rainier, Chevrolet Colorado, GMC Canyon and Chevrolet SSR. Additionally, he led the highly successful launch of the Saab 9-7X and the HUMMER H3.

Wallace began his automotive career in 1966, when he entered the General Motors Institute (GMI). Buick division sponsored his GMI education and he worked for that branch of GM while attending classes at the cooperative college. He worked six weeks at Buick, then went to school for six weeks.

In the ‘70s, Wallace was responsible for engine production at Buick and worked on development of the turbo V-6, including the Indy pace car engine. We did all those in my team. I spent most of the 70s in engines,'' he related. In 1979, the Stanford University School of Business awarded him a Sloan Fellowship and he earned his masters degree in business.

GM put the Vehicle Line Executive organization into effect in 1995. Each VLE took care of various models. The VLE teams included stylists, manufacturing personnel, engineers and purchasing personnel. VLE teams were set up for Corvettes, all mid-size cars, premium cars and small and mid-sized trucks. Wallace’s team developed the GMC Envoy to replace the Jimmy.

When appointed in 2006, Wallace said he was “more than happy” with the existing Corvette line, but excited about “the seventh level of architecture for the Corvette.” He planned to try to ride on the success of the C6 to shape the C7.

 “Since there were only three Corvette Chief Engineers before me, it's obvious that every chief engineer works on the current product, but also looks at future concepts,” Wallace had said. "We are so strong that the Corvette will continue on.''

 Wallace seemed committed to learning from Corvette owners. "They are sometimes called the 'lunatic fringe'' because they are so adamant about what they want,” he noted in 2006. “We have our Corvette Corral (which Corvette sponsors at races) where regular Corvette owners come in and park at the racetrack, so I will spend considerable time talking with them.”

Apparently, Wallace’s enthusiasm couldn’t offset the pressures that General Motors faces today, though it is truly hard to envision Dave Hill, Dave McClellan or Zora accomplishing what they did if they had been VLEs charged with engineering a kaleidoscope of different models and shaping a new Corvette as a “tacked-on” responsibility. That’s not to say that Gene Stefanyshyn can’t do a fantastic job — especially under the expert tutelage of Bob Lutz — but the corporate powers aren’t making it easy for anyone to hit a home run out of Detroit.

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