Meet Alex Archer, the engineer behind GM’s power-sliding center console

In 2009, a GM manager complained to a 59-year-old GM technician about the hassle of retrieving items from a pickup truck bed after driving shifted the cargo. In two days, the tech had come up with the ideas that, ten years later, would debut as the MultiPro tailgate. The engineering teams kept the tailgate secret in part by hiding mock-ups in a locked storage closet in GM’s Vehicle Engineering Center in Warren Michigan for two years. A piece in the Detroit Free Press reveals that another storage closet in Warren would play the same role in a different cloak-and-dagger operation, this time for the power-sliding center console in GM’s new full-sized SUVs. During a meeting in early 2017, bosses gave the job of the console’s creation to 24-year-old design release engineer Alex Archer, just two years out of Stanford University with a degree in engineering and product design. 

This time, the catalyst for the feature was an internal GM think tank called co:lab, where employees suggest ideas. Execs gave Archer the task because “They needed someone willing to ask a lot of questions,” her 36-month mandate to produce a six-way console that could be a standard cubby or a gaping maw able to swallow four gallon jugs or hide a secret compartment. Clearly, she succeeded. It took Archer and the team nine months to devise a prototype, another six months to get the green light for production.

As with the tailgate, the team working on the console grew to include designers, production engineers, and suppliers. Archer, now 26, shepherded the process, and her name is on the patent. “It took a ton of people, I’m just somebody who stuck with it the whole time,” she said. GM like her work well enough to produce the “Day in the Life” segment above, five months before the world would hear about the console.

Archer’s path to engineering was as unlikely as getting the job for the console. She had entered Stanford with plans to be a doctor. But an innovation class during her freshman year, and a sophomore summer spent helping her grandfather rebuild a 1937 MG engine recharted her course. Her grandfather told her, “You know, you could be an engineer for a car company.”

Consumer reaction to Archer’s work won’t be far off, the SUVs slated to hit dealerships soon. Meanwhile, she’s busy on something that could be just as intense as the console: Restoring a 1955 Packard Clipper in her garage. Head to Freep to check out the story of Archer and the console.

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