A Smooth Ride

Daniel Cohen (Knoxville ’07), an engineer at General Motors, helps create new vehicles and has designed side mirrors and seats.

By Alex Cate

You don’t really notice the subtleties of cars whizzing by on the highway. A seat, for instance, could feel too stiff or a side mirror might be too bulky. It’s those subtleties that can make a car stand out.

Daniel Cohen (Knoxville ’07), one of General Motors’ lead engineers, has worked on the creation of a variety of GM vehicles and the elements some people might take for granted.

A native of Chattanooga, Tenn., Cohen found inspiration and fell into a job offer while working on his senior design project called Challenge X, sponsored by GM, in which top engineering schools from across the country modify a GM vehicle to be more technologically advanced and sustainable.

“Honestly, back when I was 9 years old, I told my mom I wanted to design and test cars for General Motors,” says Cohen. He has worked at GM since 2007, and he recently began designing and testing side mirrors of Cadillacs. Before that, he worked specifically with the engineering of GM seats and their testing mechanism called “Oscar.”

Oscar is a mannequin-like tool used by GM engineers to determine the interior layout and dimensions of GM vehicles. Oscar, along with human trials, determines the core pressure points in seats and the dimensions needed for ample head and leg room throughout the vehicle.

“Nothing sits still,” Cohen says about the auto industry. “We’ve been putting seats in cars since the very first one, and we’ve been putting mirrors on cars for a long time as well. But nothing stays the same.”

Nobody wants to trek cross-country while sitting on what feels like a pile of bricks. So, for Cohen, seat quality is something he takes very personally. After all, it’s a nine-hour drive from Michigan to Tennessee to watch the Volunteers play football on fall Saturdays.

Cohen credits much of his success to UT’s engineering curriculum. “I felt like that program did a great job at preparing me for life, particularly at a large company like GM,” he says. Even though he didn’t know everything about vehicles going into his job, Cohen believes UT helped develop very specific skills that have made him successful. “What I found is that general knowledge about the automobile is not necessarily the most important thing. It’s more about what your interests are,” Cohen says.