Earlier this week, TopSpeed.com was graciously invited by GM to attend a press event on their famous Detroit test track ’Milford Proving Ground’. In the morning, we completed the safe driving program and test drove several GM vehicles. Later on, we met up for dinner with several other car bloggers and GM’s general manager, Edward J. Peper. Below are the highlights of the event.
Ed on the new GM motto "going from gas friendly to gas free"
The production of an electric vehicle is big priority for GM, especially after the massive exposure received from the Volt concept car presented at the 2007 Detroit Auto Show. Mr. Peper confirmed that Volt is heading for production "as soon as possible," but while driving on the track I was surprised to see a rather big hydrogen center. So, I asked Mr. Peper where hydrogen stands in GM’s plan for gas free vehicles and his answer was that "people are more confident with electric vehicle technology first but certainly on the longer term, hydrogen is another great solution as water can be harvested anywhere ... I can see one day possibly, where folks can have their own hydrogen refilling stations (in a similar way) as they have propane tanks." Overall Mr. Peper couldn’t stop talking about GM’s effort to bring the most advanced and efficient solution to its consumers right now, giving the Flex Fuel E85, hybrid and super efficient gas engine that reaches 40 mpg, as an example.
Chevrolet Volt Concept
Ed on smaller vehicles
Earlier this year, GM received an overwhelming response when it asked consumers to choose which of their new micro concept cars (Groove, Trax, Beat) should be put into production. Mr. Peper sounded eager to put a micro car in its product line, but he also said that safety was a priority. In other words, does this mean the delay in putting out a new micro car depends on their ability to produce a safe small car? It is apparent that bringing a micro car to the US market is not an easy endeavor, given that it took almost 10 years for the "smart for two" to arrive on our shores.
Chevrolet Trax, Beat and Groove Concept
Ed on gas free sports
"We are working on a pace car for one of the big race(s) that we sponsor... that will be a magnificent promotion". So, expect a little surprise in the next big race (certainly Indy 500), but as for road sports cars it is unlikely that GM will bring any competition to its immortal Corvette flagship. Ed was careful not to reveal anything specific about future models, but Mr. Peper promises that GM’s "...got a lot more power coming up," for those of you who want to see more muscle from GM. Was Mr. Peper bragging about the new ’super corvette’ which supposedly will have more than 600 HP?
Ed on diesel
Diesel is expected to be the next big thing in 2008, even surpassing the 2007 hybrid vehicle hype. Even though Mr.Peper sounded skeptical about diesel and said "we’ll see how serious it is ...we are looking at some diesel products but for us it is not a huge priority". Will GM’s product line for 2008 be diesel less? Mr.Peper is not giving away any inside information and kept his praise on hybrid, flex fuel E85 and 40 mpg vehicles. Nevertheless earlier this week, GM engineers Charlie Freese, 39, executive director of GM’s diesel powertrain engineering, and Gary Arvan, 41, chief engineer for the GM Duramax diesel engines unveiled a new revolutionary diesel engine. This experimental GM diesel engine’s main feature is to not have intake or exhaust manifolds, allowing cheaper manufacturing cost, lighter weight and a smaller size. The diesel engine was fitted in a test car and when GM top executives had a ride they were all go for it. GM might have a little diesel surprise for us after all.
GM New diesel engine
Ed on GM multi brands and channel strategy
Ed Peper strongly supported GM’s choice to build several cars out of the same platform. He said that "if you differentiate enough it can be very successful. In the case of Acadia, Outlook, (and) Enclave, it is one of the best success stories in the past 7 years." Nobody can deny the fact that those cars are doing great, but would they do better under one massive marketing effort for one model only? As a car blogger, my opinion is bias but I wished GM would work on one strong model name that would be highly recognized and widespread. Even though every other car maker out there is having their special badge for luxury vehicles, like Lexus is for Toyota. Should there be another badge for the lower end of the market? It simply makes things more complicated, but it seems to work for GM. Furthermore, VW has the same strategy in Europe and it seems BMW is currently looking for a 4th brand to add to its group.
GMC Acadia Vs Buick Enclave
Ed on new onboard technologies such as bluetooth or Ipod connectivity
"Many people do not want all thosethings ... it addscost and does not add value." Mr. Peper reaffirmed that GM’s focus is to provide the best value to people. No doubt bluetooth and iPod connections will come to GM cars sooner or later, but GM will do so when their customers see the value for those technologies. Mr. Peper confirmed that GM is not loosing its customers because GM vehicles are not equipped with these technologies. This clearly doesn’t put GM on the side of the early adopters or geeks, but I presume this part of the population is not what is driving GM sales. Further, I asked Mr. Peper if GM had any plans to partner with other companies to build their onboard systems and his answer was as if GM had not yet decided what their long term strategy about onboard systems will be. On this issue, Mr. Peper said that GM is going to "look at those technologies ... and that can be done in house or with a partner". Again, this might just not be a selling point for GM customers.
Ed on Car racing
Mr. Peper praised Nascar saying "it is crazy, unbelievable... exponential growth. It is the second most watched sport after football." He also added that Indy and LeMan are not very interesting for GM because of the lack of competition and fan base.
Ed on the future
Mr. Peper’s view of the future is "a guided vehicle of some sort" that will drive from point A to point B while you safely sit back, watching a video or working on your laptop. Is this a realistic view? Well, GM is already working on such vehicle, sponsoring the Carnegie Mellon racing team for the DARPA urban challenge. The challenge, financed by the U.S. Defense Department’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, will put robot cars, with no human drivers, against each other. In this event, robots will have to handle traffic, intersections and the rules of the road. Autonomous vehicles could be the solution to make our roads safer given that the population is expected to grow significantly by 2050.