August 30th, 2020 by Steve Hanley
Corvette. Since 1953, it has been the engineering leader in the panoply of General Motors automobiles, the place where new technology like fuel injected engines and transverse fiberglass leaf springs made their debut. It has always been about building cutting edge cars that showcased General Motor’s engineering excellence, cars that challenged the best from companies like Ferrari, Lamborghini, and Porsche at a fraction of the cost.
So there can be no doubt that The General is indeed getting serious about building electric cars and cars that drive themselves after the news this week that it is reassigning some of its best and brightest engineers to create its cars of the future. The realignment of talent is set to take place September 1.
Dave Parks, GM’s executive vice president for global product development, says in an internal memo seen by Inside EVs, “This move will help this already dynamic team further push the boundaries on what our future EV battery systems and components can deliver when it comes to excitement and thrilling performance for our customers. The Corvette team is familiar with delighting customers and critics alike, having launched the mid-engine Corvette to world acclaim and becoming one of the most awarded cars in automotive history.” Ken Morris, vice president of autonomous and electric vehicle programs, tells Automotive News, “General Motors is committed to an all-electric future. I’m excited to be putting the team that redefined supercar performance, design and attainability in key roles to help us integrate and execute our EVs to those same high standards.”
The shakeup does not mean there will be no electric Corvette. Rumors persist of an E-Ray and a special edition model called the Zora to honor Zora Arkus-Duntov, the brilliant engineer who made the name Corvette into the internationally recognized brand it is today. But the latest Corvette, the mid-engine C8, has just gone into production and will probably be the standard bearer for the brand until at least 2026.
What the changes mean is the EVs coming from GM — the company promises it will have 20 of them in its corporate portfolio by the end of 2023 — will have the benefit of the best engineering talent available within the company. Corvettes not only have to go fast, they also have to ride comfortably, stop superbly, and steer accurately at all times. Surely some of GM’s electric cars will have a focus on performance but even its electric SUVs can benefit from the knowledge about chassis technology the Corvette engineering team can bring to the table.
Not everyone likes change and that is true of engineers as well. On the Corvette Forum, some have posted, “From what our insiders told us directly, the Corvette team is “not happy” because of “the team’s ever-expanding workload.” But other posts say, “Others inside GM indicated that the team is excited to be developing new products.”
It’s not inaccurate to say that GM today is where Tesla was 5 years ago. It took a while for the news to filter through the automotive world that electric and autonomous cars are the future. We might wish GM and other companies had reacted more swiftly to the EV revolution but The General is certainly putting its shoulder to the wheel now. It recently unveiled the Cadillac Lyriq, that brand’s first all-electric sedan. Late last year, Steve Carlyle, head of the Cadillac division, hinted it would be 100% electric by 2030.
In January, the automaker said it would invest $2.2 billion into its Detroit-Hamtramck assembly plant to produce all-electric trucks and SUVs as well as a self-driving vehicle unveiled by its subsidiary Cruise. GM will invest an additional $800 million in supplier tooling and other projects related to the launch of the new electric Hummer pickup truck which will be the first EV produced at the new Hamtramck facility. It will be followed closely by the Cruise Origin, an autonomous ride sharing shuttle that could save urban dwellers up to $5,000 a year by allowing them to avoid the costs associated with owing a private car.
GM has designed a platform for electric cars that can be modified as needed to fit the specifications needed to build cars that fill many market segments. The so-called skateboard approach is similar to what Volkswagen is doing with its MEB chassis and others like Canoo are doing. GM calls its new EV architecture Ultium, which includes the new Ultium batteries it will produced jointly with LG Chem at a new 3 million square foot factory in Lordstown, Ohio.
All in all, it is as if General Motors is a sleeping giant, roused from a decades long slumber to find it is in the middle of a new reality. It is now wide awake and ready to reassert itself in the marketplace and not a moment too soon. It is not an exaggeration to suggest its future existence depends on getting this next step in its corporate existence right.
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