Trucks at Work

Where the vehicle goes from here

Connected vehicles, self-driving vehicles, sharing instead of buying vehicles – those are just some of the trends reshaping the automotive landscape now and in the near future, noted Mary Barra, CEO for General Motors, in a presentation last week at the company’s proving grounds in Milford, MI.

She also expects major technological overhauls to occur in vehicles as well in order to adapt to those changes; what Barra (at right) described as shifts in “personal mobility” demand – something other vehicle OEMs are expecting as well.

“The convergence of rapidly improving technology and changing consumer preferences is creating an inflection point for the transportation industry not seen in decades,” she explained. “Some might find this massive change to be daunting, but we look at it and see the opportunity to be a disruptor.”

Barra also stressed that “vehicle connectivity” will be fundamental to this “quest” to redefine the future of “personal mobility.”

As a result, she outlined some of the transportation initiatives GM is exploring along the lines noted above.

  • Autonomous Vehicles: In 2016, she said GM plans to add a fleet of 2017 Chevrolet Volts designed to drive autonomously within its renovated Warren Technical Center campus – a program Barra noted with will serve as a “rapid-development laboratory” to help accelerate the development of autonomous vehicles (AVs). She added that GM has been testing “super cruise control” since 2012 and plans make that system available on the 2017 Cadillac CT6.
  • Car sharing: GM is also rolling out two new car- and ride-sharing projects, one in New York City now and another in the first quarter of 2016 in a different yet-to-be-announced U.S. city. Those projects will test hardware and software systems and gain insights into the car-sharing experience, specifically matching drivers and vehicles based on trip patterns and schedules via mobile phone applications. (Stay tuned for more on this later on in this post.)
  • The eBike concept: GM unveiled an electric bike or “eBike” concept that shows, in Barra’s words, how the concept of “personal mobility” is ever-changing and evolving in the increasingly urban world. Designed and engineered at GM’s engineering and development center in Oshawa, Ontario, the eBike concept is designed to help people stay mobile in an increasingly difficult-to-navigate urban landscape. [Note, too, that others think the lowly bicycle – man-powered or otherwise – may have a larger role to play ahead in the urbanized freight world of the future.]
  • Fuel cell propulsion: GM is also continuing to forge ahead with hydrogen-powered fuel cell vehicles, something that it’s been working on for over 10 years now. In collaboration with Honda, GM is developing a next-generation hydrogen fuel cell stack and hydrogen storage systems and plans to jointly develop a commercially viable fuel cell vehicle with Honda around 2020.
  • Mixed materials: Shaving weight off vehicles remains a key deign driver for GM, Barra said, since lighter vehicles are better able to meet increasingly stringent global carbon dioxide (CO2) greenhouse gas (GHG) emission standards promulgated by the federal government. She said GM is using an array of materials, including various grades of steel, aluminum and composites, to help make vehicles stronger, safer, and – of course – ultimately more fuel efficient. Barra pointed to the 2016 Chevrolet Malibu as an example; a vehicle that incorporates 11 different materials and, as a result, is nearly 300 pounds lighter than its predecessor while the next-generation Camaro is almost 400 pounds lighter than the current model.
  • Mixed-metal manufacturing techniques: GM also just patented a new resistance spot-welding process that enables the OEM to weld aluminum to steel, which helps make vehicles lighter and more structurally robust, without raising problems of corrosion risk. The company said this new process will be adopted at its Detroit-Hamtramck plant on the Cadillac CT6 in the first half of 2016. 

As part of this wide ranging view of new trends in “personal mobility,” the new focus on car-sharing could really change things up – reducing the number of vehicles on the road, for starters, which could help ease traffic congestions issues in many places across the country.

The whole theory behind GM’s “Let’s Drive NYC” program -- now available to certain residents of The Ritz Plaza, a 479-unit luxury apartment building at Times Square in midtown Manhattan – is provide “electronic vehicle credits” valid for three hours of rental per month as part of their apartment lease payments. After that, users pay less than $10 an hour or up to $75 for a 24-hour reservation for a vehicle.

Thus, as part of your urban living space payment, you get access to a motor vehicle – without having to buy one yourself.

The OEM said select Ritz Plaza residents use a GM-developed mobile app to reserve a vehicle and access parking in one of 200 garages throughout Manhattan managed by Icon Parking Systems – a fleet currently includes eight Chevrolet Trax small SUVs and two Chevrolet Equinox compact SUVs, with more vehicles to be added later.

“Customers want options on how to move from Point A to Point B that provide flexibility and personalization,” noted GM President Dan Ammann (seen above with Barra) in a statement. “We view evolving consumer preferences, such as car-sharing, as real business opportunities, where we can quickly build on our existing capabilities such as OnStar connectivity to very effectively meet customer needs.”

And if such “car-sharing” reduces urban congestion as well as lowers transportation costs for everyday motorists, that’s a great thing – especially for the trucks that still need to deliver freight in the ever-more crowded boroughs of today’s cities.

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