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November 18, 2015

GM Canada experts have connected car mandate

General Motors' Canadian Engineering Centre is, as GM Canada government relations manager Mathew Bertin puts it, “expert in Canada” but now has a new “connected car mandate”.

General Motors’ Canadian Engineering Centre is, as GM Canada government relations manager Mathew Bertin puts it, “expert in Canada” but now has a new “connected car mandate”.

It’s one of four major facilities north of the US border – the others are the Oshawa assembly plant, the future of which is a bit cloudy until after major labour negotiations due next year, the CAMI assembly plant in Ingersoll and the St Catherines powertrain factory.

Bertin said the engineering centre was the most “complete” such facility in Canada and supplemented by a cold weather test facility in the north of the country. It started small in the early 1980s, adapting products to meet Canadian regulations, took on a regional focus in the 90s, started developing subsystems and did its first complete car in the early 2000s. Any one time there are around 80 project balls in the air and 20 active collaborations with universities – such as electric Equinox test beds being worked on at the University of Waterloo. The automaker is also setting up a research site at Communitech Waterloo and has endowed a C$1m chair of lightweighting materials at the University of Waterloo’s engineering faculty.

Successful project examples cited by Bertin include carbon fibre exterior trim parts, infotainment apps and a composite coil spring. The centre was also involved in adapting Android Auto and Apple Car Play for GM products and they’ll be in 14 Chevrolet products for the 2016 model year – 2.4m sales and 51% of global Chevy volume. The centre was also involved in developing OnStar’s remote link app. Around 80% of GM vehicles are now wifi connectable and the automaker’s use of 4G LTE is the largest in the industry.

The centre is now focused particularly on future mobility and advances in environment technology – electrification, tougher laws, lightweighting, recycling and aspects of connected/autonomous cars and urban mobility where cars sense their environment and adapt accordingly.

GM is soon to launch a new ‘super cruise’ control which will combine the best of lane keep assist and adaptive cruise control allowing true ‘look ma, no hands’ driving under some circumstances – Bertin suggests “highway conditions”. It’ll be available 2016/17. GM sees the number of sensors in cars doubling from some 200 today and noted that Canada was ideal for testing how such devices are affected by cold, ice and snow.

Bertin said GM forsees the development of a new kind of global auto technical supply chain where suppliers created a new chain focused on technology and innovation that combines industry, new business models, research, universities, skills and, ultimately, security and jobs.

As to who’s ahead in connected car technology – GM thinks everyone’s at different stages and, according to Bertin, his automaker “thinks it’s further ahead creating retail product that can be mass produced”. Adoption rates will vary as the new tech – such as super cruise – is rolled out in stages.

GM also sees differences country by country. Densely packed places like India and Indonesia pose more challengers to developers than “wide open” Scandanavia. Market research shows a huge interest in more and more vehicle autonomy; what is still not clear is the price premium consumers would be prepared to pay to get it.

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