Even as it marks 100 years of iconic automotive manufacturing history, General Motors is focused on the next century, embracing a future of great change and dramatic challenges. “There are many roads to the future,” the theme of GMnext, the automaker’s global interactive program, describes GM’s roadmap in meeting tomorrow’s challenges. The “roads” include vehicle design, new technologies, ideas that will shape personal transportation, global reach, and environmental initiatives.
As GM’s 100th anniversary date — September 16 — drew near, Automotive Fleet sat down with company executives to explore the role fleet will play in the automaker’s future.
General Manager, Fleet & Commercial Operations
AF: How will the fleet market of the future differ from today? What emerging fleet issues will GM and fleet management face?
McVeigh: This industry has never been more dynamic, but one thing that won’t be different in the future of the fleet market is that our clients will still need vehicles that provide the quality, utility, and value GM vehicles provide.
An emerging hot topic is the “greening” of fleets. Fleet clients want vehicles that make a difference in their environmental footprint and demonstrate they are green, while also saving money in managing their fleets. GM’s vision moving forward is to significantly increase fuel economy, minimize vehicle emissions, and displace petroleum by embracing energy diversity. The company is focused on improving its conventional powertrains and biofuels, such as ethanol and biodiesel; bringing more hybrids to market; and introducing battery-electric and plug-in technology to the consumer.
We’re also developing hydrogen fuel cell-electric propulsion systems. So, as GM begins its next 100 years, we are positioned to change transportation’s role in the energy equation. And that’s important for the fleet market now and in the future.
AF: How will GM Fleet & Commercial Operations evolve to meet future needs of fleet customers?
McVeigh: Meeting the current and future needs of our fleet clients is all about product, people, pricing, and promotion. First, we must continue to launch outstanding products that are priced right and meet and exceed customer needs and expectations. Our business is a relationship business, so our people play a key role in supporting our clients and promoting what we offer to meet their fleet needs. It’s key that we have processes in place that make it easy for them to do business with us. All in all, we want to be the go-to manufacturer to meet the needs of our clients and fleet prospects.
AF: What technological changes may be implemented in GM’s future new-model ordering system?
McVeigh: Our goal is to be a one-stop shop in serving customers with orders, pricing, rebilling, logistics, communication, and IT. Recently, our Order Workbench was upgraded to accept orders configured in Autobook, and now we’re in the process of upgrading Order Workbench with a new and more precise vehicle configurator slated to be launched next year. We’ll also be improving the Business Central Web site in the near future. Again, we want to make it easy for our customers and dealers to do business with us, and part of that is having the right systems in place to make that goal a reality.
In addition, fleets clearly want even more from the largest and most reliable telematics brand. Today, OnStar by GM provides fleets the most comprehensive solutions for safety and security. Other OnStar fleet-popular features include remote door unlock, turn-by-turn navigation, and accident crash notification. OnStar Business Vehicle Manager provides such fleet-critical data as accurate odometer readings, open campaign recalls, and oil-life remaining. GM will continue to evaluate the best way to meet increasing fleet demands for commercial telematics.
General Motors Vice Chairman, Global Product Development
AF: If fuel prices remain elevated in the next decade, how will this influence future vehicle design?
Lutz: Many parts of the world have lived with fuel prices considerably higher than those in the U.S. for many years. As a result, consumers have shown a distinct tendency to pay a premium for mini, small, compact, and medium cars and trucks that deliver better fuel economy, while offering much more content than a typical small car in the North American market. In America, “small” has been synonymous with “inexpensive.” That hasn’t been the case in Europe, for instance, where demand for fuel efficiency has been met with well-equipped vehicles in the smaller segments. As North American consumers adjust to higher fuel prices, we will see a product portfolio that gradually comes to resemble what is found today in Europe.
AF: Do fleet considerations enter into the design process of all-new GM models? How do you balance retail and fleet considerations in new-model design?
Lutz: Design is focused on creating an immediate emotional interaction between the vehicle and the customer, no matter who the customer is. In the last seven years, a real transformation has occurred at General Motors Design. We have reinvigorated our designers, given more authority to them and to their studios, and linked those studios in a global network that is both competitive and collegial. So, whether the work is done in Germany, England, Brazil, Korea, Australia, China or the United States, the designers compete, share, and collaborate to create the best designs possible.
AF: What is your vision of the role telematics will play in the functionality of the cars and trucks of tomorrow?
Lutz: I’d say the role of telematics will be very similar to what it is today, providing customers, on both the commercial and consumer sides, with information and services desired and needed. The technology will continue to evolve, and the services will continue to expand in scope accordingly. And, we’ll remain intensely focused on providing our customers exactly what they want, telematics being no exception to that rule.
North American VP - Chevrolet
AF: What is your strategy to maintain Chevrolet’s leadership position in the commercial fleet market?
Peper: Our strategy for maintaining Chevy’s leadership position in the commercial fleet market is to continue building great cars and trucks like the Impala, Automotive Fleet’s “Fleet Car of the Year” three years running, and the Silverado, AF’s “Fleet Truck of the Year.”
Right now, we are facing tremendous challenges in the marketplace with full-size trucks; yet, many buyers still need the working capability, trailering, durability, comfort, and much more that only full-size trucks provide.
It’s essential we put our best foot forward and provide America’s Best Truck — the Chevy Silverado. It offers the best V-8 fuel economy, the lowest cost of ownership, the best warranty coverage, and now, the best initial quality as determined by the latest J.D. Power initial quality survey that ranked Silverado number one among all full-size pickups.
This year you’re also seeing other great Chevy products making their debut on America’s roads with the Traverse, Aveo5, Corvette ZR1, Camaro, and Silverado Hybrid.
AF: Do you envision a time when every gasoline-powered Chevrolet model will have a hybrid counterpart?
Peper: No, what I envision is a time when the automobile is no longer part of the fuel debate. Hybrid vehicles are a very important element of Chevy’s fuel solutions strategy, which includes five pathways: fuel efficiency, biofuel, hybrid, electric, and fuel cell.
Right now, Chevy offers hybrids in the mid-size sedan and full-size SUV categories, and soon you’ll see a full-size pickup truck hybrid offering on the road. The Tahoe Hybrid, America’s first full-size hybrid SUV and the Green Car Journal’s “2008 Green Car of the Year,” gets the same fuel economy as a four-cylinder Camry.
The 2008 Chevy Malibu, named 2008 North American Car of the Year and the highest-ranked mid-size car in initial quality from J.D. Power and Associates, also has a hybrid counterpart. Soon, the 2009 Silverado Hybrid will join Chevy’s hybrid lineup and give truck buyers another fuel-efficient option.
AF: On one hand you have the Chevrolet Equinox fuel cell, and on the other, the Chevrolet Volt. Which is the long-term future of Chevrolet?
Peper: There’s really no silver bullet in solving America’s dependence on petroleum; however, being a fuel solutions leader is key to the long-term future of Chevrolet. We already talked about Chevy’s lineup of hybrid vehicles, but you need to know that we have a variety of gas-friendly to gas-free vehicles.
Chevy has eight vehicles that get 30 mpg or better. We have 2.2 million FlexFuel vehicles capable of running on E-85 ethanol on the road — more than any other manufacturer. And yes, we have fuel cell propulsion technologies like the Chevrolet Equinox Fuel Cell in such cities as Los Angeles, New York, and Washington D.C. that are a part of the world’s largest test fleet of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles.
We’re thrilled to have as part of the Chevy lineup the innovative extended-range electric vehicle — the Chevy Volt — a vehicle that can fundamentally change the way Americans drive by going up to 40 miles before using one drop of gas. The Chevy Volt is targeted to be in the market by the end of 2010. All of these short-, mid-, and long-term fuel solutions strategies are keys to Chevy’s future and to meeting consumer needs.
Vice President, Buick-Pontiac-GMC
AF: What role do you see Pontiac, Buick, and GMC playing in the commercial fleet market in the GM of the future?
Docherty: As the portfolio for all three brands continues to evolve, we’re focused on providing the widest range of choices for customers who demand a little something more from their vehicles. Quality, functionality, and fuel economy are the “price of entry,” but we believe Buick, Pontiac, and GMC can offer unique levels of style, refinement, and capability that will appeal to those whose vehicles, even at work, are reflections of their own personalities.
AF: What fuel-efficiency initiatives do you have for future product from Pontiac, Buick, and GMC?
Docherty: As with every brand of General Motors, we are focusing our efforts in three broad areas. First, we are attempting to maximize the potential of our current internal combustion engines through the use of technologies such as Active Fuel Management and other fuel saving strategies.
Today, three Pontiac products (G5, Vibe, and G6) are capable of more than 30 mpg on the highway and account for about a third of total Pontiac sales. GMC also offers the most fuel-efficient, full-size trucks on the market.
Second, we are actively pursuing alternative fuel strategies, including E-85 from cellulosic ethanol production. Lastly, we are evolving the electrification of vehicles, from today’s two-mode hybrids, such as the GMC Yukon Hybrid, to the extended range, electrically driven vehicles of the near future.
AF: How do you plan to differentiate GMC as the truck product of choice for commercial fleet buyers?
Docherty: GMC trucks offer the best combination of power and fuel efficiency in the industry. Commercial fleet buyers will find GMC a highly differentiated, premium truck that provides professional grade capabilities with innovative features and unique design elements.
Knowledgeable fleet buyers who are passionate about what they want will value the quality and attention to detail GMC trucks offer. Additionally, the Denali brand provides a great differentiator by offering exclusive features with a distinct Denali design.
We’re building on the brand’s strength by continuing to expand GMC’s portfolio of trucks, SUVs, and crossovers, giving commercial fleet buyers a broader selection of professional grade products from which to choose.