Although it’s not exactly the riddle of the Sphinx (answer: man), many of our Best and Brightest have wondered why GM can’t make a decent car interior. Even before GM Car Czar Bob Lutz assumed the throne (since abdicated), the American automaker has admitted that they need to step up their game within its vehicles. And yet, in the main, the fit and finish of GM interiors still doesn’t make the grade. Obviously, there’s a whole host of contributing factors—from supplier contracts to union work rules. A GM insider recently contacted TTAC to provide an important piece of that particular puzzle. Agent X reveals one of the main reasons GM’s interiors failed to match the competition: the executives didn’t know there was a problem. Still don’t. Here’s why . . .
As you probably know, ever since GM was founded, its execs have either been driven by a chauffeur or provided with carefully prepared and maintained examples of the company’s most expensive vehicles. Of course, there are times when the suits must sign off on the company’s more prosaic products. Since 1953, this intersection between high flyer and mass market occurred at GM’s Mesa, Arizona, Desert Proving Grounds (DPG). The execs would fly into Phoenix’s Sky Harbor airport, limo out to the DPG and drive the company’s latest models.
Our agent says that all the vehicles the execs drove were “ringers.” More specifically, the engineers would tweak the test vehicles to remove any hint of imperfection. “They use a rolling radius machine to choose the best tires, fix the headliner, tighten panel and interior gaps, remove shakes and rattles, repair bodywork—everything and anything.”
Did the execs know this? “Nope. And nobody was going to tell them . . . As far as they knew, the cars were exactly as they would be coming off the line. That’s why Bob Lutz thinks GM’s products are world-class. The ones he’s driven are.”
I asked Agent X if the GM execs would ever drive the cars again. Did he know if Wagoner or Lutz dropped in at a dealership to test drive a random sample off the lot? He found the idea amusing.
Well, did the DPG at least send a list of changes to the design and production teams? “The tweaks were never reported to anyone,” he says. “That would’ve been a sure way to kill your career . . . We’d see the cars come back to us after production with the exact same problems.”
According to Agent X, GM’s testing regimen is getting worse, not better. GM has sold-off the DPG (soon to be a major resort). The replacement facility in Michoacán, Mexico, has proven problematic—weather and local topography are hampering testing procedures—and the new Yuma, Arizona, facility is not yet up and running.
And anyway, GM’s reduced its DPG testing by over seventy percent. “The buzz inside GM is now ‘from road to lab to math.'” In other words, laboratory tests are replacing road tests, until computer simulation can replace lab tests.
Agent X and I agreed that GM’s product development system was and is fundamentally flawed. Equally important, we also shared the belief that there’s tremendous talent locked-up inside the CYA hell that is GM’s corporate culture. “Look at the ZR1,” he said. “It shows GM can make great, world-beating cars.”
“But what about the Corvette’s interior,” I asked. His silence spoke volumes.