Thursday, November 3rd, 2011
Being chosen by General Motors as one of the eight “daddy bloggers” to visit their headquarters in Detroit reminded me of the 1971 movie musical, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory; only I had a golden ticket inside the largest car manufacturer in the entire world. Also, I wouldn’t be accompanied by my previously bedridden Grandpa or meet any Oompa Loompas who would sing creepy songs.
If this were simply a tour of the production line, I wouldn’t have been so engaged. But instead, I was invited to check out how GM designs the Chevy Traverse.
How exactly do they figure out where to put the cup holders? How do they keep the cabin of the vehicle from being too noisy by the time it’s filled with kids and traveling 70 mph on the interstate? How do they simulate years of wear and tear on the vehicle’s seats?
3D Virtual Reality Technology
Instead of building a prototype costing thousands of dollars each time, GM now uses what is called The CAVE (Cave Automated Virtual Environment); basically it’s a small three walled room in which the proposed interior design on the vehicle is projected. The tester, wearing virtual reality glasses, is able to interact with the layout of the interior.
I was able try it out; it was very cool. Even though I knew there was nothing really there in front of me, I kept trying to grab the gear shifter and turn the steering wheel. With those high-tech glasses, it all seemed completely real.
Ultimately, by using The CAVE, the designers and engineers are able to test the functionality of the layout; answering questions like, “Will the gear shifter get in the way of the cup in the drink holder?” As for myself, I felt pretty rad getting to play around with what seemed like a state of the art video game system.
Experiments with Actual Kids
“Take Your Kids to Work Day” is a big deal at GM. By placing actual children into the Chevy Traverse, the engineers are able to see how children of all ages and size will function inside the vehicle:
Can a child in the third row see the dvd player if they are shorter than 4′ 6″? Can a 5 year-old girl step up into the vehicle, or does there need to be a handle to assist her? Will a Nintendo DS fit into the storage unit? How well does a McDonald’s cup fit into the cup holders?
I learned that the placement of cup holders actually plays a pretty important role when designing a child-friendly crossover SUV!
Environmental Squeak and Rattle Simulator
By using a “four-post shaker” (featured above), engineers are able to get a good idea of how the Traverse will perform and sound even on the toughest of terrains. It replicates a variety of road surface conditions as each side of the vehicle is suspended at different grades. I got to sit inside the Traverse while they did this test- it reminded me of a ride at Disney World for Honey, I Shrunk the Kids. (That was back in 1990, though.)
Validation Quality Overview
The Traverse is exercised for 8 hours a day on a special test track; enduring steel potholes (pictured above), extreme desert temperatures and blasting rain in GM’s “Parade of Punishment” tunnel, and run through a giant gutter of water that is two feet deep. (I could have ridden in the Traverse when this picture was taken, but I didn’t feel like getting out into the rain to run over a steel pothole.)
Seat Durability Testing
Basically, they have this huge weapon/machine that beats the heck out of the seats. When passengers sit down in a seat, they don’t perfectly place their butt directly down. Instead, they sort of scoot over the side of the seat, then settle into it; day after day, year after year. These seats have to last a long time; therefore, this heavy duty machine does the job of giving engineers an idea of how a seat will look 10 or 20 years from now.
So those are the highlights of what I got to see during my visit at the GM headquarters using my golden ticket. Pretty interesting (and slightly weird) stuff, right? They obviously go through a lot of trouble to make sure the Traverse is a quality family SUV, yet is still masculine enough for a man to drive his kids around in: There’s a reason the Traverse doesn’t have sliding doors, like a mini-van.
More importantly though, how does the Traverse hold up against the competition? I didn’t even know this until I started writing this post yesterday, two weeks after getting back from Detroit, but Parents Magazine’s parents.com website rated Traverse among its best family cars in 2010.
Stay tuned for my next trip to the GM Headquarters when I go back to shoot a commercial for the Traverse; as I have been appointed its official spokesman, representing the new demographic of real American dads driving dadmobiles. Just joking- but I think it’s darn good idea…