What's tomorrow Holden in store
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As Holden brings more of its vehicles into New Zealand in the next few years, one General Motors boss is making sure the products are ready for our conditions.
American Lowell Paddock is vice-president of planning and programme management, covering the Asia Pacific area, and is based in Singapore
He is a vastly experienced manager for GM, after working in China and India.
And while he may have moved to Singapore three years ago, and also has a home in New York City, he has his two dream cars sitting in a garage in Europe -- a 1970s BMW 3 Series coupe and Mercedes-Benz 230 SL.
Liz Dobson sat down with Paddock at the North American International Auto Show this week and discussed his role with the new Holden products.
What does your job involve?
Our Singapore office co-ordinates all our facilities in Asia Pacific, without China, the Middle East and Africa.
That's a lot of ground to cover and a lot of different markets. There is no one size fits all. . There are environmental requirements and customer requirements.
More GM products are coming into New Zealand, how is that impacting your role?
We all wake in the morning to make sure we have the customer voice in the vehicle; the business starts and ends with the customer, and the voice of the customer and making sure out design teams are aware of what is unique in the market place.
We are fortunate that we have in the GM Holden team a skilled set of development engineers who are very vocal in ensuring requirements are in the vehicle, whether it is to suit road conditions, climatic conditions, or tastes in options such as trims. There is a tremendous amount of interaction with my team and with Australia three or four times a week, about all aspects of development.
The whole point of the development process is that you have to get this stuff right first time as you can't blend it in later. It's like building a house; you can't come in when the house is finished and say, "I really want that closet three metres to the left".
When you think about building vehicles for global requirements, it's a very complicated process, with a lot of compromises, no one gets everything they want but the important thing is to have that dialogue at the beginning. We are fortunate that we chief engineers (based in Detroit) have travelled to our markets and know the requirements. Our voice is well represented in Detroit in the process.
Lowell Paddock pictured. Photo / Liz Dobson
With the expansion into Australasia, will there be more testing in our region?
Absolutely, but I think there is a certain part of that work that can be done virtually. The chief engineer of the Equinox (that arrives in New Zealand later this year),says a lot of the work for the hardware is done beforehand, because the sophistication of the technology is such that you can put in crash testing, noise and vibration, a lot of the stuff can be developed and foreseen electronically before we see hardware.
This means rather than building hardware of this level of variation, we narrow it down to a more limited spectrum of questions we need to answer in the physical vehicle.
So, certainly, we will be bringing vehicles to the region but, as we go forward, that type of testing is more focused on certain areas.
Will every product you be working on have an EV model?
No, I think this will range, from the Bolt, a pure EV, to levels of electrification. It could be something as simple as stop-start in the vehicle, which a few years ago was a limited feature but is becoming pervasive.
I think it's very difficult to say we're going to make electrified and internal combustion engine versions of every vehicle, I envision it more of a continuum and it's hard trying to figure out where the market demand is going on electric vehicles in the future; how strong is it going to be; how appealing; the customers?
If you look at the Bolt and Volt (that was on sale in New Zealand a few year ago but is now only left-hand-drive), which is really a range extender vehicle and not technically a hybrid but has some of the same characteristics, the things we learned from that we were able to deploy in other products when and where it makes sense to do so.
I think the capability our organisation has on pure EVs, on hybrids, the spectrum of electrification down to minimal electrification, that is something that is deployed across the line.
The market is dominated by SUVs and utilities, do you see this continuing or is there another vehicle coming along that will dominate?
The big question mark is where the price of fuel ends up. We are in a period where fuel is affordable and I think people don't think that much about fuel economy when they are buying their vehicles.
I think the question will be if, or when, the price of fuel goes up again over US$100 a barrel, are people going to say, "I want to keep my SUV but you're going to have to improve the fuel economy" or will they go back to passenger cars.
My guess is that people, having moved into this SUV-type environment, will want to stay in those types of cars. If you look at what is coming up in New Zealand, the Trax, the Equinox, the Acadia, we are bringing out best global products to the region.
I drove the Equinox to Chicago last weekend from New York City, and I was impressed with how light it feels. I think what is moving people into this type of vehicle is that there is virtually no compromise. The overall handling and performance are very car-like and now with all the aids, such as the 360 degree camera, some of the disadvantages you might have had in the past in terms of visibility and the higher seating position are gradually being overcome by technology.
Take our new Cadillac CT6, we have a rear-view mirror that eliminates the pillars at the back by creating a virtual image. It's extraordinary when you're driving down the road and you realise there is nothing behind you, you're seeing an image of the road behind you.
When you get back into a normal car, you think, "why can't you get rid of the rear pillars back there?".
There is no distinction between passenger cars and SUVs in our company.
Other brands, such as Ford, have talked about introducing autonomous cars by 2020, so the future isn't that far away?
It's easy to speculate whether it will come faster than expected.
Remember, a lot of things we are doing are a case of soft change; we have the senses, we have the hardware, and it's really developing the capability and the artificial intelligence behind that. That cycle of learning, it's not like you're testing three-dimensional hard-metal prototypes, you're trying to figure out how the softer side of that technology works.
As that gains momentum, it could come faster than we expect.
Who is going to want it, where we will roll it out is to be determined, but I can see it in London, Paris, wherever, there is a lot of appeal to leave the driving to someone else.