WARREN, MI – Perhaps out of fear of backlash from regulators and consumer groups, automakers generally have trod lightly over the outlandish idea of taking a nap or working on a laptop in an automated vehicle.
But in a demonstration of its confidence in autonomous technology and quite likely with the hopes of convincing investors it is remaking its business model for the future, General Motors shows off a few crazy ideas of its own such as playing video games on the commute home from work, sitting campfire-style with friends on the way out for the evening and even reclining in a seat BarcaLounger-style to catch a few winks.
Those ideas come from the GM Innovation Group, a 2-year-old unit occupying a tiny corner of the automaker’s sprawling R&D center here, where the mission is to re-imagine transportation with an eye 10 years down the road but also sharply focus on fattening company profitability.
“What we do here is very deliberate, very intentional and we can pivot quickly,” says Nate Fitzpatrick, who leads the team.
The GM Innovation Group oftentimes works with mature companies similar to GM, such as Exxon and Microsoft, to learn non-automotive approaches to innovation.
But the group itself operates with a startup mentality, Fitzpatrick says, and employs a tactical development process. Speed is the word, he adds, and there is no fear of dismantling even the most promising idea if it does not make a business case.
Fitzpatrick says the group also is guided by GM’s vision for zero crashes, zero emissions and zero congestion. GM Chairman and CEO Mary Barra outlined the strategy last year, and it is underpinned by the launch of 20 new all-electric vehicles by 2023. GM wants to sell 1 million all-electric vehicles by 2026 and believes someday all its cars and trucks will be electric.