future transport

Innovation is happening at GM with innovative partners

Lixar I.T. Community, Tech

Speech:  Steve Carlisle speaks to Canadian Club of Toronto


October 21, 2015 – was an important date.

In the 1989 movie “Back to Future 2”, Canadian actor Michael J Fox travelled back and forth in time with the benefit of knowing where technology would take the world.

Much of what the film forecast was remarkably on point.

While we don’t have flying cars yet, we now have hover boards and flying drones.

And we are now turning waste into energy.

The lesson here is, we should never underestimate the pace of change and the possibilities that can be realized through imagination and ingenuity.

There are so many things we could talk about today given the pressures and opportunities facing the auto sector but, I’d like to focus on what I think is the single most important challenge andopportunity for our industry: and that is innovation and the future of mobility.

In fact here in Canada its time to get back to thinking about the future of the automotive industry.

Every day, we read aspirational stories:

  • Google is working on driverless cars;
  • Tesla is developing new electric vehicles;
  • And, of course, Uber is using smartphone technology to change the way we get around.

Automotive disruption based on new technology and new thinking has arrived – and nowhere more than at General Motors where we are looking to the future in new and exciting ways.

Our CEO, Mary Barra, has said that at GM, “Our goal is to disrupt ourselves, and own the customer relationship beyond the car.”

So, GM will be a disruptor.

Disruptive thinking is happening at our own Technical Centre in Warren Michigan and right here at our Canadian Engineering Centre in Oshawa, where, this past May, we took on a new innovation mandate for work related to the connected car.

There are three major areas of rapid innovation happening today and they will ultimately convergein the next few years into what we call “The Future of Mobility”:

First, environmental technology and electric cars –

our industry is spending hundreds of billions of dollars on environmental technology improvements to reduce emissions.

That includes improved engines, transmissions, hybrids and light-weight materials

But, I think the most significant and lasting change here will prove to be the transition, over time, to electric vehicles and Fuel Cells.

Second, the rapid emergence of the “connected car,” and eventually, a shift to more autonomous or driverless vehicles.
This change is driven by connectivity amongst vehicle sensors and high speed mobile networks.

This is an area where GM has been the leader for years through our OnStar system and advanced controls: both of which are very important for us here in Canada.

Third, and possibly most important, we are seeing a  fundamental change in the way we think about using cars, especially in crowded cities.

We call this “urban mobility.

What it means is that we are moving toward an;

  • integrated,
  • multi-modal,
  • electric,
  • and shared mobility system of the future.

Again, it’s an area where we need innovative and collaborative thinking.

Let me give you a few examples.

First, environmental technology,

and more specifically, changes that reduce the use of carbon based fuels and greenhouse gases.

For a long time the auto sector has been viewed as part of the problem because of auto emissions.

But, I would argue that we are fast becoming a big part of the solution.

Electrification is one way to reduce our use of carbon based fuels, whether that’s using fuel cells that emit only droplets of water, or more practically today, battery-driven electric vehicles, or EVs as they are often called.

GM is committed to leadership in electric car development.
And we are listening very carefully to our customers as we go.

We offer three for sale today – the Cadillac ELR, the Chevrolet Spark and Canada’s best selling plug in vehicle, the Chevrolet Volt, which was on display as you arrived today.

But, we are not stopping there.

At the Toronto Auto show earlier this year, I was proud to unveil the Chevrolet Bolt EV Concept

a breakthrough all-electric car with 320 kms of pure battery range. 

And, the Bolt is going in production next year.

It will be fun to go head to head with Tesla in this affordable, longer range battery class.

Now, consumer adoption of EVs is slowly taking hold.

But, we are still not at the tipping point.

The reason for that is pretty straightforward –

Consumers still have concerns.

These include battery range and recharging times and the availability of charging stations at work or in their condo.

At this time, these are challenges we can and will solve.

We also need to understand the wide availability of low cost gasoline options is another major factor in peoples’ buying decisions.

One thing our experience bears out is that we need to listen to consumers.

Legislating quotas of what people “need to” buy simply doesn’t work.

Successful change, will only come when you align technology, infrastructure, governments and consumers.

That is now happening with more synergy, and is pointing to an increasingly electric future.

And that is why we are continuing to invest in research that will result in improved battery life, longer range and affordable products.

Battery technology is an area in which I believe Canada and its leading universities can and should take a focused and coordinated interest.

That will be the true technological game changer for EVs in our future.

The second big trend in auto innovation is the connected car and the move toward autonomous driving.

Can anyone remember life before smartphones and tablets?

What smartphones have done to connect us in the past decade, the car will do in the future – and much more.

Analytic firms like the Gartner Group are telling us that the automobile is the next big platform for mobile wireless innovation.

Automotive will be the key driver for the emerging Internet of things which includes:

  • vehicle to vehicle connections,
  • road to vehicle,
  • huge arrays of sensors driving big data,
  • and, very connected drivers.

For new car buyers today, especially younger consumers, connectivity is now a top reason to buy a specific model.

Let me turn to Tech Journalist and Author Marc Saltzman to show us how this is happening:

Saltzman video to follow

I wanted to show that video to give you a visual idea of how this is working in our vehicles today.

Innovation in the connected car is a critical focus for us at our Canadian Engineering Centre in Oshawa where we are now developing and commercializing many of these future technologies with Canadian partners.

Today, GM has more than 1 million 4G LTE connected customers on the road in North America.

By comparison, all our competitors combined have just 25,000!

In fact, we sold more 4G LTE connected vehicles in 3 days in June this year than the rest of the industry did in the first half of 2015.

Safety will be one of the biggest areas of benefit from the connected car.

And, for those of us who are parents of young drivers, there is no more important aspect of vehicle safety than protecting them.

Teenagers are three times more likely to be in fatal crashes than drivers over 20.

So, now the connected car has enabled something we call “Teen Driver.

This is an innovation we recently introduced for parents to help their teenagers learn safe driving skills.

It’s is an app initiated and operated by the parent,

It tracks:

  • distance driven by the teenager,
  • maximum speed travelled,
  • over speed warnings issued,
  • anti-lock brake events and more.

And here’s a good one, when activated Teen Driver automatically mutes the radio until seat belts are fastened.

If you have a teenager, you will appreciate why that works.

And the next evolutionary step from the connected car is the car that drives itself – or what we call “autonomous driving”.

The media and many others are fascinated by the driverless car.

At GM, we are too.

Lux Research, IDC has projected that autonomous vehicles will be an $87 billion industry by 2030.

Technologies such as lane keeping, adaptive cruise control and active braking, are all innovations that are with us today.

They are stepping stones that will one day soon take us to autonomous driving.

Personally, I will always love the experience of driving.

But the option to let your car do the driving for you, in bumper to bumper traffic on the QEW, or in a straight line across the Prairies, hands free, and safely, is very appealing.

Cadillac will start to offer that ability on certain models early next year.

So, folks, it is just around the corner.

Our governments will need to be increasingly involved with connected and autonomous car technology as we invest in new infrastructure, develop the right approaches to protect customer privacy, ensure their security and work toward less congested and safer roadways.

This is an area where regulation can be an enabler of innovation.

And, a good example of that is the Ontario Government’s actions to enable autonomous vehicles testing on our roads under controlled conditions.

This is the type of forward looking policy that is needed if we wish to participate — technically and economically — in this fast expanding area of innovation.

The third big trend is “urban mobility.”

This is all about problem solving, breaking our old mind sets and coming up with new ways to get around.

Congestion is a global challenge and city regions like the GTHA are important laboratories for our future.

What I see is the start of an important move toward an integrated, multi-modal mobility system of the future where these trends will all come together.

It will be predominately electric and an important part of the new sharing economy.

At GM, we recognize that car ownership, as we know it, can be expensive and inconvenient.

And the reality is that most privately owned cars sit idle more than 90% of the time – that’s an under utilized asset that takes up a lot of space.

So, maybe we need to change our thinking.

In New York, GM has a pilot project running where we have a fleet of cars available to condo owners, 24/7 as part of their condo fees.

  • You reserve a vehicle — when you need it — with a smartphone app;
  • And we’ll be charged up and ready to go.

It’s part of our new business thinking today and a natural evolution of our emerging “sharing economy.

Our first pilot car sharing program was actually with Google in California,

and we have other pilot projects running in China and Germany, each testing different approaches.

We also recognize that students really benefit from car availability upon demand at student prices.

So, closer to home, we are working with Autoshare to provide car sharing on five campuses in Toronto.

There is no reason that car sharing models should not be part of the solution to our mobility challenges in the GTHA.

New approaches that combine smartphone technology and connected car technology – perhaps some that even disrupt Uber – can make this appealing to people in the city.  Clearly, this is one very practical way to reduce congestion and improve urban mobility.

We really need to innovate and do a better job tackling the nightmare known as the “daily commute” – an inefficiency that costs our economy dearly.

We are about to spend billions on improved urban transportation infrastructure in Canada and that’s a very good thing.

But we also need to ensure we are getting long term strategic value from those investments by factoring in changing automotive technology and anticipating the future mobility needs of drivers.

At the end of the day, a great many of us we will still be moving in vehicles, but we can achieve added value through automotive innovation that can reduce vehicle traffic and GHG emissions at the same time.

Let me be more specific.

The key challenge in the broader GTHA is in moving from, say, your home in Burlington to the GO Train and then to work in downtown Toronto and back – safely and efficiently.

This is a multimodal challenge, involving one of the longest commute times in the world,

affecting millions of people.

So imagine:

Through the OnStar Remote Link app on your smartphone,

you access an available shared fleet of electric vehicles in, say, Burlington — maybe even an autonomous car — that picks you up and delivers you to the GO-train.

And, in summer, what if your Remote Link app had your reserved e-bike waiting at Union Station to scoot that last mile to the office.

And, you could fold up that bike and put it next to your desk, ready for the ride home?

We are bringing these ideas to life as we speak at our Engineering Centre in Oshawa — including the development of a special e-bike that we will have more to say about next year.

And here’s another exciting part – the economic opportunity for Ontario and Canada.

These new technologies and approaches have already started to create a new kind of global automotive technology supply chain.

It is bringing together:

  • new industries,
  • new business models,
  • new R&D challenges,
  • new roles for universities,
  • new skills requirements,
  • new ways of looking at our infrastructure,
  • and new approaches to security and privacy.

Not to mention, exciting jobs for people graduating from Science Technology Engineering and Math (STEM) fields coming out of our great Ontario institutions.

[In Ottawa and] Oshawa, we’re already working with innovative partners like Magna, Lixar and Crosschasm to name a few, as well as a range of leading Canadian universities that offer R&D collaboration projects and future recruits.

Over the past few months, I have had the opportunity to tour Waterloo and McMaster Universities, meeting with faculty and students to see the kinds of advanced engineering and research they are undertaking here in Canada.

I would like to take a moment to recognize the students who are here today from the University of Waterloo WATCar team and the MacMaster University ECOCar and Formula SAE teams.

Your accomplishments are truly impressive.

And, I am not the only one who thinks so.

At our recent Global Business Conference, when GM was asked whether we will be able to get the talent we need from Silicon Valley,

our Global Head of Product Development instead pointed to the University of Waterloo, noting that school “is rapidly becoming a great pipeline for us of young, creative and talented people eager to join this company.“

In fact, Ontario now produces more qualified STEM grads than the State of California.

What also attracts us at GM is the ecosystem – the combination of R&D and talent in our universities, startups and incubators, and a willingness to partner for the future.

I am especially honoured that we have some of our key partners with us here today and I would like to briefly introduce two of them.

First, Iain Klugman from Communitech in Waterloo.

Iain has been a great partner.

And today, I am pleased to announce that GM Canada will be establishing an innovation zone within Communitech with initial an focus on exploring urban mobility and connected car solutions.

Communitech has demonstrated that its unique approach can foster new ideas and bring together new businesses and new solutions,

So it is an ideal partner for GM Canada.

We plan to have our GM Canada presence at Communitech up and running shortly.

Thank you for being with us here today Iain.

It is also my honour to introduce Dr. Pearl Sullivan, the Dean of Engineering at the University of Waterloo.

Pearl, the work you are doing is truly inspiring and important.

When GM visited you in March you said something that really caught our attention.

And that is that you get up each day thinking about how your university can help drive the economy of Canada.

We saw that you are doing just that and we are right in your corner as you continue to grow —
especially with the new E7 engineering building — which we hope and expect many other companies and levels of government will get behind as well.

I am pleased to announce today that GM Canada will be providing $1 million in support to the University of Waterloo for two important projects that fit right into our focus on developing connected car and greener vehicle technologies.

One is a research chair in light-weight materials development led by Professor Kaan Inal — who is with us today and whose work is already making a tremendous contribution to GM’s vehicle programs.

And, in keeping with our Oshawa mandate for connected car software development, we will be the exclusive automotive partner of the Faculty of Engineering’s Capstone Design program that includes providing ten Capstone Design Prizes and mentorship opportunities.

Thank you Pearl for your great work and partnership.

Let me close with a few thoughts on the role of government in all of this,

And, issue a bit of a challenge, or call to action, if you will.

Clearly, there is a very important role for governments in all aspects of transportation,

from regulatory oversight to maintaining the transit systems and roadways we all depend upon.

It is encouraging that both the federal and provincial governments have committed to significant investments in infrastructure and they are showing genuine interest in automotive innovation for the future.

My challenge to our governments is to get your skates and helmets on. It’s time to get into the corners and take a hard look at how to leverage automotive innovation.

We have an opportunity to:

  • gain far greater value from our infrastructure investments;
  • reduce traffic and GHGs;
  • And, above all, grab this unique opportunity to anchor and unlock significant new economic potential for Canada.

Canada can get into the playoffs by being a partner, an innovator and a risk taker.

Other governments are already moving in this direction.

At GM we are tracking RFPs in the area of autonomous and urban mobility projects in Singapore, Japan and China, and collaborative projects like the autonomous test driving facilities in Ann Arbor Michigan just to mention a few.

These are big investment projects.

They will have a global impact.

But no one owns this space yet – no company, no country and no government.

Sometimes the answer is simply to follow the advice of one of our greatest innovators who famously said it’s about skating to where the puck is going to be.

At the Waterloo Innovation Summit in September, I was pleased to hear Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne acknowledge that government needs to innovate as well.

She quoted Dr. Marianna Mazzucato – a leading economist and innovator — saying that,
“…the state has a leading role to play in creating the vision, sharing the inherent risks and encouraging the sort of private-sector investment that leads to sustained economic growth.

Dr. Mazzucato points out that Government can do what is not being done or what won’t be done by the private sector”

I could not agree more.

When governments engage they can facilitate areas of cross-sector, cross-discipline, coordination that otherwise simply won’t happen fast enough to capitalize on the opportunities at hand.

Governments can bring to life catalytic projects that are meaningful in scope.

This can help to anchor knowledge, capacity, jobs and economic activity for the future.

Why not issue a request for proposals for projects that define a road map for how multi modal, connected, autonomous, and electric mobility technologies can reduce costs and help address congestion?

A serious project like that could help us, for example, to scope out and test:

  • Dedicated autonomous pathways
  • vehicle to vehicle and vehicle to infrastructure communications protocols;
  • network bandwidth requirements
  • infrastructure sensing, control and monitoring systems
  • Regulation that enables innovation

And we should always be looking for real world consumer feedback.

My sense is that Canadians would be enthusiastic early adopters.

Here’s why I am encouraged – we now have provincial and federal governments that I sense understand the opportunity and importance of building an economy that is technology-based and value added.

Things are changing fast.

And Canada has an open door into one of the most exciting new areas of technological change on the planet.

At GM Canada we are pressing ahead in all these areas.

We are rethinking the future of automotive business and we are starting to disrupt ourselves and our industry. For the benefit of our customers.

My objective today was to call upon:

  • our governments,
  • our universities,
  • our accelerators,
  • our suppliers and other potential partners to do the same.

Let’s define the future of mobility and do it right here in Canada.