The (R)evolution of the Car Company

The (R)evolution of the Car Company

GM Urban Mobility Executive Director Peter Kosak speaks to a roomful of GreenBiz VERGE Conference attendees.

GM Urban Mobility Executive Director Peter Kosak speaks to a roomful of GreenBiz VERGE Conference attendees.

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.@GM Urban Mobility Exec. Director Peter Kosak discussed how the company is reinventing itself at @GreenBiz #VERGEcon
Monday, November 23, 2015 - 1:45pm

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Given the rise of alternative powertrains, autonomous and connected technologies, and various car-sharing models, General Motors Urban Mobility Executive Director Peter Kosak recently relayed how the company is reinventing itself and transforming its business model.

A roomful of GreenBiz VERGE conference attendees in San Jose interested in the intersection of technology, mobility and infrastructure listened to Kosak as he discussed the evolution of the industry.  

Kosak, a self-prescribed car enthusiast, says automotive has been in his bones ever since he was pushing Hot Wheels around braided-rug tracks when he was four years old. He knew he’d pursue it as a career.

He chose GM for its deep commitment to technology. When he was hired in the mid-80s, the company had just built the largest automotive wind tunnel in the world to support aerodynamics that increase fuel economy.  

“This was the largest automotive wind tunnel, and it still is, and for me to develop and test in this wind tunnel, that was magnetic for me,” he said.  

But that was a very different time, he explained, when all the innovation and technology that auto companies could muster were targeted in the car and under the hood. Advancements in powertrain and chassis systems, lighting controls and displays, and seating, for example.

Now GM is focused on technology beyond the car, surrounding it with connectivity – a path laid nearly two decades ago through OnStar. What was launched as “innovative services in motion” has grown from airbag deployment notification and unlocking doors to using telemetry data to determine the severity of a crash impact so first responders had good information when they got to the scene.

“And then that’s grown into concierge services,” he said. “We introduced RemoteLink in 2010 with the Volt. That’s an app to unlock doors and start it. It allows you to get information from the car; what’s the state of charge, tire pressure and other diagnostics. We since have blown that across the portfolio.”

Kosak said it’s having a big impact on owners; there were 50 million interactions with RemoteLink in the first part of this year alone. GM’s introduction of 4G LTE has continued the momentum.

“OnStar was dedicated to adding value to the ownership experience in a company that’s been pursuing a design-build-sell business model for 100 years,” said Kosak. “But increasingly now it’s getting into new areas that treat transportation more as a service. The hallmark characteristics are providing access and options and a user experience that’s as frictionless as you can get.”

Kosak walked through components of GM’s urban mobility strategy, from electrified vehicles and even fuel cells to solutions that solve the first-mile/last-mile challenge in heavily congested, intermodal urban environments. He mentioned an electric bike.

“It shouldn’t be a surprise when you have deep development capability in structures and material science and manufacturing, and aesthetic design, electrification, batteries, motors, power electronics…doing something like an electric bike is natural and clearly that’s an exploding opportunity space.

“And then there’s autonomous, and the magnitude of autonomous is something that’s probably going to disrupt more than anything else.”

The second component of the strategy deals with delivering mobility such as peer-to-peer or commuter pooling options and identifying the access points, such as a city, residential complex, campus, brand-based communities and parking.

“What closes the loop – and this is where the revolution is occurring – are all the things that enable a shared use system that essentially feels like ownership.

“If you can make it seamless, convenient and without-question reliable, these are the kinds of things that will unlock the potential of sharing and make sharing something more people will want to do.”

GM is executing various initiatives based on this multi-faceted strategy. Kosak spoke about a few, each of which are in different continents.

  • Let’s Drive NYC car-sharing program with Stonehenge apartment properties in Manhattan, using access to mobility as an amenity.
  • CarUnity peer-to-peer car-sharing in Germany enabling people to offer their car for rental or to rent a car easily through an app through Opel dealers, creating critical mass and reliability.
  • EN-V 2.0 electric vehicles on the campus of Jiao Tong University in China, looking at the form factor, customer feedback and trip patterns.

Kosak closed by stating he’s never seen a more disruptive time in the auto sector.

“The industry has always had a lot of innovation and innovative spirit, but now it’s different, and it’s really around the car,” he said. “With assets like OnStar, a large dealer network and the ability to fuse together the vehicle and personal devices and IT to create frictionless user experiences and sharing, I like our odds, overall.”