While General Motors focuses most of its resources on a handful of technical and engineering centers in the U.S., Europe and Asia, it has quietly been expanding its presence in the Middle East, using its Israeli facility as a sort of technical eye on the future.
GM has steadily increased the size of the staff at its center in Herzliya, Israel and expects it to number more than 200 by 2013. That, says the facility’s chief, will let it tap into the highly advanced engineering and research base Israel has become known for..
“You need that kind of structure in the car business,” says GM Israel site director Gil Golan.
“There are so many parts to a modern car that need to be engineered in order to ensure that everything works properly,” he says. “It’s far more complicated than with Internet companies, for example, where they produce a product or technology that can be ‘plugged in’ to a website or another product. We found that we’re far more successful if we put the full resources of GM at the service of the local subsidiary,” Golan said.
Golan said the mission of GM Israel is to develop the technologies that will make the car of tomorrow the best vehicle ever built.
“Israel has many good scientists and engineers, and we want to benefit from the activity here,” says Golan, who adds that the staff in Israel picks up new information and ideas much faster than employees at other GM development centers worldwide.
“In most places, it takes staff over a year, sometimes two or three, to become adept at what we are doing and how we need them to help. In Israel, it took no more than eight months until the staff was ready to start producing for the company,” Golan said.
“We had been scouring sites for development centers in the early part of this decade, and Israel came up on our radar screen,” as it did for many other multinationals that have opened facilities there.
GM opened its Israeli site in 2005 and now has several dozen engineers and corporate officials employed there, but Golan expects about 200 people – mostly engineers – to be on board by the end of 2013, Golan
GM Israel is developing technology in five areas, Golan said, including advanced sensing and vision systems; human interface systems that adapt voice and touch technology for autos; wireless enabling,
allowing a vehicle’s systems to use networks to ensure constant communication; infotainment; and vehicle control and robotics, with the Israeli group working directly with GM tech groups in Michigan on the world’s most advanced robots for driverless navigation.
While the company’s engineers and scientists are hard at work developing these systems, GM has not been averse to supporting Israeli companies that have unusually good technology. One of two branches of GM’s $100 million venture capital fund is located in Israel – the other is in Silicon Valley.
Its first investment, $5 million at the beginning of 2011, was in Israeli startup Powermat, which makes wireless charging mats for cell phones and other electronic devices. GM plans to include the mats in vehicles as soon as 2012, allowing drivers to easily recharge their handheld devices while on the road.
“Most American corporations get involved with foreign markets via an acquisition or partnership,” says Golan. “But in some markets, like Israel, there is so much going on that we can take advantage of, that
it makes sense to establish a more permanent presence, via our corporate presence. We see Israel as a place where GM can grow strategically.”
Golan was born and raised in Israel and attended the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, he worked for GM in the United States for over a decade, with a lengthy stint as its director of R&D global strategy.
He led GM’s effort to seek out the world’s top tech people and engineers, establishing GM facilities in several countries in the Far East.