The need to speed up the product development cycles helped expedite the big automaker’s decision to spend $1 billion dollars to rebuild and refurbish the company’s aging technical center in Warren, Michigan, a Detroit suburb.
Mark Reuss, GM vice president for product development, noted the Technical Center was 60 years old and had never undergone a complete renovation. However, GM now has the resources to plan for the future, he said. The last major addition to the Technical Center, the Vehicle Engineering Center of VEC, was completed more than 10 years ago.
“For awhile, we were just putting out fires,” said Reuss in an oblique reference to the company’s financial crisis and bankruptcy during the previous decade.
The world is changing, however, and the aging test cells at the Tech Center are no longer considered state of the art, he noted. The freak flood last summer that inundated the campus also served put a spotlight on the problem and underscored the need for new computer equipment, Reuss noted.
“We had to pump 30 million gallons out of this place,” said Reuss.
Parts of the renovation, such as the construction of a $130 million advance build center were the designs for future vehicles will be tested, have already started. Last year, GM purchased the former Campbell-Ewald headquarters building near the Tech Center for $35 million.
(General Motors investing $1 Billion at Tech Center. For more, Click Here.)
The building is being refurbished for use both as temporary quarters and as offices for 2,600 employees GM plans to add to the center by the time the renovation is finished in 2018. The Tech Center currently has more than 19,000 employees.
Reuss said the renovation will include the demolition of some facility-type buildings. But GM officials stressed that the look and feel of the fabled, historic core of the technical center, which was designed by Eero Saarinen in the early 1950s, will remain intact. Saarinen’s original design for the Technical Centers has served as the prototype for industrial parks all over the world and is a National History Landmark site.
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The original Research and Development Building, which has long housed GM’s science labs, will be completely renovated in line with the historic design. A new building that will house additional studios for designers will be added to the campus on a site near the existing design studios, which are considered on Saarinen’s masterpieces and the iconic design dome.
Mary Barra, GM’s chief executive officer, said last week that GM expects to maintain a hefty level of new investment well into the next decade as it continues to invest in new products for markets around the world.
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“We have significant investments in new technology, new materials, powertrains and transmissions. It’s across the board I think you should look at how this industry is changing,” said Barra. “We’re not letting anything distract us.”