General Motors will invest more than $71 million to set up its new design and technology center in Pasadena, California, replacing a smaller facility in North Hollywood where it has been based for the last two decades.
When it opens during the second half of 2022, the new campus will expand upon the current center’s mission to push the cutting edge of design, engineering and other technologies. The existing facility has not only worked on the development of traditional cars and light trucks, but also recently previewed a prototype lunar buggy that would be used for NASA’s planned return to the moon.
“We’re always trying to reach out and see how far we can go and (find) what’s really the limit,” said Bryan Nesbitt, GM’s executive director of Global Advanced Design. “That’s what this space is all about.”
Need for a West Coast location
Most major automakers now operate advanced design and engineering centers on the West Coast. They’re meant to pick up on the region’s cutting-edge trends while also giving quick access to the tech centers of Los Angeles and Silicon Valley.
“Having a physical presence in Southern California’s technology epicenter is an integral part of our global design operations and this new innovation campus will not only expand our operations twofold, but offers access to the rich cultural diversity and talent in the region,” said Michael Simcoe, GM vice president of Global Design.
The current, 2-acre campus in North Hollywood has simply run out of space, Nesbitt explained during a virtual media roundtable. The Pasadena center will have numerous buildings spread across 8 acres.
Much of the effort today is focused on advanced design, “new ideas,” Nesbitt explained, that are “much farther out, maybe two generations out, from actual production.”
Impact the new location may have
The new facility will play an even bigger role for GM going forward as it adapts to major changes in the world of transportation. The current campus played a key role in the development of the Cruise Origin, for example. The fully driverless shuttle vehicle will soon begin rolling around the streets of San Francisco as part of a pilot program that could eventually see the Origin go into commercial service worldwide.
The Advanced Design Center also helped in the development of GM’s new BrightDrop subsidiary. Set to launch next year, it will market electric delivery vans and the droid-like EP1. It worked up a design for Cadillac’s flying car prototype and pushed even further into the heavens with a lunar rover concept developed as part of a joint venture with Lockheed Martin.
More down to earth, the Advanced Design Center will look at potentially radical new shapes for tomorrow’s electric and autonomous vehicles. The automaker’s new EVs will use skateboard like platforms with their motors and batteries mounted under the load floor. That frees up space where an internal combustion engine normally would go. In turn, that can be repurposed for passengers and cargo.
Autonomous vehicles could go a step further, as the Cruise Origin demonstrates. With no need for a driver, it can completely open up its interior, whether to serve as a shuttle pod, a delivery vehicle, or even as a living room on wheels.
The Pasadena facility will also serve to explore new design and engineering technologies, as well as to produce future research vehicles and automotive show cars.
Many GM employees will be working remotely for the foreseeable future. And the new Pasadena complex will allow workers to connect virtually. But there’s a limit to how much can be done in digital space, cautioned Nesbitt. “Virtual can only get you so far,” he stressed. Eventually, actual models and prototypes have to be built to ensure that all those new ideas will work in the real world.