Yesterday in Michigan, I attended the GM Product/Technology Event. I came into this event with very little knowledge about cars, and was able to experience the presentations as any student in my position might. And at this presentation I learned a lot — I had experiences with different kinds of people, different kinds of cars, and social media.
Most of the people with whom I interacted at this event were invitees, as I was. There were two in particular (who’s last names I will not use because I have not received permission from them to do such) who introduced me to the “car culture” as one called it. These two men were Adam and Joel. Both of them had the excitement for the General Motors products presented that generally I only get on an absolutely perfect day of snowboarding. I am not exaggerating when I say that Adam may have stopped breathing momentarily when a few of the cars were presented. Joel was in my tour group, and was eager to share everything he knew about cars with me. And that’s the interesting thing I learned about these auto enthusiasts — there’s a definite and intense camaraderie between them, but they are incredibly welcoming to automotive luddites like me.
Keeping up with the theme of welcoming, three men working for General Motors left a very good impression on me, and thus a good impression of the company. The first was Pat Morissey, who works in Communications. I had fears that I would not be taken seriously at this event, being not-quite 22 and automotively-impaired. But within seconds of walking into the GM Tech Center, Pat came up to me, introduced himself, and we chatted. I explained to him that I was very interested in the media and communications aspect of GM, and he gave me a lot of information regarding how they plan to proceed with it in the future. (i.e. Social Media) I saw Pat again at the Milford Proving Grounds, where he once again approached me and then explained how certain cars were designed for certain uses. (Commuter, Highway, City)
The second GM-er I’d like to mention was Adam Denison. I met Adam while I was waiting to drive a Camaro at the Milford Proving Grounds. He does the PR for Camaro (as well as others), and the thing that struck me most about him was that he was enthusiastic and seemed genuinely hopeful for the future of the company. Professionally, having people like Adam working at GM shows that the company isn’t a stodgy, cob-web filled place (metaphorically, because I know it isn’t literally) and that if internally they can connect with younger generations, then externally they absolutely should be able to do the same. Personally, I admire Adam Denison and his career path, because I realized on the flight back that it’s pretty much exactly what I’d like to do, as well.
The final GM-er to be mentioned is General Motors CEO Fritz Henderson. Mr. Henderson (I just realized that I didn’t use proper titles for Pat and Adam. Please don’t be offended if you read this gentlemen, that’s how you introduced yourselves!) is not, by any stretch of the mind, what I expected an auto executive to be. (Side note: Bob Lutz definitely is.) When Mr. Henderson spoke to our group, he was straightforward and honest with us. He looked towards the positives, but in a way that understood it will take continuous time and effort. After he spoke, as attendees were shuffling out to test drive GM autos, Mr. Henderson waited and a queue of people lined up to speak to him. I expected meeting him to be like when I met author Chuck Klosterman — shake his hand, take a picture, and keep going on my merry way. But Mr. Henderson took a minute or two (not seconds!) to talk to each and every one of us. He asked me where I was from, where I went to school, what my major was. He even told me about the times when he used to live in Connecticut! When I was explaining to someone later what it was like to meet Mr. Henderson I said that it was like talking to an uncle or a very well-respected college professor. (Neither of these compliments do I give lightly.) After he met with everyone in line to meet him, he donned one of the bright red Camaro hats and jumped right into the Proving Ground to talk to everyone again! Admittedly, I know little about big business, but as a consumer it gives me hope to know that the man running all of General Motors is kind, approachable and open to change and opinions.
Now… the cars! I must give credit where credit is due. I have been very happy and satisfied with my Volvo S60 for as long as I’ve driven it. (I’m going to admit once again that I know very little about cars!) But when I got to the Design Dome I spotted a car. Not just any car. While everyone else in that dome seemed gravitationally pulled to the Camaro I made a run for the Chevy Spark. It is a GREAT car. I told every General Motors rep who asked me this – the Chevy Spark is, without a doubt in my mind, the car for my age bracket. (I will also include the Aveo in this.) It is small, stylish and, according to the gentleman (who’s name I am sorry to say I didn’t get) who explained the car to me – far more affordable than most cars. The trunk space is severely limited, but for college/recent grads/grad students on the go, this car is ideal. What I thought would be a deal breaker for me is that I wouldn’t be able to fit my snowboard anywhere in the car. But the top of the car is actually ideally set up so you can rig racks to it. So now I’m anxiously awaiting the days when A. it comes to the states so I can test drive it B. my Volvo breathes its last breath C. I can actually afford to buy myself a car.
After our tours of the facilities and presentations we (as mentioned earlier) went to the Milford Proving Grounds to test drive cars. I have never, much to the chagrin of my mother, truly enjoyed driving. My trusty 1990 Ford Taurus/2003 Hyundai Elantra/2004 Volvo S60 have gotten me where I’ve needed to go since I was sixteen. I always thought enjoying driving was just something some people did and some people didn’t. But then I drove the Camaro. And I enjoyed driving. And then I drove the Corvette Grand Sport. I wish I knew how to accurately define how it felt to go 0 – 60 mph in 4 seconds without a. squealing (which I did) or b. swearing in shock (which I also may have done. Sorry!). While I readily admit this will probably be the only time in my life I ever drive a Corvette it has given me a new perspective on driving and how it can be enjoyed in any type of car. Aside from driving the Camaro SS, Camaro RS, Corvette and Corvette Grand Sport I drove the Chevy Equinox, the Cadillac CTS Sport Wagon, and the Chevy Sliverado 3500 HD Diesel. (That last one was a dare by Adam. He didn’t think I could do it. Considering I actually had to hoist all 5’1″ of myself into the truck because my legs were too short to get in, I did a decently good job.) The Equinox was just as easy to handle and drive as the Camaro was. The Cadillac was my least favorite, (I didn’t like the way the steering handled) but I suppose that’s alright seeing as the Cadillacs are not quite designed for my demographic. A big factor in driving these cars, in driving any cars, was the capability to adjust the seat. In every car I have ever driven, I’ve needed a little boost (pillow) to see over the steering wheel. I have my Volvo seat as high as it can go, and alas, I am still a smidge too short. Even the Camaros and Corvettes could allow you to adjust the seat as high as it could possibly go. I could see over the steering wheel before I even lowered it! (This may not seem like a big deal to the majority of you but it was a HUGE deal for me.)
At the end of the event I had very little critique for or of anything I saw. Actually, there was only one. And it wasn’t even the product that was presented, but the way in which the product was presented. In the Buick and Cadillac salons, presenters kept reinforcing the point of a recent “Renaissance” of the cars, and looking forward into the future. The first time it was stated it was a very eloquent and well worded idea. But when it was said a second and third time by other people, it seemed to me that GM was trying very hard to make a point. In terms of semantics, to me “renaissance” is a word that is not to be used lightly. There are other words that can be used for it, but its repetition made it seem too forced, too rehearsed, and less believable. Had the representatives expanded on the renaissance point, taken it in different directions or looked at it from different angles, I would have felt more confident in its veracity.
Before I close up this lengthy post I want to make a comment on social media – I’ve always been a Twitter user, but yesterday I connected to Twitter-ers at the event, who were following the event from their own homes, and to the executives who were involved in or at the event. It boggles the mind to think how those connections could have been made.
My day at the General Motors Product/Technology Event is not one i will ever take lightly. I was, and still am, honored to be considered for this event. As a company, General Motors made me feel like my opinion mattered. (They asked for it. A lot.) Not only was this a huge ego boost for me, but it says a lot about the company, to want so many opinions. There was such a wide range of demographics at this event that it would seem quite impossible for any single opinion to be the same. Thank you, General Motors, for bringing me to this event, and hopefully the 1 month out of bankruptcy will keep increasing exponentially.
(Thanks Adam Barrera for taking these photos!)