Reservations for the $59,990 2023 Cadillac Lyriq will begin in September. Meanwhile, deliveries of the vehicle are set for the first quarter of 2022. The original timeline saw the Lyriq going on sale at the end of 2022.
How did GM pull this off? Credit a mix of cost-cutting necessity, a need for speed, the flexibility of a new electric vehicle architecture, and the realization that greater reliance on virtual tools can get the job done.
We first heard about the new approach from engineers working on the 2022 GMC Hummer EV full-size pickup. The team lopped about two years off that vehicle’s development time to meet a production target of fall 2021. Engineers were using simulations to drive and even jump Hummers in the virtual world before they ever got behind the wheel of the physical truck.
Hummer Those Lyriqs
The Lyriq is part of a new wave of electric vehicles from GM on its new BEV3 electric vehicle architecture, now referred to as the Ultium platform because it uses Ultium batteries developed by the automaker with LG Chem. The first Ultium-based vehicle to hit the market will be the 2022 GMC Hummer EV pickup this fall. The Lyriq will be second to bat. Both vehicles are being developed twice as fast as core GM products were created in the past.
The Lyriq was originally supposed to be the first of this next phase of EVs from GM but the buzz surrounding electric pickups prompted the company to put a full-court press on getting the Hummer developed and out the door first. The Hummer team was able to tap into learnings from the Lyriq’s development, which had been underway since about 2018, Mike Anderson, GM’s executive director of virtual design, development, and validation, said.
GM Transforms Product Development
The push to fundamentally change how GM develops new vehicles goes back to November 26, 2018, a dark day of announcements. GM said it would slash costs by $4.5 billion annually. It also announced plant closures and employee reductions.
CEO Mary Barra said the company was taking proactive steps to reorganize and make more cash available for the pricey pivot toward electric and autonomous vehicles. But going forward, the new vehicles would be developed with less time and capital. A big part of that would be a reliance on virtual engineering tools.
Sure, the automaker had been using computers to design, engineer, test, and validate vehicles for decades as a means of reducing reliance on expensive prototypes, Anderson said, but the big hit to engineering budgets forced a more exclusive reliance on virtual development. It was time to take the old and expensive safety nets away.
Fewer Prototypes, Clay Models, Crash Tests
Prototypes are expensive and cost 10 times that of a production vehicle, Anderson said. These machines also take a long time to build, as collecting and assembling the new parts can take a year, while most of the learnings don’t start until the early-build vehicle is finished. In the virtual world, parallel streams of work proceed and engineers can start learning and improving early in the process. GM has reduced its spending on prototypes by 66 percent in the last two years and wants to eliminate that cost completely.
Similarly, clay models are expensive to build, while wielding knives to chisel changes and return to the wind tunnel is time consuming. Large changes are possible and faster in the virtual world. Anderson said that GM has reduced wind tunnel usage by 50 percent in one year.
Another area is crash tests, which are designed to capture 10 million elements of data. These take weeks to prepare for and are over in a millisecond. There’s also little post-crash data to analyze from a crumpled mass of steel, per Anderson. Virtual crashes generate data before, during, and after the impact. They also can be easily varied and show things that almost happened. A physical crash can result in a fuel leak but cannot show that one was close to occurring.
“There are secrets still inside the vehicle,” Anderson said. The old way netted about five crashes; now engineers can do hundreds digitally.
GM is realizing the importance of virtual development for speed and quality, too. When Lyriq chief engineer Jamie Brewer finally got to drive a prototype of the midsize crossover, she was pleasantly surprised at the state of the vehicle. She said the initial quality of the pre-production Lyriq test vehicles is among the best she has seen at this stage in the process in terms of build quality as well as ride, handling, and overall performance.
Anderson also found the first Lyriq prototypes closer to saleable quality than he is used to at this stage. He said building a new vehicle online requires more engineering discipline and work upfront than taking a physical model and adapting it.
As GM delves further into the virtual world, Anderson said the company is very much aware that it is making physical, emotional products, which will be judged that way. “We’re not selling video games.”