As General Motors Executive Director, Electrical Systems, Hybrid & Electric Vehicles and Batteries, Micky Bly is one of the busiest engineers at the reborn automaker. His role in the fast lane of vehicle electrification brings him to Convergence in Detroit Oct. 19-20 as one of the OEM heavies on the popular “Carmakers Speak” panel moderated by Paul Hansen. Recently, AEI Senior Editor Lindsay Brooke caught up with Bly at GM’s Warren Tech Center to talk about the 2011 Chevrolet Volt and its impact on GM’s electrified-vehicle development moving forward. Following are excerpts from that interview:
Q: Micky, what sort of opportunities does the Volt represent for GM in terms of moving vehicle electrical architecture design forward?
Bly: What’s been really good about the Volt program from an engineering perspective is it’s allowed us to challenge the architecture team to do things differently, in a manner that’s faster and at more of a risk level than traditionally we're used to in this area.
In this sense Volt has served as a rallying point, an enabler, for ways to do things differently—from subsystems design and integration to the manner in which we present the vehicle’s energy-use profile to the customer. The design engineers continue to bring us great ideas, and I’ve had to push back on some features as we get close to the start of production.
Q: Does GM have an internal designation for the Volt’s electrical architecture?
Bly: We call it Global A, and we’re rolling it out around the world—that’s a first for us. Global A features very much re-usable, replaceable, modular-type software and controllers. Developing Global A has shown me the power of GM’s global electrical-engineering team. The team in India is doing some of the software; the controls guys up in Milford [GM’s Michigan proving ground] are literally speaking the same language around this feature. So it’s been good.
Q: Are we at a development stage with electrified vehicles where engineers have to accept design complexity—multiple controllers, complex harnesses, etc.—before they can begin to make things simpler?
Bly: Yes. I think we’ll see some up-integration of some controllers, where they make sense from a cost perspective. The main reason is the memory density that’s on these controllers, the cost of memory, is so cheap now. Before you’d have a unique box because most of it was in the memory—you didn’t want to have a very large box with a lot of memory.
Now we’re able to optimize this from a memory point of view with the up-integration. It saved us a lot of money.
Q: Having developed OnStar to its current stage seems to have dovetailed well with GM’s development and launch of Volt.
Bly: Yes. The key thing is we have a secure data connection to the vehicle, with a very flexible back office and the notion of the kind of APIs [application programming interface—an open standard approach to how developers write standards to interact with devices] that we make possible to connect to the vehicle. It would be irresponsible to let anybody access the vehicle on their terms.
What we’re doing, as part of our experimentation, is allowing those developers to access OnStar with the appropriate messages and then we provide the secure connection to the vehicle. It helps protect the customer and protect the integrity of the operations.
We get a lot of unsolicited ideas that come our way. Over time, we’ve implemented some of them. We were getting OnStar customer e-mails before e-mail was really part of our normal life. But the appropriate "hands-on-the-wheel" types of technologies are what we want to make sure we’re pioneering.