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Until you know what they cut, it's hard to interpret. Could be just cutting fat. Could be cutting dead end programs. "Fuel Cell" was the only name dropped in the article; it could signal GM is lowering their bets on fuel cells and in turn hedging more on battery tech.
 

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This may be fallout from a reduced focus on fuel cells or some other tech that is out of favor. I would be very upset after buying a Volt in part to bring $7500 of my tax dollars (not anybody else's BTW) to GM to support further development of Voltec tech if these positions are related.
 

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I'm hoping they're axing the Button Research and Development Group that's responsible for the center console controls.
 

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Without knowing exactly who is being let go, there has been debate for a long time whether corporations such as GM should sponsor theoretical research and mathematics for the sake of sponsoring research, or if research should be prioritized toward those efforts that lead to actionable product advancement. I certainly don't have anything against theoretical research and math, but many argue this should be done at universities, and companies rely on the universities when needed, rather than on their own in-house scientists.

"GM spent $8.1 billion on research and development in 2011, up from $6.9 billion in 2010. GM said its R&D efforts include working to create new products or services or enhance products associated with emissions control, improving fuel economy and driver safety, according to its annual report."

If that's the case, any worries are likely overblown. (Now if they could just get rid of the non-value added work and duplication of responsibilities within OnStar ... The Volt is the only GM vehicle that seems to have got OnStar about right.)
 

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About 60 workers who work on fuel cell technology at a GM facility in Honeoye Falls, N.Y., will become aligned with GM's Powertrain division, which is based in Pontiac. The employees will not relocate.
This is news that is actually separate from the rest of the article. As you can read, it is clear that these individuals are not laid off, just folded into GM's Powertrain division, which I take as the natural transition of advanced engineering shifting towards productization. I think this is great news for fuel cell advocates inside and outside of GM. Hyundai is already going to produce 1,000 FCV's by the end of this year (or next - can't remember), so GM, Daimler, etc. are all trying to keep pace.
 

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I can't give details but it was pretty ugly to go through believe me. Given that this is the third time we have cut R&D in the last few years, there was no fat believe me. The difference this time is those employees have a chance to find a job elsewhere in GM. In the past cuts, people were just walked out the door.

Bottom line, we need to make sure we are researching what matters. If what we invent never makes it into the car or our plants, then it isn't value add to GM. It's only costs. That's the difference with current GM management over the past. They are serious about making money by making car and trucks. Not making cars and trucks, big difference. Painful but necessary for the long term profitability of GM. I've worked for them for over 25 years and I'm excited about the future health of the company. A bit depressed about the present though.
 

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I can't give details but it was pretty ugly to go through believe me. Given that this is the third time we have cut R&D in the last few years, there was no fat believe me. The difference this time is those employees have a chance to find a job elsewhere in GM. In the past cuts, people were just walked out the door.

Bottom line, we need to make sure we are researching what matters. If what we invent never makes it into the car or our plants, then it isn't value add to GM. It's only costs. That's the difference with current GM management over the past. They are serious about making money by making car and trucks. Not making cars and trucks, big difference. Painful but necessary for the long term profitability of GM. I've worked for them for over 25 years and I'm excited about the future health of the company. A bit depressed about the present though.
i have a bad feeling this will lead to more generic products and less forward thinking. lets be honest...... if r&d hadn't developed the ev1 we wouldn't have the volt right now. we can look at the rest of the automobile manufactures offerings and see what we would have had.
i have been in aviation industry for 31 years and state of the art r&d is mandatory for our industry. gm's engineering and r&d departments are the best in the automotive world........ lets hope they are not stepping over a dollar to pick up a dime with us getting outdated products as a result......
 

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If what we invent never makes it into the car or our plants, then it isn't value add to GM. It's only costs. That's the difference with current GM management over the past. They are serious about making money by making car and trucks.
That's actually encouraging if you ask me, I'm kind of sick and tired of hearing about how GM invented everything 20 years before another automaker actually put that tech into production. What's the use of inventing stuff like that only to watch another automaker put it into production and achieve success with it? Even if the tech is premature, it's like once it fails the first review it never gets revisited when circumstances change.

I bet my annoyance is nothing as compared to the engineers and scientists who actually came up with that stuff and watched beancounters put the kibosh on it.
 

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I wasn't around during the development of the EV1 but I doubt GM R&D had a significant impact on bringing the car to production. What many people think of as R&D is just advanced product development. Much of the work at R&D was/is considered "fundamental research". It's important work, but as Pete said it's often not directly related to products that actually see production.

Glad to see you're still with us Pete.
 

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I wasn't around during the development of the EV1 but I doubt GM R&D had a significant impact on bringing the car to production. What many people think of as R&D is just advanced product development. Much of the work at R&D was/is considered "fundamental research". It's important work, but as Pete said it's often not directly related to products that actually see production.

Glad to see you're still with us Pete.
that seems odd to me but in that case automotive r&d is nothing like aviation r&d...... you would be surprised where r&d technology from the space shuttle has ended up.
 

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R&D reminds me a quote an executive once shared with me: "Only about 10% of the work I do bears fruit - now if I only knew beforehand which 10% would bear fruit, I could improve that number."

You have to place a lot of bets, because you just can't know what market forces, economic forces, political forces, etc. are going to impact your product bets. I'm sure those who developed rare-earth based, permanent-magnet motors never foresaw China withholding rare earth elements from the market. I am sure GM couldn't have predicted gasoline prices surging over $4.00 / gallon in less than a month, when they decided to shut production for 4 weeks in March / April.

GM has worked on:

1) Methanol, Ethanol, Flex-fuel, natural gas / hydrogen ICE's
2) BAS / eAssist, start-stop hybrid tech
3) BEV's
4) FCV's
5) EREV's

Even 5 years ago it looked like ethanol was going to be our answer to rising oil prices, until food shortage riots in Mexico and Egypt erupted. At this point, it is clear that electric propulsion is key, so motors and their custom transmissions are a sure thing. R&D is now focused on:

1) energy storage - batteries / capacitors / flywheels
2) fuel cells with reformers to use hydrogen, natural gas, syn gas, propane (easy to liquify), petroleum distillates like gasoline & diesel, alcohols - ethanol, methanol, etc., and even more high energy synthetic liquid compounds
3) lightweight materials - new alloys and crystal structures of steel & aluminum, plastics, composites
4) ion, laser & ultrasonic welding, super adhesives, and other joining technologies needed for new lightweight materials
5) coatings required to protect and cosmetically finish new materials - latest being wraps

There should be many opportunities for existing ICE / transmission designers to develop higher efficiency conventional ICE powertrains, but I suspect GM will just augment what they have with electric motors to meet regulations - much safer bet.
 

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Discussion Starter #14
I think it is very short-sighted to cut R&D. Even if we are talking about "basic" research it cannot be approached with a bean-counter mentality. By definition when doing research the full outcome is unknown. Even if the stated hypothesis is eventually proven, it is unclear how long it would take to do so. The notion that one can have a distinction, a gap between "pure" academia doing research and the industry making money is false.

There are many other functions at any company that do not directly produce the final product or service yet these functions are essential for the company's success, especially if this company has any aspiration to be a leader in their industry. Even if the results of the effort cannot directly and immediately be applied, they could be used to build an intellectual property portfolio, to start new ventures and to license the technology to other entities.

If interested, read "The Idea Factory: Bell Labs and the Great Age of American Innovation" by Jon Gertner to get a sense of why R&D is so important. Then compare it to Bob Lutz' "Car Guys vs. Bean Counters: the Battle for the Soul of American Business". It is GM taking a risk and bringing out truly innovative cars that will safe the company, not just being a better conveyor belt.
 

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As always Petefoss, thanks for the valuable insight. We're with you, and hoping for the best. It is definitely in the company's best interest to be selling profitable cars and trucks. And hopefully they will continue with groundbreaking products like the Volt.
 

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Hi, Pete!
I am happy to see that you still work for the General. Have a good one for me at Hennessee!
On the matter, product development is important to keep a leading edge. Product refinment is also
important. Cars MUST be reliable, dependable, and R&D is crucial to arrive to that.

To illustrate, I just got a key FOB of my 2010 Grand Caravan that failed. I brought the van and the two FOBs
to the dealer, asking them that it be replaced under warranty. The dealer diagnosed the failure of the FOB was
because water got into it, and caused some corrosion which made the FOB fail. The dealer then told me it was an
<innapropriate usage> of the FOB, and was thus not warrantied.
- My reply was that this is a manufacturing defect in that the circuit board was not coated with conformal coating,
(an hydrofuge varnish) and that should be warrantied.
- dealer asked me for a $30 diagnostic fee, a $200 for a replacement FOB and a $30 programming fee: $260 plus 15 %taxes.
- I said no way that I am going to pay for a warrantied part that has a manufacturing defect.
I left, and called the Chrysler customer (in)satisfaction line, and talked to a fellow that was not sympatic, and basically said the
same as the dealership. Then I called the CAMVAP - the Canadian Arbitration mecanism to arbitrate between car manufacturers
and consumers, and deposited my complaint. The day after, got a call from Chrysler saying they will replace the defective FOB
and get the programming done under warranty, at the condition that I remove my arbitration demand, which I accepted.

This is to say that R&D is important, BUT it has to be applied to the product. Conformal coating for electronics exists for years,
I just can't understand why it was not used for the electronic of the van's FOB. If it was because they wanted to save 5cents per
FOB, well it just cost them a star in their 5 star service and appreciation of the brand from my part.

That said, I sure hope that GM will continue it's R&D to keep a technology lead and to provide products that will meet customer
demands: lower fuel consumption, advanced battery technologies for transportation, porting the Voltec powertrain to other vehicles types (SUVs, VANs, Pick UPs). In my humble opinion, the news of cutting R&D jobs is like the news that there will not be any
successors to the Volt. It's assimilable to cut production for 5 weeks of the Volt because of over-inventory - hmmm suspect!

Are we seeing the old GM coming back?

Francois
B-2653 reVOLT
 

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chrysler is stonewalling everybody about their junk key fobs..... it's pitiful if you check the 300c forums..... drop the fob and it breaks the solder join holding the battery socket...... roughly the same price for labor and parts. when it happens it locks down the security system and chrysler is refusing to pay for wrecker service to have the cars towed...... their cars and customer service are no different than they were 40 years ago........ they should be ashamed of themselves.....
 

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Bottom line, we need to make sure we are researching what matters. If what we invent never makes it into the car or our plants, then it isn't value add to GM. It's only costs. ...
I agree with those that say that this seems a little backwards. You do need to get value from R&D and make sure that what you learn from research is put into practice - but it's impossible to first predict what will matter, and then research it. (You mention that there isn't any "fat", so it sounds like all the R&D was at least getting worthwhile results?) It seems that the response should be to put more investment into engineering, so the useful research results get used to solve problems - not cutting the amount of research that is available to be applied!

As an analogy, processor fabs' R&D can't just focus on the current process node or even one or two down the line, even though those are important. They have to do fundamental research to anticipate what they might need maybe a decade in the future.
 

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This is news that is actually separate from the rest of the article. As you can read, it is clear that these individuals are not laid off, just folded into GM's Powertrain division, which I take as the natural transition of advanced engineering shifting towards productization. I think this is great news for fuel cell advocates inside and outside of GM. Hyundai is already going to produce 1,000 FCV's by the end of this year (or next - can't remember), so GM, Daimler, etc. are all trying to keep pace.
GM put a large number of Equinox fuel cell vehicles in drivers' hands in 2008. GM kept ownership and chose lucky drivers, so there would be no "they took my EV-1 away from me" type of thing. The trouble is that back then, fuel cells were very expensive (I saw a number of around $250,000 total vehicle cost in production volumes) and then there is the problem of operating in freezing temperatures. GM was looking at having a Volt with a fuel cell instead of ICE, and it wouldn't have needed such a big lithium ion battery. They were supposed to both come out about the same time. Something (the GM bankruptcy? cost?) got in the way of the fuel cell production version.
 

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It's cost among other issues for fuel cells. They are just not there yet. And our wayback machine was wrong on them. A lot of people honestly thought that we would skip BEV and hybrids completely and go straight to fuel cells.
 
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