Most people know the Chevrolet Volt is a revolutionary kind of car, but at a recent Silicon Valley conference, an IBM executive said the car is very complex and the fact that it made it to market as soon as it did is more than a little remarkable.

The computer-controlled EREV uses an estimated 10 million lines of code and runs about 100 control units. This is a marked increase from a typical 2009 model car which uses an estimated six million lines of code, or one from 2005 which might use only 2.4 million lines of code. Consider also that the Volt was developed in half the usual time.

And according to Meg Selfe, a vice president for complex and embedded systems at IBM Rational, her company was a major contributor toward enabling GM to bring the Volt to market.

Shown is the first Chevrolet Volt available for sale (sold online - vehicle identification number BU10002). Getting this car to market as fast as it did took a lot of effort from the computer development side of the equation.

"Software is becoming the most strategic asset and its use is growing astronomically," said Selfe during a keynote address at the Embedded Systems Conference last week.

Her division was acquired by IBM in 2003 and is credited with pioneering the Unified Modeling Language (UML) that helped with the Volt’s design.

UML “is a visual language for specifying, constructing, and documenting the artifacts of systems. Complex software designs difficult for you to describe textually can readily be conveyed through diagrams using UML. Modeling provides three key benefits: visualization, complexity management, clear communication,” says IBM's Web site.

To augment GM's own sense of urgency, Selfe said IBM helped the automaker cut the time to the Volt’s production from a customary 60 months to just 29 months.

"They focused on time to market, and they had to because it was a life or death moment for them," said Selfe, "They were in a near-death experience, so they brought together their best thousand engineers."

The degree of accomplishment this represented was increased by the fact that the Volt used a new battery pack, electric drive unit and cabin electronics. Selfe said the effort took a lot of quick adaptations on GM’s part to meet its goals.

"They were changing the way in which they did engineering," said Selfe, who previously worked as a systems engineer at GM and Delphi.

She said the Volt Team was moved to a new product development platform. Along the way, it streamlined the details of bringing the new kind of car to market. This included having to decide which among thousands of tools and process it would keep, and which to abandon.

The “tools” included automatic code generators – something many in the embedded world are still coming to grips with, Selfe said.

"It was like a battle of tools," Selfe said. "But they weren’t afraid to pull teams together and make decisions using new governance procedures" so in the end everyone could agree on how to move forward.

GM’s number of test procedures was also cut from more than 600 to about 400, Selfe said.

"Testing is something all of us can still waste too much time and energy on," she said.

To acknowledge the increasing importance of its in-house software, Selfe noted that GM gave each Volt its own IP address.

"They use it for a few things today, like finding a charging station, but they hope to use it to push more software out to the vehicles in the future," she said.

Selfe said GM put more of the Volt’s design in house, particularly the software design.

"It was a risk on their part because they are a very old company, but they needed to do it different and they did," she said.