As data and computer simulations continue to replace various portions of engineering, it’s becoming evident some pieces must include the human touch. General Motors product chief, Mark Reuss, knows this and has since initiated the “knothole” tests, a process begun in 2006.
The “knothole” tests occur once a week, every single Friday, and include Reuss, GM President Dan Ammann and other engineers, according to Automotive News. Here, the executives and engineers drive upcoming GM products and compare them against their outgoing generation and rival vehicles. Reuss recognized the need for GM leadership to be involved in the process early on, which includes work before a vehicle is even designed.
GM selects a “target setting” ride to evaluate competitors and benchmark vehicles it wants to surpass. Reuss knows computers and data save money but is adamant in underscoring the knothole tests’ importance.
“When the business was distressed, we probably concentrated too much on math data and simulation,” he said. “What you don’t get is a total customer focus on regular use and being the eyes and ears of the customer years before the customer can actually articulate what they want. You’re able to project that from a human standpoint and see that in a hardware stage that a simulation can’t get. It helps us tell whether we’re going to be able to win or not. That’s invaluable.”
Reuss, who has been GM’s “car guy” for years and is a certified industry pool test driver at the Nürburgring, openly admits his love affair with Corvettes, Camaros and other cars runs deep. However, he hopes the same attributes found in those vehicles fan out to additional product and thinks it’s recognized by consumers.
“When people that aren’t in the industry think about the performance of a vehicle, they’ll literally translate that into going fast,” Reuss said. “It’s also making vehicles for people to use every day that are really fun. Having vehicles steer well and brake well, that have great noise and vibration — those are why people love them and come back. For me, that’s really exciting and really rewarding.”