By the year 2025, General Motors is planning to streamline its vehicle platforms from nearly 30 to a grand total of four flexible vehicle sets. Internally called Vehicle Set Strategy, of VSS, the initiative has a completion date of 2025 – by which time all GM vehicles will use one of the four sets.
Following is a detailed account of what we know about GM’s VSS undertaking, as available via GM’s own presentation available here (PDF format).
VSS has been in play in one form or another since the 2013-2014 timeframe and carries several major benefits, including:
- Decreasing development time/time to market
- Improving efficiency in engineering, manufacturing and purchasing
- Increasing margins
- Unlocking greater pricing power
- Improving relationships with key suppliers
During a 2014 presentation to analysts, GM product development chief, Mark Reuss, described the move as an “evolution of architectures” that is driven by customer demands.
The Four Sets
The four GM vehicle sets include a set for front-drive cars, rear-drive cars, crossovers and trucks/ladder-frame-style SUVs, as follows:
- VSS-F for front-wheel-drive cars
- VSS-R for rear-wheel-drive cars
- VSS-S for crossovers (high-roof, high-clearance cars)
- VSS-T for trucks and (body-on-frame) SUVs
The four sets, in turn, are believed to have subsets for differently-sized models. For instance, we have it on good accord that VSS-F was to have the following three sub-sets at some point during development:
- VSS-F A for A segment cars (city cars like the Spark)
- VSS-F B/C for B segment cars (like the Chevrolet Sonic) and C segment cars (like the Chevrolet Cruze)
- VSS-F D/E for D segment cars (like the Chevrolet Malibu) and E segment cars (like the Chevrolet Impala)
The four sets cover every product in GM’s current vehicle portfolio. The only models that the sets might not cover are specialized sports cars such as the Chevrolet Corvette, which might remain on a “dedicated” platform in the traditional sense of the word.
“We’re designing across segments to get scale we never (had) before,” said GM product chief Mark Reuss (via WardsAuto), citing B- and C-segment vehicles that will share common suspension components, for example, but feature different tuning depending on ride and cost targets. “This is the key to unlocking scale and specific customer requirements around the world.”
The transition from global and regional vehicle platforms/architectures to vehicle sets is a significant undertaking that is expected to carry equally major benefits.
For starters, it is intended to simplify and shorten the time needed to engineer and manufacture future GM vehicles while enabling the automaker to better tailor individual models to regional markets and specific segments and sectors around the world.
If it succeeds, VSS could eventually save GM billions of dollars in engineering, production costs including tooling, purchasing/components, and other manufacturing-related expenses. That is despite initial expenses and investments involved in tearing up and retooling assembly plants, which will likely cost in the billions. But once that’s done, “the economies of scale will be massive – if everything works properly”, according to senior manager of forecasting at research firm LMC Automotive, Bill Rinna.
The reduction to four core vehicle sets will also give GM enormous pricing power while creating volumes for vehicle programs that will allow it to develop better relationships with key suppliers.
Perhaps most importantly for customers, GM will no longer have engineering teams dedicated to wringing costs out of existing models, squeezing margins for suppliers, which puts them and the automaker at risk.
“We had people working on things going out of production,” said Reuss, referring to the misallocation of resources that VSS will redirect toward developing all-new models. “We want to (get pricing right) the first time. That’s what we have to do.”
GM CFO Chuck Stevens states that the automaker has developed better cost modeling to pursue “opportunities on a win-win basis with suppliers.” He told analysts that the automaker expects a material cost savings of $900 million per year.
Despite sounding relatively simple, GM’s Vehicle Set Strategy is actually quite complex.
At its core, the strategy involves modifying three primary vehicle modules – the engine compartment, the passenger compartment, and the cargo compartment. GM is engineering the four sets with provisions to change specific hardware such as engines and suspensions to match vehicle size and type, as well as market segment and geographic region.
Reuss describes the undertaking as “a pretty amazing transformation” of GM’s processes. “This is the key to unlocking scale and (meeting) specific customer requirements around the world.”
In that regard, even the vocabulary associated with the technical side of the automotive sphere is changing. Joe Langley, principal analyst at research and consulting firm IHS Automotive, refers to the concept of “Lego-like component sets (that) redefine what the industry traditionally referred to as platforms.”
VSS development commenced in the 2013-2014 timeframe under Mary Barra when she headed GM’s global product development department before she succeeded Dan Akerson as CEO in January 2014, and as Chairman of the board in 2016.
“It’s something we’ve been working on for more than a couple years,” she told reporters (via Reuters). “We’ve done extensive benchmarking (and) there’s been tremendous progress made already.”
In 2015 and 2016, GM had 14 core platforms and 12 regional architectures (for a total of 26) in play. The automaker is targeting calendar year 2025 as having its entire vehicle lineup utilizing the four aforementioned Vehicle Sets.
The first two Vehicle Sets – VSS-F and VSS-T – will roll out in 2020. At that time, GM will be using the two sets along with 11 core platforms and two regional ones.