Three years ago, automaker General Motors showed up at the annual Association of the U.S. Army convention in Washington with a hydrogen-powered Chevy truck that it was demonstrating for the Army. At the time, executives hinted that the Detroit company had larger aspirations for its new defense business — a reboot of the unit it founded in 1950 and spun off to General Dynamics in 2003. That vision is now becoming clear.
“We're just continuing to plow ahead in a space that we believe we have a right to win in,” GM Defense’s new president David Albritton said in an interview.
At the center of GM’s plan is “reimagining” its commercial offerings into products to sell to the U.S. military and its allies, according to. Albritton frequently used the word “reimagine” as he talked about ways of adapting GM’s commercial products for the military.
“Having been out of the defense business since 2003, this is a reintroduction in large part,” he said.
That reintroduction applied not just to the Pentagon, but to defense firms large and small. “We're open to partnership,” said Albritton, whose small and growing executive team have substantial experience at defense companies, including Raytheon, Northrop Grumman and Exelis (now L3Harris Technologies).
While GM’s defense vision includes selling trucks and vehicles to the U.S. and foreign militaries, the plan includes a portfolio of commercial propulsion, mobility, autonomy and security products adapted for the military. Its commercial roots have the company believing it can move quickly, something highly desired by defense leaders these days. Company officials also believe their commercial heritage allows they to offer the military ideas for operating vehicles differently.
GM is still touting its hydrogen fuel cell work as a way to power vehicles, but it’s now talking about using that technology and batteries as a way to replace tens of thousands of diesel generators used by the military to power bases or aircraft on flight lines. Among the benefits, these types of generators would run less and could operate quieter than today’s diesel-powered versions.
“You could literally take a Chevy Bolt battery, stack it with other Bolt batteries connected it to a power source, like a small diesel or something else, create a large capacitor and then use that to power whatever situation you're in,” Albritton said.
From a technology perspective, the company is looking at creating a militarized version of its OnStar system, which connects vehicles and monitors their health.
“Today on a JLTV or a Bradley armored fighting vehicle, I don't know what the health of that vehicle is necessarily because I don't have the telematics capability in the platform to do it,” Albritton said.
Then there the Next Generation Electrical Architecture, which allows vehicles to wirelessly receive software updates. The new technology is being introduced on the Corvette Stingray
That's a compelling opportunity for us to help the military think about vehicles in a different way,” Albritton said. “Because then if you trust the cyber integrity of a platform then you can do more with that platform right now.”
On the vehicle side of the house, GM was among three industry teams that the Army will evaluate for an infantry squad vehicle.
Asked where he wants to be a year from now, Albritton was blunt: “Hopefully we've got a couple of good programs under our belt and we're just continuing to build and grow.”
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