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The H2 eats rocks

Although the H2 can certainly provide the kind of transportation that is de rigueur for people going to, say, art museums, this is not a vehicle with a façade of durability. It is a serious, heavy-duty piece of equipment that combines comfort with capability.

The H2 Moving Beyond Limits- Organizational & Otherwise

In ZERO SPACE: MOVING BEYOND ORGANIZATIONAL LIMITS, Frank Lekanne Deprez and René Tissen write, "The speed of innovation, shortened product cycles, complexity of offerings required by an increasingly demanding consumer—all mean that organizations must be ‘all brains and no body.' Nonbrain weight should be kept to an absolute minimum, all such processes outsourced or eliminated entirely.

In ZERO SPACE: MOVING BEYOND ORGANIZATIONAL LIMITS, Frank Lekanne Deprez and René Tissen write, "The speed of innovation, shortened product cycles, complexity of offerings required by an increasingly demanding consumer—all mean that organizations must be ‘all brains and no body.' Nonbrain weight should be kept to an absolute minimum, all such processes outsourced or eliminated entirely. It's the all-brain processes that add value to a company." Which came to mind when I learned about the development of the Hummer H2. This is a vehicle that was created faster than any GM product—16 months, in all—and brought to bear the resources of General Motors, AM General Corp. (Mishawaka, IN), and EDAG Engineering Design (in the U.S. in Madison Heights, MI). This is a product that GM is having manufactured by a U.S. company—and GM president Gary Cowger said that so far as he can recall, there hasn't been a product built for GM like this for at least 50 years. This is a vehicle that was not only created by a team of engineers, but which is being manufactured by a group of people, as well. AM General CEO Jim Armour said that once he knew all of the names of the people who worked at AM General's manufacturing plant—now plants. But as the company has grown, he can't keep track of all of the names. He noted that on more than one occasion while walking the floor recently, he's asked people for their names while engaging them in conversation. He's discovered that they're actually GM employees, not AM General. "You can't tell the difference," he recalled. There are no visible boundaries, in a sense.

This was a fast program. A program that consumers have indicated meets the requirement of the new GM mantra: "Gotta-have vehicles." A program that has used the brainpower of a variety of firms in a seamless manner. A program that is calling upon the manufacturing ex-pertise of AM General—which has been building the original High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle (HMMWV) since 1985, and the commercial Hummer since 1992—an expertise that is supplemented by the imple-mentation of the General Motors Global Manufacturing System (GMS)—the first time a company outside GM has implemented it. This is a program that has resulted in a vehicle that Cowger proudly proclaimed, "Exceeded my expectations."

It is a vehicle that was created by a new way of work. One that truly leveraged value-adding brainpower. One that may be indicative of the way things are going to be done at GM. There is enthusiasm evinced by the engineers and the manufacturing people and the marketing people and all others associated with the H2. Which is completely understandable (more about that in a moment). In some regards, the Hummer is an automotive icon in the sense that the Corvette is. And what automotive engineer wouldn't want to work on something like that? Cowger said that he is seeing more enthusiasm within GM's ranks today than he has ever seen before. But even among the engineers who are working on the bread-and-butter vehicles, not just comparatively niche vehicles like the H2? (This is niche because the plant capacity is 40,000 on two shifts—even the Corvette plant puts out more units.) "Absolutely," Cowger responds. "We have some ways to go with some of the products. But we're getting there."

 

Developing the Vehicle

If this is a vehicle that represents a new way of doing work at GM, then let's look at some aspects of the vehicle's development. Ken Lindensmith, H2 assistant vehicle line executive, said that in order to get the project done so quickly, they had to "break some rules," do some things that others weren't doing. This was aided by the facts that (1) it was an isolated program and (2) there was an isolated manufacturing plant where it was being built. He described it as a "lean" program that not only utilized the expertise in product and process development know-how of EDAG (one of only three companies that has received a GM Worldwide Supplier of the Year Award during the 10 years the program has existed), but tapped into GM's smarts when necessary (e.g., Lindensmith said that EDAG doesn't have expertise in the area of fasteners, so they went inside GM for that). While there is an increasing amount of math-based design and processing being done on the new vehicles that are being developed and produced, the H2, Lindensmith said, is the first full-math product. "We even milled the clay model from math." He said that the whole development was so fast that in retrospect they realized it would have probably served them well to build a few more prototype vehicles for the purpose of providing the marketing people with H2s to photograph.

One of the clever things that the engineers did in developing the H2 was to borrow components from GM's line of full-sized pickups and its full-sized sport utilities. For example, the seat frames used in the H2 are the same that are used in the GM full-sized trucks, but Bill Knapp, who headed up the engineering for the H2, noted that the form, trim, and outside are unique. When you look at the gage cluster, all of the individual gages are in the same places as they are on the full-sized trucks, but the graphics—what the customer sees—are unique to the H2. They borrowed things like control arms and steering knuckles. (Note how the differences are in the places that the customer can see.) And there are places where there is a modification to something that exists. With the H2 being about halfway between the Tahoe and the Suburban in size, its prop shaft is proportionately sized: but the two ends are common. Because the H2 offers a floor-mounted shift lever, which is not available on the C/K pickups, much of the instrument panel support could be used from the C/K, beam it was necessary to develop a magnesium beam to support the steering wheel column. This was a whole lot faster—and more efficient—than starting from a clean sheet.

 

Making It Real

Lindensmith said that back in May, 1999, a group of folks from GM and AM General spent a day off-roading. The GM guys showed up with full-sized GMT 800 pickups and prototype Tahoes. The AM General guys had H1s. The issue was to get a clear understanding of what a vehicle would be expected to do in order to be called a "Hummer." At that time there was a handshake-based agreement that the two organizations would be working together. The AM General people wanted to make sure that GM people truly understood what their icon brand is all about: They wanted to make sure that the yet-to-be developed H2 wasn't just a slightly bulked-up truck. Lindensmith recalled that at the end of the day, the AM General folks were impressed with some of the feats that the GM products could perform. And the GM folks were similarly taken with the H1s. And while the pickups and sport ute went through the brush and over the rocks as required, when the day was done and the vehicles were washed off, it turned out that the H1s were unaffected by the excursion, yet the other vehicles had on the order of $400 to $600 in body damage each. And so, Lindensmith observed, when the H2 was engineered, it was to not only be capable of providing a smooth ride along the highways and through the school parking lots, but also on rugged terrain—without the need for a visit to a repair shop.

And so the H2 is built tough. Exceedingly tough. This is a welded, two-sided galvanized steel body. (The H1 has an aluminum body that's riveted and bonded.) Knapp reported that unlike many automotive products, "mass was not a key. Structure and rigidity were." (The base curb weight of the vehicle is 6,400 lb.) They were also interested in going fast during the program, so they didn't want to take time developing things like laser tailored blanks. The forward-tilting hood and integral fenders are made of sheet molding compound for a couple of reasons, Knapp said: (1) it provides styling flexibility; (2) it can take abuse in off-road conditions. It should be noted that there are metal reinforcements for the hood.

Below the skin, the H2 is similarly robust. The chassis design is one where all components are flush with or above the frame rails for protection during off-road driving. The ladder-type frame has a three-piece design that consists of a hydroformed front section, a stamped steel box section midframe, and a hydroformed short-rear frame. There is plenty of protection beneath the H2, starting with the 4-mm stamped aluminum front engine shield (Knapp pointed out that the H2 logo on that component isn't merely decorative, but functional: the form of the letters adds ribs, and consequently strength, to the panel). There is a ladder-type structure fabricated with 1-in. diameter tubular steel that protects the transmission and the two catalytic converters; this frame is strong enough so that the vehicle's weight (8,600 lb. GVWR) can be supported on it when going over a rock. The transfer case is covered by a high-tensile strength galvanized steel shield that has a cantilevered design that permits it to spring back after encountering rocks.

This is one serious piece of machinery. It can ford water 20-in. deep. It can go over obstacles 16-in. high. The H2 features the highest approach and departure angles of any GM full-sized trucks (40.4°º approach and 39.6°º departures for the standard coil suspension version; there is an optional air spring suspension), thanks to short overhangs: 32.6-in. front and 34.6-in. rear. The tires, BF Goodrich LT315/70R-17s on 17.0 x 8.5-in. forged aluminum wheels (the largest size in any GM light truck), are pushed way out to the corners of this vehicle.

Under the SMC hood there is a 364-in.3 Vortec 6000 V8 (316 hp @ 5,200 rpm; 360 lb.-ft. torque @ 4,000 rpm) that's mated to a 4L65-E four-speed, automatic overdrive transmission. An electronic throttle control system employing a Hitachi throttle body is deployed. A Borg-Warner two-speed electronically controlled full-time four-wheel drive system is used. There are five modes available through the transfer case via pushbutton: 4 Hi Open (normal driving); 4 Hi Locked (slippery conditions); 4 Lo Locked (off-pavement traversing); 4 Lo Locked and Locking Differential (optimal for slow-speed climbing and other demanding off-road encounters); Neutral. There is a Bosch four-channel antilock braking/traction control system, as well.

Of course, anyone who is buying an H2 (pricing starts at an MSRP of $48,800) is undoubtedly going to spend time on the road. While the H1 is often cited as being the proverbial go-anywhere vehicle, it is said, in the same breath, to be one that is comparatively lacking in creature comforts. Which is certainly not the case with the H2, which includes eight-way power seats, dual-zone climate control, Bose sound system, and serious sound insulation. Not only are there standard options packages, but GM Service and Parts Organization (SPO) worked with the hummer team to create various H2-specific aftermarket products (e.g., wraparound grille guard, tubular assist steps, roof-mounted spot lamps) that fall within the purview of the GM new vehicle warranty.

 

Fast Factory

Jim Armour, CEO of AM General, pointed out that companies have struggled to build vehicles in the 25,000 to 50,000 annual volume range. "With GM," he stated, "we're going to prove that it can be done in a timely manner, at an affordable cost, and with world-class quality." So they built a new 630,000-ft2 plant. In 16 months (from August 2000 to December 2001). While the greenfield plant was going up (next to the plant where the military vehicles and H1s are built), area managers and other personnel spent a year at the GM Manufacturing Integration Center, learning about the Global Manufacturing System. Although people were hired from the outside for the new facility, those who were working at the original plant had the opportunity to participate in a day-long session during which they learned about GMS and had a practical exercise that simulated the process of manufacturing a product under a lean approach. They were given the opportunity to switch over to the new facility if they were interested in committing to the lean approach. About 10% of the people from the original plant did so, Armour said.

One interesting aspect of the H2 plant is that it is exceedingly flexible. Although some people equate "flexibility" and "robotics," there are actually very few robots in the plant. Of the 3,100 welds that are put on an H2, just 40% of them are put on with robots. Most are put on by the men and women of UAW Local 5 who wield ergonomically tethered spot welding guns. People are far more flexible than robots. So if the job can be done safely (safety is a paramount concern within GMS), then people can flexibly accomplish the tasks.