- Engineering collaboration from an early stage
- Local requirements considered right from early design stage
- Extensive durability testing conducted over 18 months
- Effective distance of 900 000 kilometres logged in testing
- Complete engineering validation for product
The new third generation Chevrolet Utility enters the Zimbabwean market after more than six years of design, engineering and development. The project to bring this exciting new sub-one ton pick-up to Zimbabwe started with an engineering team from South Africa – the major right hand drive market for this popular model – collaborating with the GM Brazil design and engineering team for the layout of this all new model.
“Extensive collaboration between GM Brazil and GM South Africa from the early design stage has resulted in a vehicle that incorporates a host of unique requirements for our market from the outset,” says Wendle Roberts, GMSA’s Vice President, Product Engineering. “In many instances the process of developing a vehicle for local conditions involves a number of trade offs and compromises to accommodate our needs within the framework of a vehicle for which the design is mostly finalised when we first see it.
“This was fortunately not the case with the new Chevrolet Utility. The depth of collaboration between Brazil and GMSA ensured that the local engineering process was a relatively simple one, geared more towards validating the overall performance of the vehicle in our local conditions and ensuring that outsourced components met with our design and quality requirements.
“We received our first five pilot vehicles for evaluation around 18 months ahead of the start of production. These were built in Brazil but to full right hand drive Sub-Saharan African specification and fitted with prototype local components where these would be used in the production model. These hand built, true to specification, vehicles were earmarked for a demanding series of durability tests as the manufacturing plant geared up for production.
“Changes that were specified for local conditions were in the main an increased level of underbody protection, in the form of PVC coating, and plastic shrouds to protect underbody plumbing and the rear dampers from stone damage when the vehicle is used on unpaved surfaces. This type of hard road usage would be an exception in Brazil and is considered unique to our market. Another area that we addressed, also an unpaved road requirement, was the inclusion of secondary sealing to prevent dust ingress on the doors.
“As far as the drivetrain goes we essentially have a carry-over from the previous model but with some very worthwhile refinements to the package that improve driveability, fuel economy, and emissions. These were hardware and electronic improvements to the existing package. Allied to this we specified a higher final drive ratio than that used in Brazil, again something that is a local requirement given the sustained high speeds experienced over long distances.
“The five pilot vehicles from Brazil were immediately placed into our durability testing programme. For the durability testing on the Chevrolet Utility we used of a stretch of road with known characteristics that we can monitor carefully to provide us with a durability factor of 1.8:1. In other words each kilometre in our test routine equates to 1,8 kilometres of normal road usage. This programme has run for two shifts a day, five days a week since it started. The only breaks the vehicles have are over weekends and when they are in the workshop for an evaluation of component performance or rectification.
“By the end of the programme each of the five vehicles will have covered 100 000 kilometres equal to 180 000 kilometres of normal road usage or a total of some 900 000 kilometres. The vehicle has excelled in the durability cycle with problems few and far between and all relatively minor and easily corrected.
“In addition to this extreme test cycle we placed 20 locally manufactured vehicles, produced in the run up to full production, into a captive fleet with our employees. These vehicles are operated in an environment that reflects a true customer situation to monitor the general acceptance of the vehicle in terms of initial quality, and to highlight any problems that may have occurred in the implementation of the local manufacturing programme, both at our own plant level and at a component supplier level.
“As we enter the launch phase I can say without reservation that we have achieved complete engineering validation of the product. Aside from the pure engineering aspects we also have a full endorsement of the overall quality of the vehicle.”