Visiting Detroit with the Manic Mommies and the #ChevyMavens

If you follow my Facebook page or Instagram feed you may have noticed that I was in Detroit recently visiting Chevrolet and wondered why. So here is the story. I was selected to be a part of group of of moms, dubbed the Chevy Mavens, that are listeners of the Manic Mommies podcast (if you are a working mom, or even just a mom, and don’t listen to these ladies you need to start, they are hysterical and will make you feel validated in every episode.) It was a great opportunity to learn more about what goes on behind the scenes in the development, testing and manufacturing of Chevrolet vehicles. We also got to know the General Motors social media team and take a peek into their center of expertise for Social Media.


Manic Mommies Chevy Mavens

Kristin and Erin of the Manic Mommies

In between our activities at “car college” we had a lot of fun as only a group of 12 moms away from their kids for a few days can. The GM team conducts tours for many automotive journalists but I’m pretty sure they have never met a group  like ours. A group that needed coffee as often as bathroom breaks, got more jazzed about purse storage than RPMs, and designed a Barbie pink corvette in the virtual reality room. Of course, as much as moms care about the introduction of 4G LTE to create a hotspot for all our kids’ devices, we were also pretty damn excited to test drive a Corvette Stingray.

I will be sharing many of the road trip safety tips that I learned during the visit but first let me tell you some of what we saw.

Detroit Marriott Renaissance

Sunrise view from the Detroit Marriott Renaissance

Where We Stayed

We were met at the airport by our General Motors hosts and we were chauffeured downtown in style in nicely equipped Chevy Tahoes and Suburbans to the Marriott Renaissance. Attached to the General Motors global headquarters by the Renaissance Conference Center, the Marriott is located right on the river and just a few blocks from the popular Greektown. While the hotel is your typical business hotel, the views from the river side rooms are terrific. It took a while to find our way around but if you tell a bunch of tired moms there is a Starbucks somewhere in the center of the maze, they will seek it out like mice to cheese.

Where We Ate

Our first night in town we joined the GM PR and Social Media team at Joe Muer Seafood in the Renaissance Center where we did serious damage to a couple of raw bar seafood towers before turning our attention to our entrees.

The Volt lounge in the Marriott lobby played host to our breakfast buffet to get us “fueled” up for a very busy day at GM. With our days jam-packed with learning and tours, we mostly took advantage of GM’s catering and cafeteria facilities but we did escape for a fun night with just us girls at Red Smoke in Greektown. This classic BBQ joint nicely accommodated our large group with a variety of Carolina, Texas, Memphis and St. Louis BBQ — including a new treat for me — fried pickles.

What We Saw

Climatic Wind Tunnel

Our first stop on our tour was the climatic wind tunnel laboratory. Here we got to see how GM puts its cars through tests of wind, rain, sand, sleet and snow to see how the power train cooling, cabin heating, ventilation, and air conditioning will perform in the harshest weather conditions found from Death Valley, CA to Denali, AK.  We heard a lot more than we could soak up but it gave us a glimpse of the sheer effort it takes to designing cars that perform and hold up in whatever weather conditions you might encounter. By testing in these facilities, it saves engineers the time and effort required to take cars to these remote areas and find these extreme weather conditions, while minimizing the safety risks involved with testing on the open road. Luckily while we were in the wind tunnel they didn’t decide to test out the rain or snow!

Chevy Mavens in the GM Climatic Wind Tunnel

The Chevy Mavens in the Climatic Wind Tunnel

Virtual Reality Room

On our next stop we got to see how technology is used to speed up the development of cars by using computer aided design and virtual reality to see exactly what design changes will look like in real life before building a physical prototype. Using virtual reality, engineers can see what the car looks like from the viewpoint of all the occupants, the view in the mirrors, gaps depending on manufacturing variations, and much more. After designing our bubble gum pink Corvette, we gathered in the “Cave”, where mavens got to try on the VR “antler” glasses and step into a room surrounded by screens projecting a vision of the car. Like a very cool video game, as you turn your head you can see different parts of the car and even stick your head right through the dashboard to inspect the engine!

Chevy Mavens at the General Motors Virtual Reality Room

Chevy Mavens and our Corvette

Chevy Mavens

Exploring the Virtual Reality Cave

Ride & Drive

But enough of this virtual reality stuff. It was time to get into the Chevy cars and go for some test drives. First we learned all about kids and car safety (more on that soon) from SafeKids.org before heading out on the road. There were a lot of excited women when we stepped into the garage and saw three Corvette Stingrays just waiting to be driven.

Tamara driving the Corvette Stingray

Smiling pretty driving the Corvette Stingray

Yeah, that was one of those times when most of my Facebook friends were jealous. As I posted, I’ve always wanted to drive a car that growls. The only thing better would have been driving on an open track. After the Corvette, I also took a spin in a Chevy Sonic and Equinox.

Chevy Spark

Chevy Spark

OnStar Command Center

Our visit to the OnStar Command Center was very eye-opening. Not being a current subscriber, my impression of OnStar was that it was good in case of emergencies but I didn’t have any idea that OnStar would give you directions, help you find the closest gas station (or restaurant, retail store, etc.), and even track Santa for you. Plus on the mobile app you can locate your car (airport and shopping mall saver!), unlock your doors, and even start your car (bye bye remote starter!) It is good to have OnStar on your side, especially in emergencies. Their advisors are trained in emergency medicine and have even delivered babies over the network!

OnStar Command Center

At the OnStar Command Center

At the Command Center they track the 150,000+ emergency incidents and calls that come in each day, while keeping a close watch on weather and news events like hurricanes and snow storms. Altogether OnStar has over 600 patents with 1000 more pending. Their advisors are incentized to provide excellent service and those whose calls have been featured in commercials even receive residual payments every time those commercials are aired.

After visiting the Command Center we got a demo of GM’s 4G LTE technology, which turns cars into a hotspot and allows passengers to connect up to seven mobile devices including smartphones, tablets, and gaming devices. Imagine your passengers streaming video, watching YouTube, accessing social networks and playing all those Internet-connected games (and leaving you in peace and quiet!) This functionality is currently on 10 GM vehicles and is rolling out to more than 30 by the end of the year.

GM Center of Expertise for Social Media

We got an inside view of how a giant company like General Motors tackles social media to actively listen and respond to social conversations across the enterprise. Since I also work with many start ups on their social media strategy and execution, it was fascinating to see how they organize to provide a coordinated approach across marketing, PR, and customer service functions. (And look whose tweet made their hashtag tracking monitor!) GM employees 25 social care advisors that handle 5,000 cases and 70,000 social engagements a month across 20 different Facebook Pages, 15 Twitter accounts, and 120+ automotive forums, with coverage from 8 am to 12 am seven days a week. These advisors have been instrumental in funneling feedback from the field to the design teams to effect change, as well as help facilitate car sales, troubleshoot vehicle problems, and more.

GM Center of Expertise in Social Media

Visiting the GM Center of Expertise in Social Media

Crash Test Dummy Lab

Our last stop on our GM tour was at the Anthropomorphic Testing Device Lab on the Milford Proving Grounds, also known at the crash test dummy lab. This visit was definitely a wake up call when it comes to safety and personally I’m thankful that they have invested $100,000-$400,000 per dummy and conduct over 2,000 tests per year to help ensure our safety. The science that goes behind these tests is intense. I wish I could bring my daughter to see the thought, testing and engineering that goes into creating each of these dummies. For example, each dummy records 50-70 channels of data and GM has about 170 crash test dummies in their safety lab in a wide variety of sizes. And there is a reason for every decision. We thought they were wearing pink clothes because someone wasn’t good at laundry but no, it is because it films better so they can closely analyze the high speed video that capture images at 1000 frames per second to see exactly what happens upon impact.

Chevy Mavens in the Crash Test Dummy lab

Chevy Mavens in the Crash Test Dummy Lab

After a close look at the dummies, we got to see where they conduct sled testing. Which is a preliminary step before testing the entire vehicle. They test just the car base and certain components, before design is finalized. Trust me, after these presentations I will be very careful about the placement of my seatbelt and those of my passengers!

Here is a snapshot of how safety testing has evolved and improved over the years.

Altogether we laughed and learned a lot. Personally I’m looking forward to putting some other Chevy cars to the test so stay tuned! In the meantime, thank you to the Manic Mommies Erin and Kristin, my fellow Chevy Mavens, and the entire team at GM including Mary, Rebecca, Phil, Otie, Jennifer, Patrick, Patrick and all the others we met on our visit!

Patrick and Patrick from General Motors

Our patient chaperones Patrick and Patrick

General Motors World Headquarters

Thank you General Motors!


3 Comments on “Visiting Detroit with the Manic Mommies and the #ChevyMavens

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  1. Thanks Tamara for spending time with us in the D. We enjoyed the opportunity to share our employee’s passion and love for building the finest cars and trucks around. R

      Rebecca, that definitely comes through! I was excited to tell my daughter about all the science that goes into designing, building and testing your cars! It was so nice to see so many women engineers passionate about their work — a great message to keep girls interested in STEM. Can’t wait to test drive!

    What a great write up of our trip! It was so nice to finally meet you in person and to spend some time hanging out with you and the rest of the Mavens. Thank you for taking the time to join us.

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