DETROIT — Since 1998, when he was the first person from General Motors outside Germany to take a car to the Nurburgring racetrack, Ken Morris has circled the famed Nordschleife course more than 1,800 times.
The first time he went, Morris spent six weeks there, with just one technician and one car. Today, GM frequently uses Nurburgring to validate new performance cars.
“When we were looking at developing a new sedan, the [first] Cadillac CTS, my German colleagues suggested Nurburgring,” Morris said. “Now, anything that we really want to wring out, from all over the world, we take to Nurburgring.”
Morris, who these days goes to the German track once or twice a year, is one of about a dozen active GM employees able to drive the nearly 13-mile course, known as one of the most demanding in the world. He’s among 20 or so engineers who hold GM’s highest driving certification.
“My passion is driving cars like this,” Morris said. “We’re comfortable at a different sense of speed than most people are.”
But most of the time Morris spends testing vehicles under development is at a more moderate pace. He’s among the core group that joins GM President Dan Ammann, product development chief Mark Reuss and other engineers for weekly test drives called “knothole rides.”
Morris, who started at the company in 1989 as a brake systems engineer, is GM’s vice president of global product integrity. The job, created in the wake of GM’s 2014 ignition-switch crisis, has wide-ranging responsibilities, including safety, system engineering, supplier quality and cybersecurity.
Essentially, his job is to ensure that vehicles work as they are designed, to hopefully avoid the kind of scenario that allowed cars to be sold with faulty ignition switches that turned off airbags in a crash. He also oversees all of GM’s proving grounds.
“The intent is that we do a better job of upfront engineering and making sure that the systems are working together as well as validating those systems,” Morris said.