General Motors engineer Aaron Pfau paused as he approached a dangerously sloped turn against a five-foot clay wall while off-roading in his Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 in June. He had to get through, but he knew he couldn't move past it without hurting his truck.
"Knowing my track width and my wheelbase and looking into the features and the geometry of this turn, I knew there was no way I was going to be able to get out of there without some kind of damage," he said.
He hit the gas to get through quickly and ended up with a cracked taillight. Afterward he thought: A Hummer could have crab-walked through that turn unscathed.
Moments such as this, when more sophisticated off-roading technology could have improved the drive experience or avoided damage, guided GM engineers as they developed the 2022 GMC Hummer EV pickup, revealed last month. GM handpicked a roster of off-road enthusiasts to develop the Hummer, slated to compete with gasoline-powered off-road offerings from Ford, Jeep and Land Rover.
Pfau, lead development engineer for the Hummer, started off-roading all-terrain vehicles as a teenager. "I was a little bit of an adrenaline junkie. Off-roading fit that bill," he said. "It was all about pushing whatever it was that I was driving and pushing myself as well. As an adult, I realize I was attracted to the challenge as well as the adrenaline that came with the challenge."
He's taken his trucks trail driving and river crossing, but today he mostly focuses on rock crawling.
Todd Hubbard, vehicle performance engineer, also is an experienced off-roader, and Mike Colville, senior manager of electric vehicle feature integration, has competed in King of the Hammers, an off-road race that combines desert racing and rock crawling.
GM also has an internal off-road driving team for employees who want to share their experiences and learn from others.
"It helps foster some of that knowledge that eventually does work its way into future programs," said Pfau.
Traditional off-roading vehicles, such as Pfau's ATV and Polaris' RZR, usually roar through the rocks and rivers. "By the end of the day, you're kind of exhausted just from hearing this buzz constantly," Pfau said. With Hummer, the engineers knew they could eliminate some of the noise that comes with off-roading.
"One of the coolest things about this program was we have a battery-electric off-roader, a low center of gravity and gobs of torque. The combination of that from an off-road standpoint is going to be awesome," he said.