The Surprising Connection Between the Mid-Engine Corvette and GM’s Vision

The 2020 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray is a marvel of modern engineering, and while customers obsess over the details, GM is bringing you behind the curtain to learn more about the technology used to develop the Corvette and, surprisingly, how that fits into GM’s all-electric future.

The First Production Mid-Engine Corvette

The late Zora Arkus-Duntov, the father of the Corvette, had a vision for a mid-engine Corvette. That vision came to life on July 18, 2019. Visit Chevrolet for more details. To learn more about the behind-the-scenes vehicle development, keep reading.

The 2020 Corvette Stingray.

The 2020 Corvette Stingray.

John Wilkinson, GM lead performance engineer, talks about a critical piece of technology used to develop the all-new Corvette.

Q: What do you do at General Motors?

A: I am on the vehicle dynamics simulation team. We integrate software and hardware that affect vehicle dynamics, such as anti-lock brakes, stability control and electronic limited slip differentials. We use a Driver-in-the-Loop simulator to evaluate vehicle performance virtually.

Q: Tell us more about the Driver-in-the-Loop simulator.

A: Our Driver-in-the-Loop simulator is the combination of two technologies: a real-time computer (with vehicle hardware) and a driving simulator. The real-time computer runs the simulation of the virtual vehicle and enables the addition of vehicle software, electronic control units, traditional hardware — springs, dampers, stabilizer bars, etc. and chassis control systems — anti-lock brakes, stability control, etc.

The driving simulator allows our development engineers to drive and test the real-time computer simulation and added hardware system on a virtual track, just like they would a physical prototype. The Driver-in-the-Loop technology is so valuable in testing vehicle dynamics because we can easily blend actual vehicle components with a driving simulator.

GM’s driving simulator room at the Milford Proving Ground in Milford, Mich.

GM’s driving simulator room at the Milford Proving Ground in Milford, Michigan.

Q: What role did it play in the development of the 2020 Corvette Stingray?

A: The driving simulator allowed us to integrate and test the new Corvette much earlier in the development process. We could evaluate how changes performed and how deviations to one system interacted with other systems in a virtual model, using the same physics and electronic control systems as a full prototype. This allowed us to streamline changes and strengthen vehicle performance throughout every stage of development.

The Surprising Connection to Electric Vehicles

Q: What excites you the most about the future of GM and what you want to do next in your career?

A: I am very passionate about bringing our future EV portfolio to market. Leveraging the Driver-in-the-Loop technology and applying what we have learned from testing dynamics on other vehicles, like the Corvette, will maximize the capabilities of our EV products. This will make the next few years extraordinarily challenging and exciting for me.  

Q: As an engineer working on Corvette, how do you align your work to GM’s vision of Zero Crashes, Zero Emissions and Zero Congestion?

A: To me, Corvette has always represented the physical realization of our capability to deliver the ever-improving goal of performance. This is motivating because it empowers the team to go and figure out how we can achieve our goal when the details aren’t necessarily clear. As a result, we’ve made technical innovations in both simulation and real vehicle testing to set the stage for the next generation of performance. With an even bolder corporate vision of Zero Crashes, Zero Emissions and Zero Congestion, I see the team building off the simulation capability we’ve delivered for Corvette applied to our future EV portfolio. It’s a monumental challenge, with an equal amount of empowerment.

John Wilkinson, lead performance engineer, stands next to the driver-in-the-loop simulator at GM’s Milford Proving Ground.

John Wilkinson, lead performance engineer, stands next to the Driver-in-the-Loop simulator at GM’s Milford Proving Ground.

Engineering the Future at GM

Q: What has your career path been as a GM employee?

A: I’ve been at GM for 12 years, beginning as a co-op after completing my freshman year at Kettering University, which introduced me to a cross-section of jobs within the company. My passion is vehicle dynamics and I’ve worked in several roles, including Hardware-in-the-Loop simulation, metrics development and testing at GM’s Warren and Milford, Michigan, campuses. A major career milestone for me was bringing the performance driving simulator online utilizing the technical hardware integration expertise, simulation experience and broad vehicle dynamics knowledge I’ve gained throughout my career.

Q: How have you seen the required skill set for engineers at GM change over the last 10 years? How have you kept up?

A: To match the highly integrated nature of automotive systems we’ve seen over the last 10 years, I’ve noticed the merging of engineering disciplines, but more so, a change in the way we think and our mentality as engineers. The industry and skill set required is changing faster than it can be taught, so blending a strong understanding of fundamental concepts with a dynamic ability to react quickly and problem solve is the only way to keep up.     

I’ve had to learn electrical design and integration, control system design and computer programming to successfully integrate and run the Corvette on the driving simulator.

Q: What advice do you have for students pursuing an engineering degree?

A: Study hard, learn the fundamentals and get comfortable with the unexpected. Learning how to learn, developing problem solving skills and being prepared to accept the challenges you face are all key attributes needed daily as an engineer at General Motors. The work I’m doing now didn’t exist five years ago, and I’m sure the landscape will change even more in the next decade.

John Wilkinson is a lead performance engineer at GM’s Milford Proving Ground in Michigan. To learn more about engineering careers at GM, visit the  GM Careers site.