!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD XHTML 1.0 Strict//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/xhtml1/DTD/xhtml1-strict.dtd"> Streamline Training & Documentation: Alfred Sloan's Memoir VII: The Milford Proving Ground

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Alfred Sloan's Memoir VII: The Milford Proving Ground

Interestingly, Alfred Sloan has very little to say in My Years with General Motors about production line workers. On the other hand, he gives lots of attention to GM's managers, engineers, stylists, and dealers.

(click to enlarge)

GM's Milford MI Proving Ground

For the engineers, one of the biggest steps forward was the creation of the General Motors Proving Ground in Milford MI. As Sloan explains in Chapter 14,

The most important step we took to standardize and improve test procedures was the establishment in 1924 of the General Motors Proving Ground, the first of its kind in the automobile industry. The thought was that we would have a large area, properly protected, and entirely closed to the public. It would be provided with roads of various types representing all the various demands on the motorcar from the standpoints of high speed, hills of various grades, smooth roads, rough roads, ability of a car to move through water — which is frequently required in severe storms — and the like. There we would be able to prove out our cars under controlled conditions both before and after production and we could also make comprehensive tests on competitive cars.

... Michigan is rather flat, and at first we had difficulty locating an area of sufficient size that would give us all the various grades we needed. However, almost every foot of the United States has been measured topographically, and the record was available in Washington. We went to Washington and from the Geological Survey maps available there we determined a location that appeared to fulfill our needs. Then the general executives and engineers of the various divisions and myself spent a day at the prospective site. We walked all over the place, ate a picnic lunch under the trees, and finally came to the conclusion that that particular area of 1125 acres — now 4010 acres — at Milford, Michigan, would meet the requirements we had in mind.

[. . .]

The land was surveyed; the straightaways were laid out so that we could check the effects of different winds on speed; a track was built and banked so that it was reasonably safe to operate cars at speeds up to 100 miles an hour or more. Engineering buildings were erected, so that indoor tests could be made in correlation with outdoor tests. Headquarters and facilities were provided for the corporation's engineers. Separate engineering headquarters and garage facilities were eventually provided for the staffs of the engineering departments of the various divisions, so that they could preserve their divisional autonomy in testing. Chevrolet, for example, could do its own testing if desired, in addition to that being done by the corporation. A clubhouse was erected that provided sleeping quarters, dining facilities, and the like for those attached to the Proving Ground operations, since the Proving Ground itself was a considerable number of miles from any town where commissary facilities were available.

In those days I used to spend a day and a night, sometimes longer, at the Proving Ground every other week. I would go over the engineering of General Motors' cars and competitive cars. I would examine what was being done in the way of testing future products. The Proving Ground thus afforded my associates and myself a wonderful opportunity to find out what was going on in the automobile industry from the engineering point of view. To the original Proving Ground we have since added a special, desert proving ground at Mesa, Arizona [replaced in 2009 by a facility in Yuma], and a station to test cars in mountain driving and a garage and shop facility to service our test cars at Manitou Springs (Pike's Peak), Colorado [closed in 1999].

[pp. 253-255, 1990 edition]


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