During our trip to South Carolina to test drive the new 2018 Chevrolet Equinox, we had the chance to chat with Larry Mihalko, ace engineer and all-around nice guy who worked on the development of this vehicle.
It all started for this compact SUV back in the winter of 2014, and in three short years it was already making the rounds on the auto show circuit. Considering the Equinox is brand new, this 36-month development period seems rather short.
- Also: 2018 Chevrolet Equinox: True to its Roots
- Also: 2018 Chevrolet Equinox: The New Equinox on the Equinox!
Software for the hard jobs
As Larry pointed out, however, recent technological advances have made the creation process is a lot faster than it used to be. For starters, engineers use extremely powerful software. To design the chassis of the new Equinox, they used a program that’s used by other manufacturers, but was optimized by a team of in-house programmers.
This software not only helps design the chassis, but also evaluates damage in case of impact, solidity in various situations, torsion resistance and much more. It determines where welds should be for maximum solidity and recommends the best alloy (high- or low-tensile strength steel, aluminum, high-strength low alloy (HSLA) and several other combinations) based on weight, strength and costs. Thus, the engineers can modify a parameter and immediately see the impact on the others. This is how they arrive at the best compromise between solidity, weight and cost.
Barely 10 years ago, engineers created prototypes after performing tests and returning to the design floor to modify parts. And they kept doing that over and over again until they achieved the desired result. Nowadays, the processed information is so precise that the prototype phase is practically irrelevant. It’s only used to validate decisions made several months earlier. So close is the 2018 Chevrolet Equinox prototype to the production version that it was built with the machine tools from the regular assembly line.
The scoop on tires
Larry also talked to me about the choice of tires. The 18-inch wheels are fitted with Michelin tires, while the 19-inch wheels have Hankook rubber. Tests were also performed with Goodyear and Continental tires as well. Larry couldn’t help but laugh when he mentioned that drivers always want a tire with extraordinary grip, a perfectly quiet ride, exceptional handling in the rain and that lasts at least 150,000 km!
In reality, any tire is a compromise. The engineers had to decide what they wanted in a tire and then issued an invitation to bid. Some tire manufacturers responded, while others preferred to pass. That’s how one brand of tire or another ends up on a vehicle, regardless of its logo. Of course, the process is different when a brand like Ferrari wants a specific tire for a specific car. In fact, maybe I should ask my boss to send me to test drive Ferraris to explore the question further...
The vehicle creation process is similar for all manufacturers, be they American, German, Italian or otherwise. It was a pleasure speaking with Larry and getting such wonderful insight on the design of the 2018 Equinox. This new vehicle is far from perfect, but its platform is undeniably rigid. Hats off to all the engineers at GM and elsewhere who usually toil in anonymity.