About a 40-minute drive from Detroit on highway I-96 is a small town of about 6,500 residents.
Milford is a small, unassuming town like so many others in Michigan; appealing without being remarkable, it evokes visions of a Norman Rockwell-style ‘American Dream’ that has faded into a 2020s reality with rows of bungalows on well-maintained sections – some even have white wooden fences – and a main street with the expected small-town shops and traffic lights dangle above the intersections.
And like any small, unassuming American town in a Stephen King novel, Milford has a secret.
But it’s not exactly a space clown eating kids, as Milford is home to the historic General Motors proving ground — a place hidden from the prying eyes of journalists and the general public, home to one of the world’s largest automakers. all her future products years before they go on sale.
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It’s rare for a company to open the gates of a facility like this to journalists, but General Motors recently did so at an event for journalists from around the world, and also showcased a nice selection of its model lineup for them to drive too.
The Milford General Motors Proving Ground (to give it its full name) was the world’s first dedicated automotive testing facility when it opened in 1924, and it is extraordinarily expansive, covering over 4,000 acres and containing 142 buildings and approximately 132 kilometers of roads of varying quality, intended to reflect the varied condition of public roads.
More than 4,500 employees work there and it’s like Disneyland for enthusiastic drivers…
The facility features a wide variety of roads, tracks and other playgrounds, such as the Vehicle Dynamics Test Area, a huge 67-acre asphalt used for vehicle dynamics testing. In other words, it’s a huge slippery path to put on sweet, sweet slips, and it’s known as the ‘Black Lake’ because many a duck has apparently tried to land on what it thinks is a lake, only to be severely disappointed. to be .
Watch the GMC Hummer pickup put to the test at GM’s historic Milford Proving Grounds.
Unfortunately, the Black Lake resurfaced while we were there, but we were let loose on the Ride and Handling loop, which includes many real world features such as level crossings, off-camber corners, broken surfaces and the like. While we also got the chance to play in the off-road areas in the mighty Hummer EV.
When we got to the edge of the Ride and Handling loop, we were greeted with a very diverse lineup of GM products, including the C8 Corvette, the Bolt EUV, a range of super hot Blackwing Cadillacs and the star of the show; the very new Cadillac Lyriq EV.
With such an interesting and exciting array of vehicles to meander through a historic playground, I did what any sane person would, and headed straight for the vans. Yes, you read that right – next to the Corvette and hot Caddies were a couple of BrightDrop vans.
Now BrightDrop may not be a familiar name to most, but it’s what GM calls a “system of connected products aimed at first- and last-mile delivery customers” and includes everything from the electric vans we had here to e-pallets ( electric motorized ‘pallets’ to move cargo over short distances at walking pace) and even cloud-based software solutions for vehicle tracking, charging scheduling and fleet management.
The vans are your standard “American van” seen in a million movies, but not the kind used here. Designed for easy access for delivery drivers, they have a single driver’s seat, with a temporary folding seat for a passenger if needed. With continuous access to the cargo area and a flexible rear layout, the BrightDrop van is designed from the ground up as a custom van.
And the most interesting part? It’s based on GM’s Ultium EV underpinnings and is basically a heavily modified, trimmed Hummer underneath. Not to say it shares the monster Hummer’s performance, that is, it might be the best-driving van I’ve ever driven, thanks to that sweet low center of gravity due to the batteries in the skateboard platform.
The fact that my first laps of the world’s most historic proving ground were in an electric van, traveling at 100 km/h with the doors wide open (as with all American-style vans, the doors are sliders, designed to allow quick access ), grinning like crazy is a huge pleasure for me, and the BrightDrop bus was a very impressive bus, easily the best driving bus I’ve personally ever driven. And yes, I realize this is a particularly low bar, but the BrightDrop van was very impressive nonetheless.
The other two highlights of the day came from both ends of the environmentally conscious spectrum, courtesy of Cadillac: the highly impressive Cadillac Lyriq EV and the thoroughly outrageous Cadillac Escalade-V.
While the Escalade-V isn’t technically a Blackwing model, it does use the same crazy 427 kW 6.2-liter supercharged V8 to propel the hulking three-ton luxury SUV to 100 km/h in under five seconds.
And it’s also hell to experience in real life. It has a launch control function – because it does of course – and when you make the most of this, you see the Escalade’s huge, snub nose dramatically skyward as the big V8 roars aggressively, and you’re authoritatively pushed back into the plush leather armchair as he belts forward dramatically.
You sit so high and the interior is so expansive, it feels like you’re controlling a large luxury apartment around the narrow loop at Milford. But it can handle well — okay, well enough — that you always feel like you’re in control. And very much an apex predator in terms of straight line speed…
But while there’s no chance we’ll ever see the crazy Escalade in New Zealand, the other Cadillac SUV on offer is a much more likely prospect, even if GM execs would hold back at every opportunity.
The Lyriq is GM’s first mainstream mass-produced EV to be on the Ultium platform (the Hummer can never be described as ‘mainstream’), and has been designed from the ground up to showcase Cadillac’s styling for the foreseeable future.
Thanks to the arrival of LED lighting, it is the first Caddy to get true vertical headlamps (previous attempts have played with vertical DRLs and vertical-looking headlamps), giving the Lyriq a distinctly different look.
We drove the single-engine RWD model which retails for around US$60,000 (NZ$103,000) and has a 102 kWh battery pack for around 500km of range. Performance was more than acceptable, without being stunning (it will sprint to 100km/h in about 6 seconds) and the Lyriq felt impressively responsive and confident in the line, again without being particularly thrilling. But then it is a luxury SUV.
To that end, the luxury and utter silence in the Lyriq is even more impressive, with an understated and beautifully built interior and all manner of clever active noise canceling technology. The ride is a tad firmer than I expected, but with the Milford handling loop being a pretty good representation of New Zealand roads, the Lyriq felt like it would be perfectly at home should it come our way.
But will it?
Well, as I mentioned in a previous article, while GM execs were constantly stressing that having journalists from all over the world on hand to pilot their latest products in NO WAY meant going back to RHD markets like ours, they were also all very careful to state how much easier it was to build an EV on a scalable skateboard platform for both right-hand and left-hand drive production compared to traditional ICE vehicles, so… I’ll leave you draw your own conclusions from that.
My conclusion, however, would be that the Lyriq was almost certainly designed and engineered for RHD production and ultimately seems almost unavoidable for our part of the world. But that’s just my conclusion.