The GMC Hummer EV’s “Features Dude” Was a Pro Desert Racer



When GMC was trying to get us hyped for the Hummer EV, they showed us crab mode. Fun features, especially in off-roaders, are all the rage, so it’s good to know that the Hummer’s were designed by someone who has built 12 off-road racers from the ground up.

Mike Colville is GM’s senior manager of complex feature integration, but, according to the Detroit Free Press, he just calls himself “the features dude.” That makes him the leader of the team that created CrabWalk, which allows the Hummer to drive diagonally; extract mode, which literally lifts the Hummer out of deep terrain; and Ultravision, which adds waterproof cameras under the truck to help you avoid big boulders and the like.

Many of the features come from Colville’s own experiences in off-road racing. In his career, he has built 12 cars by hand that compete in Ultra4 endurance races. These “cars” are better described as tube-frame buggies that can be powered by big V8s making up to 800 hp and fly across the desert at speeds of more than 100 mph.

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“It was scary, fun, exhilarating and I’m proud,” Colville told the Free Press in an interview. “There was nothing I liked better than driving in the dust. It brought that competitive spirit out in me.”

In many ways, it was his off-road racing days that got him on the Hummer project. Having just returned from China in 2019, where he developed performance features for cars, he liked to talk off-road racing to Josh Tavel. Tavel was the chief engineer on the Hummer project, so he invited Colville onto the team to make sure there were off-road features. Immediately, he started thinking about his buggies.

“In my race car, I would constantly break half shafts,” he said, so he designed an algorithm to protect the Hummer’s half-shafts. “It knows what angle the shaft is at and knows what it can take.”

Ride height control was another feature that Colville wanted. Ride height is an important factor for off-road racing. It’s all well and good to go fast, but if you’re hitting rocks you won’t finish the race. That led to the Hummer’s extract mode, which lifts the car by up to 6 inches to allow it to get over obstacles.

“Crabwalk,” meanwhile, came from his days in rock crawling. Those trucks have four wheel steering to help them turn on a dime and when he realized that the Hummer did, too, inspiration struck.

“When we were deciding to make an off-road vehicle with rear steer on it, I said, ‘Well I had a vehicle with rear steer before.’ We thought about putting a lever on the vehicle that a person could use, but that was way too complicated even for rock crawl drivers,” said Colville. “So we invented CrabWalk that can go either the same or opposite direction as the front wheels.”

Colville also designed a tire-pressure honk. When you’re off-roading, you often have to deflate tires to get better traction. Usually, that means deflating a little, checking the pressure, deflating a little more, checking again, and so on. Colville thought there must be a better way, so he designed a system that allows the driver to input a desired tire pressure in the infotainment. When they deflate the tires to that level, the Hummer honks at them to let them know.

Fortunately, coming up with all of these features was, though not easy, didn’t exactly feel like work. According to Colville, working on the Hummer hasn’t been hard “because I am entertaining myself with a project that fits right into my hobbies.”

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Updated: December 31, 2020 — 1:19 am

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