OAK BROOK, IL – The days of “build it and they will come” are long over, insists John Calabrese, vice president-global vehicle engineering for General Motors.

“Our job is to anticipate the future and what the consumer wants in the future, to let the consumer be our compass,” he says. “This is still a fashion business to attract customers. But innovation drives the business and our job is to sense the future and create the future and solve the problems consumers might have even before they have them.

“Consumer mindsets change,” he adds. “We have to anticipate those future mindsets now. Such as, what if gas is $2.50 a gallon in 2020? What will be the demand for electrified vehicles? So having a little paranoia isn't bad.”

Calabrese gives the Midwest Automotive Media Assn. here a hint of what GM has in store for 2025, when federal laws dictate better than 50 mpg (4.7 L/100 km) fleet fuel economy.

“Vehicles are going to be much lighter and a tad smaller on the outside, but we are working to make the interiors as big if not bigger than they are now. Cabin space won't be compromised,” he promises.

Asked if that means changes in the types of vehicles that will be sold, such as the evolution of CUVs in recent years to replace less fuel-efficient SUVs, Calabrese replies, “There probably will be some new vehicle segments by 2025. Several are being considered. At the same time, some current segments will be gone (and) some will simply be morphed. I can't say which at this time.”

When it comes to saving weight to boost fuel economy, the engineer says, no detail is too small to save even a gram of weight, including using welds rather than rivets or adhesives rather than either.

“And smaller, lighter cars will mean smaller engines, which will be critical by the end of the decade to meet CAFE regulations,” he says. “We'll offer 3-cyls. in several cars, shoehorn in a 4-cyl. when we want an SS model and we'll electrify where appropriate.”

But the internal-combustion engine remains “the most efficient way to propel a vehicle from point A to point B.”

After the meeting, Calabrese is asked for his reaction to this week's Consumer Reports reliability survey that criticized entertainment/infotainment systems in many vehicles, saying consumers have been downgrading reliability based on poor system performance.

“Some of that is voice-recognition (technology), and the industry is still teething on that,” Calabrese says. “You have to have a quiet cabin for it to work. But one of the problems is getting the systems in sync with consumer cell phones.

“If things don't work properly, the consumer blames the car when it's actually the connectivity of the phone. We had some bugs with Cadillac but got them fixed, and they are behind us.”

Calabrese also is asked whether reports of a pending sale of a 30% controlling interest in PSA Peugeot Citroen to China’s Dongfeng and the French government would affect plans to develop the next-generation Opel Zafira for Europe from a Peugeot platform.

“We still have a couple programs going with Peugeot, an alignment with Peugeot for a European application," he says. “These programs are still viable, still under consideration, and we are working on the final details.

“The program hasn't been set back and the time frame hasn't changed, though maybe some details will change. We're trying to set up a diverse Opel portfolio in Europe, (including) a couple (vehicles) with a Peugeot alliance. Nothing has fallen through.”