Office of the VP for Communications – Keeping alumni and friends connected to U-M

Electrified

Christi Landi is product marketing manager for the Chevy Volt, GM's plug-in hybrid vehicle.

Christi Landi is product marketing manager for the Chevy Volt, GM’s plug-in hybrid vehicle.

Twice a week, Cristi Landy leaves her Novi, Michigan, home, driving 25 miles to General Motors’ headquarters in downtown Detroit, then back to Novi at the end of the day. There’s nothing particularly unusual about the commute, except that Landy never has to stop for gas. Instead, she plugs her car into a 240 volt charging station at her home overnight. Landy, 43, is the product marketing manager for Chevrolet’s new electric Volt, due to hit the streets by December. And she is proud to advertise her product by getting behind the wheel. “It’s such a fun car to drive,” she says.GM is banking on the Volt to turn around its image as a carmaker that was built big, high-polluting SUVs and trucks. One of the government’s conditions of bailing out the troubled auto maker was a commitment to offer more environmentally friendly, fuel efficient cars. The Volt is the first revolutionarily different car intended to deliver on that promise. The Volt runs for 25 to 50 miles on a charge. After that, a gasoline motor kicks in; it can keep the Volt going up to 300 miles, or you can stop and recharge the battery. Landy has been part of Volt development since its inception in 2006. It’s a high-priority effort at GM. And the petite, trim Landy, seems to thrive on the challenge. A former All-State cross country runner at her Jacksonville, Florida high school, she also had a brief stint on the University of Michigan’s cross country team. “I love running,” she says; she alternates between twice-weekly four mile jogs and a 5:15 a.m. exercise class. Even when she’s not literally running, Landy is always moving fast, juggling her round-the-clock workload at GM with raising 10-year-old twin boys. Landy’s parents pushed her to attend U-M, eager to have her join her older sister who was already enrolled. Her interest in math led her to engineering. She was one of just a few women who graduated with a degree in electrical engineering from U-M in 1989. A member of the Kappa Alpha Theta sorority, her nickname at the time was “Kiki.” Today, she looks back on those years fondly. She was lucky enough to see U-M win both the NCAA basketball championship and the Rose Bowl the year she graduated. “I watched the NCAA game in a bar in the Michigan Union and everybody ran onto the street,” she recalls. After graduating, she immediately headed to GM, following in the footsteps of her father, who worked there for 38 years in sales, a job that caused the family to move seven times during Landy’s childhood. “I always thought cars were such a complex and interesting product,” she says. Working on “future product”—cutting edge concepts—”is the most exciting part of the auto industry,” she says. And that cutting edge is where she found a home. In her very first position with GM, she worked as an intern the summer after her junior year with Saturn, which pioneered the concept of no-haggle buying, among other innovations. After she graduated, she was offered a job with Saturn a year before its first car went into production. “It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to launch Saturn,” she says. She stayed there for seven years.A constant multi-tasker, she started a five year program in 1990 to get her MBA at U-M at night. By 2002 she had become a marketing manager for Chevrolet and in the spring of 2006 was approached to help develop the Chevy Volt concept car. And the Volt project was different from most. “There was such a strong push. From the get go, it was clear this was a priority” for GM.Landy’s job was to incorporate features that will appeal to its target audience. As she shows off the Volt, easing into the driver’s seat, it’s clear that this is her baby, and she’s proud of it. “There is no other car on the road today that’s like this,” she boasts. She proudly points to features that she helped develop, including two seven-inch screens that allow both the driver and passenger to see details like the car’s current battery charge, driving range, and power flowing to and from the battery and engine generator. Landy also helped develop a host of smart-phone applications for Volt owners. Taking out her phone, she shows how it can display all sorts of details about the car’s status, determining if the car is plugged in and charging and how much energy is currently in the battery. She explains that the phone can also be used to set up automatic charging times and to send reminders when the car needs to be plugged in. Using OnStar, the Volt will also send texts or e-mails to the owner’s phone when the battery charge is complete. Drivers can remotely heat or cool the cabin through prompts on the phone while the Volt is still plugged into the wall charger—more efficient than using power from the battery for heat or air conditioning—extending the electric-only range capabilities of the Volt. Landy clearly loves all the gee-whiz technology.Though GM will have competition from the all-electric Nissan Leaf, Landy argues the Volt, with its back-up gasoline engine, will be more popular with consumers, who will never get stuck on the road with a dead battery. “I think the Volt will help get more adoption of electric driving because it’s easy to do and it doesn’t force you to change your lifestyle,” she said.As the Volt project crescendos, Landy spends most of her time working, squeezing in time in the evenings with her husband, who works at Chrysler, and her children. She resumes working after tucking her sons into bed. She says her sons are excited to see a vehicle with their mother’s stamp on the road. “They think it’s way better than the Prius,” she says. She expects the pace to settle down once the Volt launch is complete. But she’s eager to become involved in another high-intensity project at General Motors. She says the company has already held meetings on the next generation Volt, and she’d welcome the chance to be part of that, or another new, environmentally friendly technology, where she can be at the forefront of a changing industry. Whatever she does, she clearly loves intensity. She credits her type-A personality with helping her manage the work/home life juggle. “I have a lot of stamina,” she says. “I can stay up until midnight and wake up early.”

Comments

  1. G. Davis - 1964-'66

    The Michigan Today “Electrified” piece is inspirational and great news for all of us. Not because it is more “sustainability jargon silliness”, but because it makes economic sense and because it allows consumers real free market choice, i.e. sound capitalistic decision making that is environmentally advantageous. We may need a second long trip “highway car” to get us to Grandmas house for Christmas, but here is a local areas vehicle that consumers will not be able to ignore. Advancing and improving this technology can result in a kick in the rear for the domestic automobile market. American jobs need this good news too. Let the “competition” begin !
    GO BLUE. GO CHEVY !

    Reply

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