GM Puts Vehicles Though Extreme Tests

Inside the company's top-secret testing grounds, where it unleashes rain, snow and ice on its cars.
3:00 | 10/08/12

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Transcript for GM Puts Vehicles Though Extreme Tests
Well, it's been three years since general motors filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy and for the once-mighty company, rising from the ashes of a government bailout, has included some severe self-reflection, including a top secret automotive torture chamber. For the first time, gm is giving us a peek at how they smash or bash a new model long before any critic can. And abc's elisabeth leamy is the one to take us behind the scenes. Reporter: It's like hazing for cars. Engineering as an extreme sport. These are the tests the leaner, meaner general motors is putting its vehicles through. Tests the public has never seen before. We had unprecedented access to the gm proving ground, one of the most secretive sites in the automotive world. Our tour guide on the wild ride is james bell, gm's new head of consumer affairs an audacious choice because he spent years slamming automotive companies as a journalist, once callinged cadillac cim m arron a real letdown. Reporter: Gm is the car company that produced infamous chevy vegas, x cars in '80s and saturns and plain ugly pontiac AZTECS IN THE 2000s, THAT'S WHY The post bailout strategy is to improve reliability and its reputation. With more and more extreme testing. First up, wicked weather. Every car on the assembly line endures the water test booth. When I psh this button? Sxwlt torrent will begin. Reporter: Here we go. Our car disappears as it's pelted with nearly 7,000 gallons in eight minutes. So it's not just about keeping the passengers dry but also the engine dry? Passengers are almost secondary. Reporter: Not surprisingly, we stayed dry. Gm didn't show us any cars that might actually fail a test. Water falling is one threat. Water rising is another. We've only been doing this/the last couple of weeks, actually. Reporter: This water trough tests the car's ability to keep passengers safe in floodwater. It seems like you're testing not only for what you want people to do with the cars but for what they'll actually do. It's the extreme. The vehicle has to be shown that it can handle what crazy people do. Reporter: For the first time ever, gm allowed an outsider to film its climate actic wind tunnel. Test track, another first. I actually get to drive, they're letting me do this. 15 miles per hour. Reporter: Ooh. Oh, my gosh. I could do this for a living. Okay. That was worse than d.C., Where I live. Next we navigate a ditch so deep the size is a trade secret. The truck performs well but that's not always the case. Despite this extensive testing, the new general motors issued 14 safety recalls so far this year. And consumer reports ranks it 12th out of 13 car companies for reliability. Some models do very well, others not so much. Why is that? We believe in the products we're developing, we believe that process is certainly improving. Reporter: Is it too little, too late? I certainly hope not. We recognize the ills of our past, but do yourself a favor and compare us again. Reporter: The company's crash test results are far better than in the past according to the insurance institute for highway safety, which named some general motors vehicles top six for safety. Gm now done ducts more than 50 different crashes before releasing a new model. We're about to see how they do it. And gm pulls the plug because they're crashing a car that hasn't been released yet. This is very sensitive. Something needs to be fixed, we want to make sure that's done well before any consumer or anybody considers these brands or know anything about it. Reporter: We persuade them to let us show the multiton barrier Oh, gosh. Just like that. A truck has hit the side of that car. Reporter: Bam. What we just saw and heard was t-bone crash similar to this one. We've seen a breathtaking series of splashes and crashes but for the new gm the true test is whether people will by their cars. Elisabeth leamy in milford,

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