By on July 10, 2008

You got to know when to hold em, know when to fold em, know when to walk away and know when to run.In a move bound to raise howls of protest from the Chevy Volt's cheerleaders, GM (along with nine other manufacturers) has asked the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to lower the 4.5 percent annual increases in the CAFE standards projected between 2011 and 2015. To justify the request, GM stated they won't have enough Volts and Vue plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) on the road by 2015 to meet the more stringent standards. GM "strongly discouraged" any assumptions that their PHEVs would impact their corporate fleet average. Their NHTSA filing flatly stated "GM's game-changing (extended range electric vehicle) technology should be treated as a low-volume application." (Only GM could use "game changing" and "low volume" in the same sentence.) How low is "low volume"? The Detroit News reports GM plans to build fewer than 200k Volts in the first five years (40k per year average). To make matters worse– for the U.S. PHEV crowd– GM says many of those will be exported. Of course, this all assumes GM will start producing Volt and PHEV Vues in late 2010 as promised. So now, it's put up or shut time. The sad thing is that GM will do neither.

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22 Comments on “Volt Birth Watch 64: NHTSA Calls GM’s Bluff...”


  • avatar
    eggsalad

    Let’s just call the Volt what it is – vaporware.

    I will wager money that ZERO average consumers will be able to purchase a Volt on or before December 31, 2010.

  • avatar
    jaje

    And this is a surprising development. GM is asked to innovate and create and they can’t do it. In a perfect world for GM CAFE would require them to simply pay billions in dividends and provide all expense paid trips to their executive management and board of directors to the fantasy denial of reality camp.

  • avatar
    GS650G

    They have a better chance of making personal teleportation devices than this car. George Jetson won’t even be driving one.

  • avatar
    RayH

    I think GM is going all-in with suited 2-3, for what it’s worth. I see them getting called with a pair of threes, or 4-9. They might get lucky and get the flush. Unfortunately, the 4-9 is suited and the same suite. Or the 3′s make a boat.

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    The next move in this little chess game will be asking for development grants from the government.

    GM’s just been turned down by the NHTSA, which gives them the perfect reason to whip out the begging cap on the grounds that, well, since they can’t meet CAFE, and the CAFE restriction is being forced by government, and since not meeting CAFE will result in GM (and, likely, much of the US economies) implosion, the only right thing to do is to give GM huge lumps of cash to get the Volt and other PHEVs out the door.

    The government’s countermove should be obvious: either a note to GM about how they mysteriously have a lot of Opels in Europe that meet these requirements, and/or a demand that GM’s management and oversight get shuffled out the door before any grant or loans are secured.

  • avatar
    SkiD666

    Um, isn’t it common sense that the Volt alone won’t solve GM’s CAFE worries.

    GM sold 3.7 million vehicles last year (1.5 million cars). Based on sales so far this year, they will be somewhere around 3 million (1.5 cars/1.5 trucks).

    So even 100,000 Volts won’t make that much difference in overall CAFE numbers. The rest of the lineup could easily get improved fuel economy by throwing in diesel and hybrid technologies, but those cost money that the average consumer does not want to pay.

    Actually, the company in the worst position to meet CAFE is probably Honda, how much more fuel efficiency can they squeeze out of their existing lineup without drastic (expensive) changes.

  • avatar
    gawdodirt

    Great article. Kinda sets it’s own tone. Funny.

    “200k Volts.”

    Said nothing of how many “jig-a-watts!”

    Good point on the difficulty to meet CAFE for Honda. Actually, Honda isn’t THE most fuel efficient in the various segments. So they still have some improvements that can be had.

    Why doesn’t Honda have the cheerleaders that TMC has?

  • avatar
    Jerome10

    Sorry gonna have to agree with GM on this one. CAFE is the stupidest idea and should be thrown out.

    Is it automakers’ fault they make a range of cars and trucks but all the customers drive trucks?

    6 months of high fuel prices have done more to save fuel and change the roads of America than 30 years of CAFE.

    Get rid of it. Anything they can do to minimize its impact is a good thing.

  • avatar
    BuckD

    @SkiD666: Actually, the company in the worst position to meet CAFE is probably Honda, how much more fuel efficiency can they squeeze out of their existing lineup without drastic (expensive) changes.

    That doesn’t make sense to me. Simply because GM has a fleet of vehicles with abysmal gas mileage and therefore has more room for improvement doesn’t mean that Honda, with a fleet of vehicles getting reasonably good mileage, is suddenly going to be at a disadvantage. The way to greater mileage for Honda may be steeper at this point, but they’re miles ahead of GM. They have loads of efficient four cylinder engines and hybrid powertrains, and a shiny new 50-state diesel. Just making what they already have more available up and down the line will significantly boost their fleet average. Compared to GM and many other manufacturers, they’re sitting pretty.

  • avatar
    rprellwitz

    Jerome10 Says:
    July 10th, 2008 at 10:22 am

    Sorry gonna have to agree with GM on this one. CAFE is the stupidest idea and should be thrown out…

    …6 months of high fuel prices have done more to save fuel and change the roads of America than 30 years of CAFE.

    Get rid of it. …

    Well said! I totally agree! The free market will correct this much faster than any regulation filled with loopholes.

  • avatar
    netrun

    GM hasn’t really had to deal with CAFE much recently thanks to the ethanol fuel economy boost. That is, a Tahoe that has the flexfuel option is rated as getting 30mpg by CAFE.

    So whether you keep CAFE or not, GM isn’t going to have trouble meeting it.

  • avatar
    M1EK


    Is it automakers’ fault they make a range of cars and trucks but all the customers drive trucks?

    When said automakers lobbied for their trucks to be given massive loopholes on emissions and mileage (and tax deductions for the worst offenders to boot) in those very same regulations, it’s a bit much to now hear “bbbbut we just made what people wanted to bbbbuy!”.

    Bull. You got the rules written to incentivize/subsidize what you felt like selling, because you hate buyers of small cars so very much. (How else can you explain the Aveo and Cobalt?)

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    I don’t agree with “letting the market sort it out is a better idea than CAFE”. Markets sort things out by letting them very, very bad first.

    Market corrections can (and often are) brutal. They hurt, and they can go on hurting for a long, long time. The point of regulations like CAFE is to reduce the brutality of the market correction when it does come.

    Look at it this way: without CAFE, the average vehicle mileage would be worse, fuel use would be higher, and. when the correction comes, instead of being inconvenient it ends up being crippling: running from shortages or riots, to wars for oil.

  • avatar
    geeber

    M1EK: When said automakers lobbied for their trucks to be given massive loopholes on emissions and mileage (and tax deductions for the worst offenders to boot) in those very same regulations, it’s a bit much to now hear “bbbbut we just made what people wanted to bbbbuy!”.

    They lobbied for that loophole – and the Democractic Congress granted it – because at that time, most trucks and SUVs were used by farmers, contractors and small business owners.

    Once Detroit began downsizing its big cars, many customers began switching to SUVs and trucks, because they wanted larger vehicles.

    As hard as this may be for you to believe, there are lots of people who do not care for smaller vehicles.

    GM’s mistake wasn’t in building large vehicles – check out what Toyota and Nissan have introduced in the past 4-5 years – but in focusing its efforts on larger vehicles while letting the smaller ones languish.

    M1EK: Bull. You got the rules written to incentivize/subsidize what you felt like selling, because you hate buyers of small cars so very much.

    Review the history of GM after it began downsizing its big, rear-wheel-drive full-size and intermediate cars, and the full-size personal luxury cars (Eldorado/Riviera/Toronado) during the 1984-86 timeframe. GM did this in response to fears of $3-a-gallon gasoline (in 1980 dollars).

    The simple fact is that once GM made those cars dramatically smaller, customers abandoned them in droves, first for the Ford Panther-based and Fox-based cars, then for trucks and SUVs.

    In particular, compare sales figures for GM’s 1985 personal luxury cars to their 1986 counterparts. The decline in sales was nothing short of catastrophic. For some models, it was over 50 percent! (And the economy was doing quite well in 1986, so we can’t blame the sales decline on a recession.)

    A better question is why was the federal government setting fuel economy standards in the first place. Along with the 55 mph speed limit, it had to be one of the dumbest laws since Prohibition. If you want to save gasoline, tax it, and let people adjust on their own.

  • avatar
    M1EK

    It was the Republicans that prohibited any discussion of CAFE for a decade or so until the last year or three. Nice try, though.

  • avatar
    geeber

    M1EK: It was the Republicans that prohibited any discussion of CAFE for a decade or so until the last year or three. Nice try, though.

    Except that the Democrats controlled Congress for most of the 1980s, and after the 1992 election, we had a Democrat in the White House and both chambers of Congress under Democratic control. Al Earth In the Balance Gore was vice president.

    And yet, CAFE wasn’t raised.

    So, sorry, blaming this all on the Republicans won’t fly…at least, for those of us who are better informed on this issue.

  • avatar
    M1EK

    http://www.sierraclub.org/planet/199707/heat.asp

    Last year, congressional anti-environmentalists passed a one-year moratorium that forbade the Clinton administration from strengthening CAFE. This year, many of those same legislators are pushing H.R. 880 and S. 256, which seek to freeze CAFE standards

    (this is from 1997).

    Sorry, son, it’s you that’s misinformed.

  • avatar
    geeber

    Which doesn’t prove incorrect that, when President Clinton was elected in 1992, we had a Democratic Congress and a Democratic President through the end of 1994, and yet nothing was done to raise CAFE.

    When you can refute that point, let me know…

    The sad part, of course, is that they didn’t send CAFE the way of the 55 mph speed limit.

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    Let’s be honest: no president since Carter has given a damn about the environment. Not one.

    The US needs a viable third (Green) and fourth (Libertarian) parties. Both parties (is there really a differenci–it’s the right wing and the ultra-right wing) couldn’t really care less. The green movement is barely on the radar for either.

  • avatar
    geeber

    psarhjinian: Let’s be honest: no president since Carter has given a damn about the environment. Not one.

    No, it’s because the original pollution-control provisions amended into the Clean Air Act in the late 1960 and early 1970s worked, so pollution has been declining throughout the U.S. People can afford to take for granted that the air will get cleaner, because it has been for well over a decade.

    (Incidentally, the first President Bush signed into law Clean Air Act amendments in the early 1990s that further cleaned up vehicle exhaust and stationary sources, so I would hardly say that no President since Carter has cared about the environment.)

    The simple fact is that today’s cars and trucks are remarkably clean. A brand-new Ford Explorer emits fewer emissions while running than a 1969 Ford Galaxie did while sitting with the engine turned off (primarily because of gasoline vapors leaking from the engine and fuel system).

    The air has been getting cleaner for years, and will continue to do so, as the older vehicles (which generate most vehicular pollution) are sent to the boneyard or the collector garage.

  • avatar
    M1EK

    geeber, 92/94 was a bit early to be worrying again about CAFE; the improvements from the first round were just a few years back from hitting the market. It’s amazing in retrospect that they thought about it as soon as ’97.

  • avatar
    geeber

    Nice try, but no.


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