By on September 11, 2008

The unveiling of the production version of the Volt will go down in history as one of GM’s final coffin nails. Not only does it mark the death of the Volt cult, but it also signals the end of the whole “concept/dream car” era as invented by GM’s legendary Harley Earl in the fifties. Bob Lutz has thrown his “Hail Mary pass” right into the stands. The fans are furious, heading for the exits.

Strong words, considering GM has committed to actually building the Volt. But the promise of the Volt, as defined by the concept car, was something totally different from the perfectly ordinary-looking compact sedan revealed. The Volt concept was a blatant effort by Lutz to tap into the last vestiges of the Futurama psyche: a place where reality is suspended in the belief that a better (and greener) tomorrow really exists, thanks to GM’s infinite technical and styling prowess.

Never mind that the Volt concept was utterly impractical, and had zero chance of becoming the actual production car. In typically Lutzian fashion, the gut dominated the head. The car’s profile, the long, low hood, the chopped top, and those huge wheels, pushed out to the extremities, are nothing but a recapitulation of Lutz’s favorite concept, the Cadillac Sixteen. It’s a RWD concept intended to carry a sixteen cylinder engine under the hood, not a coffee-can electric motor driving the front wheels.

The Volt concept was a blatant lie, because nothing of its mini-Sixteen form spoke to its intended EV role. It was a bait-and-switch routine, consciously contrived to generate enthusiasm, such as the 30k names on the gm-volt.com “waiting list.” Lutz may imagine himself to be the modern day Harley Earl, driving his beloved (and utterly impractical) gas-turbine powered rocket-ship Firebirds. But no one took dream cars like the Firebirds seriously back then; they were part of the Futurama show of unlimited possibilities– which never actually came.

Lutz lied when he said the Volt just needed to be “aerodynamically optimized.” In reality, GM knew it couldn’t afford to develop the technology as well as a new platform and distinctive body too. The production Volt would, by economic necessity, be part of the Delta II platform and body family. It’s an electrified next-gen Cobalt/Cruze/Astra, plain and simple, with a stupid, fake blanked-out grill. It explains the Volt’s mediocre Cd of .28. The Prius may not be stunning, but Toyota shelled out for a unique platform and (more) aerodynamic body, sans fake grilles.

“Rolling turd-mobile” is just one (delicate) sampling of the profound sense of disappointment at Volt Nation. The “leaked” images of the production Volt unleashed a tsunami of negative comments (over 800 and still growing). Some asked to be taken of the (un-official) waiting list, and many are apoplectic. What gives? Weren’t they mainly interested in a car with a 40-mile electric-only range?

The Volt concept coupled the powerful emotional and visceral right-brain appeal of a snorting Cadillac Sixteen with the left-brain advantages of an EV. It was the royal flush, the four cherries, the completed Hail Mary pass that would resurrect GM from the ashes of its (self-induced) immolation. The Messiah/Volt would leap-frog the Prius (and the ascending Asia it represents) as well as shove a giant middle finger in OPEC’s face. America’s place in the world would be restored.

But the production Volt brings to light a grim and stark reality: it’s just an ordinary-looking car. Where’s the (Pontiac) excitement and fun in that? Yes, GM has made an important (and necessary) step in the long-term electrification of the automobile. But it’s hardly alone in that. And it may not be all that exciting, either. In fact, the electrification of the automobile represents the triumph of the left-brain/form follows function/Japanese approach to car building: rational, systematic, measured integration of technology, continuous improvement, and cost-effective (profitable) production. The very qualities that lead to the Asian dominance of the American car market, and cars like the Prius (there never was a Prius concept, it just appeared one day, production-ready).

The glorious fifties and sixties are long gone and dead, despite Detroit’s best efforts to evoke them with retro pony cars and Volt dream-car concepts. And the much-hated Prius represents the force that killed that era. No wonder so much of the scorn being dished out at gm-volt.com is laced with Japanese model names: “Ugh; it looks like a bastard child of a Prius and a Civic.” What the GM faithful were looking for, what Lutz got them excited about, was the equivalent of the 1963 Riviera coupe powered by a nuclear reactor. And they were willing to pony-up. But what they’re seeing now is a forty-grand Cobalt. And falling gas prices. And rising electric rates. Suddenly, the Prius and Insight look… not so ugly after all.

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92 Comments on “General Motors Deathwatch 197: The Volt Lie...”


  • avatar

    Nobody has driven the thing yet or has seen it in person, so I’d rather wait to pass judgement until both happens. Sure, it looks a little bland in those pictures, but the sky isn’t falling yet.

  • avatar
    nudave

    Actually, having only seen one picture of the new Insight and knowing it’s a Honda, I have no problem concluding it will be a home run.

    On the other hand, having seen GM continually fall flat on it’s corporate ass for the last half century, no amount of exposure to the real thing (as opposed to PR) would convince me the Volt to be other than another foul ball (at best) or strike out (at worst).

  • avatar
    mario

    They should rename it the CoVolt. Maybe some lipstick would help.

  • avatar
    jaje

    Well at GM – it is not like anyone ever holds them accountable for anything they promise (1m times over). Nope they are given a blank check and our faith that they know what’s best and we hardly ever call them on it. That is why this is a company that does not set clear goals or any timelines for really anything. That is why any timelines they do set are not met – just a suggestion. That is why GM spends most of its revenues on marketing and press releases and paying for reviews rather than creating new, exciting cars – just whore the heck out of the junk you currently make and just slap lipstick on it and viola – you have a brand new car or a ground up redesign.

  • avatar

    Somehow I never noticed the wide band of black paint intended to visually extend the beltline downward on the concept, probably because it included a second sliver of glass. The black paint is much more obvious on the production car.

    I’ve always hated massively faked DLOs (daylight openings), but this one is especially odd. I thought the reason to have a high beltline was for exterior styling. So why have a high belt, then add a bunch of black paint to unconvincingly fake a low belt?

  • avatar
    faster_than_rabbit

    On the bright side, they’ll probably be able to actually ship it within a reasonable timeframe on the existing platform. But they couldn’t do better than this for a body?

    Does it need to be said that the target market for the Volt is not going to buy it if it looks like an uglier Cobalt?

    Would you buy a Corvette shaped like a Cobalt?

  • avatar
    Edward Niedermeyer

    Great breakdown/takedown. That GM was using the Volt Concept in advertisements as recently as the Olympics is a ringing testament to the cynicism of the whole project. Bait and switch, indeed.

    For my money, the “production Volt” looks an awful lot like Honda’s new Insight. Except that the Volt will be $40k and the Insight will less than half that. The 40 mile plug-in range will overcome this major sales obstacle for some, but the price point is gonna keep the Volt from rapid, Prius-style sales/production expansion.

    And this is being used to justify the bailout?

  • avatar
    Mike66Chryslers

    Lutz may imagine himself to be the modern day Harley Earl, driving his beloved (and utterly impractical) gas-turbine powered rocket-ship Firebirds.

    But the Firebirds, the Y-Job and the LeSabre actually WORKED, as did many concept cars from the 50s and 60s. At some point, GM stopped doing the actual R&D and just started showing push-mobile body shells, which were really just styling exercises. Now Lutz has backed himself into a corner by promising a production-ready Volt.

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    So why have a high belt, then add a bunch of black paint to unconvincingly fake a low belt?

    Because they tried to somehow incorporate the interesting-but-totally-impractical beltline integrated window of the concept, couldn’t do it, and decided to use black paint instead.

    If they just kept beltline bodycolour, the resemblance to the Cruze would be far more apparent

  • avatar

    reVOLTing.

  • avatar
    geeber

    I’ll wait until its actually available for people to drive before passing judgment on the vehicle itself. This does reinforce my belief that this car will NOT save GM.

  • avatar
    Engineer

    Excellent analysis, Paul. I see it this way: With all the excitement, and hype, disappointment is sure to follow. GM has promised so much, there is no way they can keep their own promises: they can produce a GREAT car, which meets ALL the stated specifications (a HUGE challenge in itself) and looks decent. It is still going to disappoint. As it turns out, creating expectations comes with a price tag: the need to deliver.

    Over in the opponent’s corner, Toyota isn’t saying much, just quietly working on improving what they have…

  • avatar
    GS650G

    History will be written that this was a tremendous waste of time. Insted of building smaller cars with 40+ MPG ratings for 13K or so and making a few hundred dollars each in profit we have this turd-mobile

  • avatar
    jkross22

    @ Edward:

    I don’t think this is being used to justify the bailout. There is no product based justification. (without laughing, that is)

    Consumers have voted with their feet on how they feel about a bailout. If we wanted to bail them out, a lot more Cobalts, Malibus and Aveos would have sold.

    GM complains of being blocked out of markets they can’t get into, but large swaths of their home market wishes they would leave. Go figure.

  • avatar
    eh_political

    dear god. they really should have cashed the bailout cheque prior to unveiling the Bride of Frankenstein.

  • avatar
    Hank

    Compared to its competition, it’s a better looking car. Anyone expecting the car to look like the concept wasn’t duped by Lutz, but by their own naivete.

  • avatar
    joeaverage

    They had a viable EV in the 90s, and so did Toyota with the RAV4-EV. I remain confused why they don’t just buy the technology back from Chevron and put it back into production. Put the EV drivetrain in a Cobalt or an Astra and it’ll likely still have a 75 mile range and then they can add a little gasoline engine to recharge the batteries when necessary.

    The problem is they sold the battery tech to the devil (big oil) and big won’t ever let them have it back until the patent runs out in 2010.

    NiMH batteries just work and they last and the large format versions are locked away in Chevron’s patent vaults.

    They CAN’T convince me that the electronics in the EV1 increased the value of the car to $50K or higher. Today we’ve got all sorts of personal gadgets that have huge computing power. Take the old designs and miniature-ize them. Let some GM subsidiary assemble them in China. Use the same motors, same batteries, same control systems as the EV-1 and improve them with each model revision.

    Heck the computing power for the displays, controls systems, GPS, and so on in one of those cars could prob be repeated with a Linux powered Nokia N810 handheld.

  • avatar

    Looks an awful lot like the Malibu, to me. No surprise, wanting to associate their radical new product with their stolid, conservative new mainstay.

  • avatar
    KingElvis

    PAUL:

    My thoughts exactly. Like you read my mind.

    The concept looked sorta Camaro-y and I remember thinking they should’ve just combined the Camaro and Volt into one car, and then made it with either a regular gas drivetrain or optional electric drivetrain – especially since it was an actual ‘compact’ like the ’67 Camaro, instead of the Zeta sized “Monte Carlo Camaro” we’ll be getting.

    Like Buickman, I’m a GMInsidenews.com person – so I’m operating under the handicap of (irrational) GM nostalgia.

    Still, the Volt is simply set up to fail – because as Paul says, it’s all about GM’s making sweet, sweet love to (Paul Freidman and the NYT) the press.

    Regarding the “Leak”…

    I was reading Delorean’s tell all “On a Clear Day You Can See GM” – in it he tells the sorry tale of the XP 887 – what became (sigh) the VEGA.

    He says something like:

    “It was surprising GM announced production of an exciting small car years before (1968) it was to be produced – (my caps.) BECAUSE GM NEVER TALKED ABOUT FUTURE PRODUCTS (Oh how times change, eh?) FOR FEAR OF HURTING SALES OF MODELS CURRENTLY IN PRODUCTION.

    So GM got hooked (addicted?) on talkin’ big plans to the press with the VEGA.

    But they didn’t learn the lesson.

    Another painfully familiar point was the ‘dream’ part of the dream car Vega. To paraphrase John Z.

    “The other strange thing was that, as of 1968, when it was announced, (MY CAPS) THERE WAS NO ACTUAL CAR OR PROTOTYPE. The XP 887 was entirely an abstraction that existed only as a set of numbers taken from a computer. On the flimsy basis of some math equations on paper, GM promised the XP 887 would weigh under 2000lbs and cost under $2000 – the actual car missed those marks by well over 10%.”

    Another case of “Brag to the press about your miraculous ability to break the laws of physics, and ‘it will come’ through sheer willpower and pluck.”

    Volt = Vega.

  • avatar
    thetopdog

    I don’t think the ‘production’ version looks that bad. Then again, I didn’t think the concept looked that good either.

  • avatar
    Adub

    It’s funny, but before the Asstek was unveiled to the public, a friend of mine that hired in there was shown the final vehicle while the PR person said “This is a great car, everyone is going to want one! it’s styled for young people like you!”

    My friend said it was all he could do to not burst out laughing.

    That PR person must still be in charge at GM.

  • avatar
    Bunter1

    jkross22 :
    September 11th, 2008 at 3:46 pm

    @ Edward:

    I don’t think this is being used to justify the bailout. There is no product based justification. (without laughing, that is)

    Consumers have voted with their feet on how they feel about a bailout. If we wanted to bail them out, a lot more Cobalts, Malibus and Aveos would have sold.

    Well put.

    Bunter

  • avatar
    CarnotCycle

    Not that I think GM is particularly clever, but I am wondering if they “leaked” those photos on purpose to focus-group their condom-on-wheels. Given the feedback, they probably would be smart to re-evaluate things. The American car companies never seem to grasp that people in this country like Hondas and Toyotas for the most part because they are efficient and reliable. The Detroit bunch seem to be under the impression that Americans buy those makes for their styling or something. So they make equally anonymous, rounded-up cars, but then throw a pushrod-6 in it and wonder why the masses don’t come.

  • avatar
    Dutchchris

    The biggest problem with the Volt is not it’s looks. It looks like a Prius which is what people want in a hybrid. That’s why Honda’s new Insight looks like a Prius too, except at less than half the price of the Volt.

    It’s the price that is the real problem for the Volt.

    People will have the choice of spending $ 40K on a Volt or on an almost identical looking Insight+ 200.000 miles worth of gas. That last part is in instalments of course, just the way most people like it.

  • avatar
    BobJava

    I have a near-irrational hatred of “concept cars,” if only because they lead to inevitable disappointment.

    Plus concept car interiors tend to be rancid at best. But that’s an aside.

    Niedermeyer nailed it. I don’t see how this won’t backfire. It has all of the ingredients to fail in both the PR sense and quite possibly in sales. Maybe the GM execs saw the The Producers recently.

  • avatar
    toxicroach

    The real problem is that it won’t be made in any significant numbers until late next decade.

    Anyone want to guess the ev range on a Prius will be in 2016?

  • avatar

    I will dissent somewhat and say the styling turned out quite well. Compare the photos of it next to photos of the Prius and the Volt definitely has it bested in the looks department.

    What it won’t have the Prius (and Insight) bested in is cost. With it’s projected cost of nearly double GM is looking at a tough sell, unless “green” becomes so “in” in our country that people decided to shell out the money for it. Or unless Obama and his pals subsidize the cost of it under the mantras of patriotism, national security and energy independence.

    Still, I’d like to see this car come out as promised. I hope it does go 40 miles on electricity consistently. I hope it spurs further advanaces in personal transportation by GM and other companies. I hope people buy it. I also hope to see a little crow eating on this website if it turns out that way.

    But I’m not counting on it.

  • avatar

    Change the names:

    GM/Lutz = McCain

    Volt = Sarah Palin

    .. with one scary twist about how much you can fool the people

    Oops! Cars here, not politics. My bad.

  • avatar
    KixStart

    Paul Niedermeyer: “The Volt concept was a blatant lie,”

    It isn’t a lie if you believe it, right?

    Trishield: “What it won’t have the Prius (and Insight) bested in is cost. With it’s projected cost of nearly double GM is looking at a tough sell, unless “green” becomes so “in” in our country that people decided to shell out the money for it.”

    For $20K less, I think almost everyone will find the Prius is “green enough.”

    Or, look at it this way… that’s $20K for the Prius and another $20K for insulation, solar photovoltaics or solar heat. All have reasonable paybacks. A $20K improvement to your home can be reasonably put on your mortgage and deducted.

  • avatar
    monkeyboy

    Sorry, I’m not a lapdog and I’ll hold my decision until I see one at the dealer.

    Since when does a “CONCEPT” actually come out 100% like the production version? I can’t remember one, and I sort of remember the Earl memorabilia in museums.

    Ford as well and throw in Dodge/Chrysler in here too.

    So why the lemming-like like slamming?

  • avatar

    Good point monkeyboy and in this case the concept definitely had the obvious concept look that likely couldn’t be replicated on a real car. Which Lutz said so after the decision was made to greenlight it.

  • avatar
    Redbarchetta

    I called it, I said a bunch of times when the production version comes out there is going to be a lot of WTF and pissed off people who feel lied to. Wait until it hits the show rooms you haven’t seen anything yet, if GM survives that long.

    Since when does a “CONCEPT” actually come out 100% like the production version?

    That really doesn’t matter when they have been selling the concept to the general public in huge ad campains as the car they will be able to buy. They rightfully are going to fee lied to, becuase well they were, it was just one big PR lie. GM is stupid in thinking customers aren’t going to flee when they notice they are being lied to. Broken promises don’t sit well in this country.

    Let’s look at the Volt’s track record.
    1)Promised unique styling, staying true to the concept = Nope your not going to get that, just settle for this electrified Cobalt with fancy trim.
    2)Promised competitive price with Prius at $30,000 = Nope but $40,000+ shouldn’t be that big of a deal for a compact, you can afford it.
    3)Promised 40 mile EV range = We still don’t know if they will hit this but if they don’t they might as well cancel the project now.

    Am I missing anymore early promises?

    All this money would have been better spent fast tracking a great small car to the market that would kick everyone ass. You know something they could sell NOW!

  • avatar

    KixStart, here’s a good point that was made over at GMI about the Volt versus the competition.

    if one keeps the car long enough, and doesn’t travel more than 40 miles per day…it’ll pay back. If the tax credit is higher than $3k, or goes goes higher than $3.70…then the payback time will be even quicker!

    Cost up front:
    Prius: $29,000 (it’s really $29,165 after delivery charge for a fully loaded Prius Touring w/ Nav etc)
    Volt: $37,000 ($40,000 minus a $3,000 tax credit…yes, both are estimates)

    Miles driven:
    40 miles per day, 7 days a week both cars.
    280 miles per week
    14,560 miles per year

    Cost of fuel: (based on $3.70/gallon)
    Weekly:
    Prius: using EPA 46 mpg combined — $22.52
    Volt: $0

    Annually:
    Prius: $1,171.13
    Volt: $0

    Price difference = $8k. It’ll take 6.83 years for a base Volt (assuming these numbers are right…and they’re probably not) to equal a loaded Prius in a fuel cost comparison.

    Volt: $37k @ 5.9 APR, 7% sales tax, and a 60 month term = $763.54 per month
    Total spent = $45,812

    Prius: $29k @ 5.9 APR, 7% sales tax, and a 60 month term = $598.45 per month
    Total spent = $35,907

    I maintain that most people don’t see it that way though. With leasing gone they simply look at the MSRP or monthly payments and if it’s beyond their comfort zone they aren’t going to go for it, especially when the alternative costs less.

  • avatar
    yankinwaoz

    I like the reference to “The Producers”. I had not thought of that connection before. But that is exactly how GM has operated in the past, and perhaps is their general plan is now. Design to fail.

  • avatar
    Paul Niedermeyer

    monkeyboy: Since when does a “CONCEPT” actually come out 100% like the production version?

    Rarely, but usually there’s a very strong correlation, like in the Camaro. Say 75-90%. In the case of the Volt, essentially nothing, if you consider its basic shape, wheel arrangement, profile, front overhnag, etc, etc..

    The whole point I’m making is this: usally/normally, the concept’s basic shape/arrangement reflects what the car will be, in its purpose, size, etc. Not in the case of the Volt concept. It was a low-slung sporty car with zero correlation to the basic configuration of a production FWD car.

    @TriShield, And you think you will find a Volt sitting at your dealer for exactly $40k??? They’re going to come heavily loaded, and with dealer markups for the first year or so, when production is limited.

    Comparing a loaded Prius to a “stripper” Volt is not realistic.

  • avatar
    Edward Niedermeyer

    jkross22:
    Laugh all you want, but the bailout is certainly centered on products, albeit not ones that exist yet. Check out what the industry says about the loan package:

    Chrysler’s Jim Press: “I think it will allow everybody to bring electric cars, plug-in hybrids, hybrid cars, even range-extended hybrids. All of those vehicles will be accelerated.”

    GM lobbyist Greg Martin: “This program is not a bailout but an incentive for the auto industry and its suppliers. Its purpose is to get advanced technology vehicles on the road as quickly as possible in order to help the country meet its energy goals–and that’s exactly what we’re going to use it for.”

    UAW Legislative Director Alan Reuther: “We don’t see it as a bailout. We see it as government assistance to help retooling tied to the production of these advanced technology vehicles.”

    Detroit News indirectly quotes GM’s Bob Lutz thusly: “He also said GM and the other Detroit automakers would benefit from low-cost government loans to help them pay to update plants and speed up development of more fuel-efficient models consumers are demanding amid high gas prices.”

    And on, and on. The only way the pols go for this is if $50b buys them lots of bragging points. Fixing the economy, fixing the environment, and helping Americans get access to high-tech, whizbang whips might be worth it. But the Volt is Detroit’s only hope on the last point, and if it costs $40k it won’t be seen as a very populist investment.

    Not to make too far-reaching an analogy, but a “Volks Wagen” this is not. In so many ways.

  • avatar
    galaxygreymx5

    Not to pick nits, but…

    “…there never was a Prius concept, it just appeared one day, production-ready” is not an accurate statement.

    There was, in fact, a Prius concept shown at the 1995 Tokyo auto show, a full two years prior to the production model unveiling.

    http://www.toyoland.com/prius/chronology.html

    The production car, however, showed up ready-to-roll with no prior leaks, both in 1997 and for the radically different redesign in 2003 (MY2004).

    Toyota was, in fact, trying to gauge interest in such a vehicle prior to actually funding a launch, much like GM is doing today with the Volt.

  • avatar
    Mark MacInnis

    One of the first lessons they teach you in your business career is never, ever……over-promise and under-deliver. It is the proverbial kiss of death, the fabled automatic….yet here is what was once the most admired corporation on the planet doing the very same on a massive scale.

    That is not some space-age transparent fabric…nosirreebob! In fact, the emperor is sans apparel….

    Sad, and pathetic.

  • avatar
    Edward Niedermeyer

    Oh, and on the concept vs. reality styling debate, this makes for a good example of a different GM approach to the concept-production transition. With far more satisfying results too, I’d say.

  • avatar
    BTEFan

    Saw the Autoblog pictures. Not a bad looking car. Lets just hope the technology is there to get past the Eurobland styling. The funniest part of the autoblog pics is the ‘glamor shots’ of the middled aged (or not so middle aged) men. I wonder how much makeup they put on them before the pictures.

  • avatar
    billc83

    I’m not here to weigh in on the sneak peeks of the Volt or its styling; I think many of you guys have covered most aspects (both positive and negative) regarding those. Instead, I offer my views on the Volt’s public image through the lenses of historical interpretation.

    GM has developed a history of over-promising and under-delivering with its offerings for a while now. The Volt is no different. The Vega, when first conceived, was supposed to weigh “less than 2,000 pounds…and priced at the level of the Volkswagen Beetle, less than $1,800 then” (cited from Delorean’s book). By the time the Vega was released, it had a base sticker price of $2,091, “out of the market” of the Beetle, especially considering costly options designed to extract more money from the customer.

    Even though the Vega missed its target goals for price and weight by a mere fraction, the point is it missed the mark! If I get any service performed and am quoted at $300, and the final price turns out to be $250, I will be much less happy than I would be angry/sad if the actual cost was $350.

    GM is now promising a 40 mile electric range on the Volt. I’d be willing to bet money that the same forty mile range is based on numbers compiled using optimum electric driving conditions for the math (i.e. no steep hills, perfect temperature, driving the car with a soft foot, etc.). Fact is, the average customer is going to feel entitled to 40 miles of gasoline free driving, despite any disclaimers on the window sticker! And if that full forty miles isn’t reached, he is going to feel shortchanged, which he can add to his personal list of grievances with GM (I, of course, the target buyer of this particular Volt would be a long-time GM buyer, but I digress…).

    Over-promising and under-delivering. The Volt has already gone through this game before. Wasn‘t the Volt originally promised to be available for purchase in 2008, with a price around $25,000 (citing from memory there, I‘m sure someone will correct me)? The Volt was promised to have a 600 mile range. More over-promising. More under-delivering. Even though it is practical considerations that are forcing the Volt to be more expensive and released later than originally planned, the fact is GM should never have promised what it could not 100% deliver.

    The Volt could turn out to be a fantastic car; a wonderful PR move for GM at a time when GM is desperately in need of one. However, I think the road to the Volt’s release has already been worn with many potholes, forcing many onlookers and potential consumers to shake their heads.

    (With apologies to Mark MacInnes, I swear I started this in Word Processor before your thoughts were posted!)

  • avatar
    ihatetrees

    What the GM faithful were looking for, what Lutz got them excited about, was the equivalent of the 1963 Riviera coupe powered by a nuclear reactor

    +1. Yes, Lutz can be hyperbolic. But some of the blame rests on the ‘GM faithful’.

  • avatar
    Gardiner Westbound

    By setting expectations high and failing to live up to them GM has squandered trust and credibility; not a new phenomena for the Detroit-3.

  • avatar
    BobJava

    galaxygreymx5

    Your Prius history is a very good point. That said, and I don’t think this refutes your point, the internet age means we can debate the Volt for the next two-three years, until we’re blue (or green) in the face. For better or worse, the Prius wasn’t subjected to the same type of exposure. Moreover, in recent history, GM seems intent on beating us over the head with cars that are or were three years out — the Camaro being the best example. (By and large, the Japanese makes don’t have the same strategy today.)

    “Leaked” photos, roll-outs at every car show … it gets a bit old when you can’t go down to the dealership to see it.

  • avatar
    Will_F

    TriShield :
    September 11th, 2008 at 6:15 pm

    KixStart, here’s a good point that was made over at GMI about the Volt versus the competition.

    if one keeps the car long enough, and doesn’t travel more than 40 miles per day…it’ll pay back. If the tax credit is higher than $3k, or goes goes higher than $3.70…then the payback time will be even quicker!

    Cost up front:
    Prius: $29,000 (it’s really $29,165 after delivery charge for a fully loaded Prius Touring w/ Nav etc)
    Volt: $37,000 ($40,000 minus a $3,000 tax credit…yes, both are estimates)

    Cost of fuel: (based on $3.70/gallon)
    Weekly:
    Prius: using EPA 46 mpg combined — $22.52
    Volt: $0

    Not Quite $0. Quite a bit more, actually, not to mention whatever it costs to re-wire your house to deliver the power to your plug in car. As a Guess, I think it would be safe to assume you’re going to put 15 KWH (2000 W for 7.5 hours!) into the car between 40 mile charges. That’s something like $1.65 in electricity where I live, and is $11.55 per week or $600 per year. This pushes the simple payback out to around 15 years. How long do those batteries last anyway?

  • avatar
    monkeyboy

    Are we as a large group of readers not understanding the definition of the word, “Concept?” We all seem to be attaching a different meaning to this term.

    I think it means, in this context, “an idea.”

    Not:

    Exact replica.
    Total and complete version.
    “Just like this!”
    100% production version.

    Am I pretty close??!?!?

  • avatar

    Edward, regarding the Camaro concept to reality transition. I’d say it isn’t the best example as the Camaro is not a car whose entire point depends on being as aerodynamic as possible. It’s a car whose styling is one of it’s huge draws. The Volt much less so. The big draw is it’s range on electric only power, which the part that’s absolutely crucial to the entire project.

  • avatar
    brownie

    Nice article. Your observation about the lack of Prius hype nicely sums up everything that has gone wrong with the American car industry.

    To quote Yoda: “Do or do not. There is no ‘try’.”

  • avatar
    Prado

    TriShield :
    Cost up front:
    Prius: $29,000 (it’s really $29,165 after delivery charge for a fully loaded Prius Touring w/ Nav etc)
    Volt: $37,000 ($40,000 minus a $3,000 tax credit…yes, both are estimates)

    I would guess that most people who can afford a 40K car will not qualify for the tax credit. Even many buyers of the much less expesive Prius got burned by the Alt Min Tax. Of course no one selling the cars brings up these minor details.

  • avatar
    Paul Niedermeyer

    TriShield, You’re missisng Edward’s (and my) point: The Camaro concept was designed with the general parameters of what they intended to build as aproduction car. The Volt wasn’t; it was an out-there dream car based on the Sixteen. GM/Lutz should never have done that; the concept should have (at least roughly) reflected the shape, size and aerodynamics of the production vehicle.

    GM’s Impact concept car correctly predicted the shape and superb aerodynamics of the EV-1. That’s what GM should have done with the Volt.

    GalaxygrayMX5, Thanks for the correction about the Prius concept. A (rare) blank in my memory files. Any images?

    billc83,
    +1, and well said. I wrote a whole editorial just on that subject: http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/chevy-volt-vega-redux/

  • avatar
    Edward Niedermeyer

    Or, how about GM’s Precept concept. They got a third of a billion bucks (or thereabouts) to develop that for the federally-funded PNGV. Why wasn’t the Volt some kind of logical development of that?

  • avatar
    SkiD666

    If the production Chevrolet Volt isn’t “futuristic” enough, why not wait for the Cadillac version or Pontiac or Buick or Saturn or …

  • avatar
    John Horner

    The vast majority of the time, “Hail Mary” plays …. fail. Volt is not showing signs of bucking the numbers.

    “Annually:
    Prius: $1,171.13
    Volt: $0″

    Wait a minute. The electricity to charge your Volt isn’t going to be free. Here in California thanks to our tiered pricing, I pay over $.30 per KWH for any incremental electricity we use. Our rates go up as you use more electricity, and the fact that our house was built “all electric” back when that was the environmentally correct thing to do means that we pay a fortune for our electricity.

  • avatar
    Rix

    Loaded with that legendary Chevrolet interior and sharp GM styling…for just 50% more than the Toyota, who could complain?

    As for the beltline, GM probably had to raise it to meet side impact crash protection rules. A lot more steel goes into the door than there used to…generally, there is a thick steel bar right under the windows in newer cars.

  • avatar
    KixStart

    TriShield,

    If we accept your figures, the payback is still 3 years longer than most people will accept.

    Nor do I accept your figures. You can certainly put any price you like on the Volt and make up any tax credit you care to. As you say, the Prius has a waiting list at 180K cars/year and gas at $3.50-4.00/gallon and dealers are charging “market adjustment pricing.” That will change.

    Next year, Toyota will bring an additional 200K/year or so to the market and the Insight will hit the market with about 100K/year volume. This is almost 3 times as many very-high mpg mid and compact hybrid cars. That spells the end of waiting list and dealer “market adjustment pricing.” The Prius goes back to selling at MSRP or so (in fact, they were selling below list in early Spring, before gas zoomed to $4/gallon).

    In 2010, when the Volt is still a year off into the future, Toyota will open a plant in the US and brings another 200K on line. Honda hasn’t announced any plans but it seems a safe bet that Honda will increase production.

    Toyota recently announced another goal met in price reductions, so unit cost won’t be forcing them to increase prices.

    You’d better set your Prius comparison price to about $22K.

    And you’d better figure on the 2009 Prius doing better than 46mpg. Toyota understands what this car is all about and they’re going to work very hard to improve it in that direction.

    Also, the 40 miles/day is the optimal driving cycle for Volt payback. That’s about 14,600 miles/year. But you must go 40 miles/day. Exactly 40 miles/day. Every day. Vary from that (especially, fail to drive your required 40 miles on a given day) and the Volt payback time increases.

    A Volt would take decades to pay me back… My commute is just 6 miles, round-trip. A 40 mile AER Volt that does 50mpg after the battery is exhausted (an optimistic projection) would take several years to return a payback over even an entry-level Lexus. Which do you suppose will be the nicer car?

    Monkeyboy: “Are we as a large group of readers not understanding the definition of the word, “Concept?” “

    Why has the car that they won’t produce been featured in ads about a car they intend to produce? That takes it beyond “concept” to “promise.”

  • avatar
    Robert Schwartz

    Deck chairs. Titanic.

  • avatar

    Absolutely brilliant analysis, Paul.

    I feel bad for the designer(s) who turned the cab backward concept into the cost engineered Cobalt before us. Making that hideous DLO for production musta made a few folks consider burning their ID diplomas.

    Seeing the before/after Volt is just more reason reason why I’m glad I left the world of automotive design to be a boring business-type person in a cubicle far, far away from Detroit.

  • avatar
    galaxygreymx5

    BobJava and Paul Niedermeyer,

    I was just playing devil’s advocate and, while I’ve seen pictures of the Prius concept in the past, I couldn’t round up any in a ten second Google image search.

    I agree with this editorial wholeheartedly, and GM is going to burn out all of the excitement of the Volt over the next two years. I think that in the public’s eyes, the Volt is the “now” thing, time-stamped 2008. Then the new Prius hits in January, and the new Insight drops in April, and now the Volt is two “now” generations behind. When you can finally go and get your GMAC payment booklet for one on a dealer lot, who knows how outdated it’ll be in the public’s collective mind.

    This is another Lutz pet project that may just run the company into bankruptcy. Bob is good for car companies flush with cash; he knows good design, attractive details and interiors, and halo cars. He’s clearly terrible at predicting market trends and charting a course for a carmaker looking under the sofa for every last penny, with plenty of evidence in the money pissed away on GMT900, Kappa, Camaro, and Volt.

  • avatar

    If they want a hybrid, I would think that they should probably just try to find a way to cram their 2-mode truck system into their cars. I’m not sure of its size or weight, but I imagine that it would feel a lot lighter inside a 2800-pound vehicle than a 5600-pound truck. And, imagining the Cruze at around $18K well-equipped, it would cost around $28K with 2-mode–that’s a lot better than the current cost estimates. Couldn’t they even just add a quick charging hookup and make it a plugin hybrid?

  • avatar
    Dynamic88

    The way to split a grill is vertically, the way Pontiac does it. Chevy needs to drop this horizontal split theme, it makes all their cars ugly. Why buy ugly when there are so many other choices?

  • avatar
    gamper

    Very good article, one of the best I think I have read here in some time. You make very good points regarding the preproduction hype and buyer expectations. Everyone in the car business or who follows the industry knew that the production Volt would be very different than the concept. The average consumer who didnt do their research got the let down. But lets face it, it could look like the Aztek and GM would still sell every example they make. The disappointed public will get over it, especially if they follow the commentary explaining their unreasonable expectations.

    In the end, I am not disappointed at all, and I doubt the enviro-whackos are either. GM did the right thing by putting function first and foremost, so while the rollout from concept to production turned out to be a debacle, the end result leads me to believe that perhaps they are learning after all and incidentally, it is still better looking than a Prius.

  • avatar
    toxicroach

    Concepts get shown at car shows, where its understood that they are flights of fancy.

    They were showing the Volt on TV with other current GM vehicles. There was no “this is bullshit, expect a sci-fi malibu” disclaimer.

    So its not the same thing at all really.

  • avatar
    KixStart

    The Luigiian,

    That’s more or less where the Saturn Vue Two-Mode is going. Two-mode hybrid enhancement for $8K extra (maybe more) and, later, a plug-in enhancement of some reasonable range (10-20 miles?) for another $?K.

    Whether or not they can shrink it into the Cruze… good question.

    But even the BAS system isn’t a total loss in terms of concept. Toyota is doing much the same thing with their Kei cars in JDM. Reduce the manufacturing cost of the BAS, improve its effectiveness and put it in the Cruze, if a two-mode setup won’t fit.

  • avatar

    Thanks for an excellent article, Paul. I’d hoped that GM would use the “skunkworks” talent for this project whose resume includes the Z-06 and ZR-1. All three Corvettes demonstrate that GM has the internal stuff to create an amazing automobile; they just can’t do it in the fourth quarter with two minutes left to play.

  • avatar
    davey49

    The black underneath the side windows looks to be angled, not straight up and down. It’s more like a sill.
    The Volt looks fine to me. Don’t know what you all are asking for. It looks like a car.
    If the Volt= Vega that will be great. People seem to forget that the Vega well
    joeaverage- Isn’t the Volt what you’re asking for? an EV with a small gas engine to recharge the batteries.
    As far as the production Volt is concerned. It isn’t the Prius and Insight that is the problem. It’s the buying public. By the time it comes to market we’ll all want big cars, wagons, trucks and SUVs again.
    I want something the size of a Trailblazer with a Volt-like powertrain.

  • avatar
    wolfman3k5

    I guess that once the Volt will hit the dealer lots we’ll see how it does.

  • avatar
    KixStart

    Paul Niedermeyer: “The car’s profile, the long, low hood, the chopped top, and those huge wheels, pushed out to the extremities, are nothing but a recapitulation of Lutz’s favorite concept, the Cadillac Sixteen.”

    I Googled up some images and looked for myself. You are exactly right.

  • avatar
    monkeyboy

    Kind of describes many autos really. Just a few?

    Viper.
    Coord.
    Auburn boat tailed Speedster.
    Solstice.
    Prowler.
    Vette of the 80′s.

    Need I go on?

    Couldn’t been more obscure with a description if
    “4 wheels and a seat.”

    Just agreeing that there are alot of mainstream styling ques here as well. Not that extreme or duplicitous.

  • avatar
    KixStart

    monkeyboy, You should go look at some photos.

    On that list of yours, nothing looks nearly as much like the Sixteen or the Volt Concept as those two look like each other.

  • avatar
    philbailey

    “If I get any service performed and am quoted at $300, and the final price turns out to be $250, I will be much less happy than I would be angry/sad if the actual cost was $350.”

    I read this six times and I still don’t get it. If somebody saves you $50 by brilliant purchasing and talented application, you’re not happy? Why?

  • avatar
    mikeolan

    So let me get this straight.

    You’re mad because a non-production concept is being ‘mainstreamed’ on its way to production. You’re mad because it shares a platform. And you’re mad that this is going on on a vehicle whose entire point is about its engineering and execution.

    Before you type up a rebuttal, think: If you had to compromise the concept’s design OR the drivetrain on THIS project, which would you pick? Neither would be ideal, but if the styling “turning out to be a lie” pales in comparison to if the entire drivetrain turns out to be a lie (essentially useless and little real world benefit.) We don’t really know about the later, but we do know that the former just appears to be an evolution on existing automobile design. A fairly attractive front end but nothing too radical.

    Styling novelty is awesome for initial hype, but NOT for long-term success. See the Chrysler 300, Ford Thunderbird, or Chrysler Crossfire. And unlike the previous 3 cars, the Volt’s entire purpose is to change the landscape of consumption. Case in point- do you think anybody would buy a Prius if it was just another gasoline car? Don’t think so. By the time the Volt turns around the Prius won’t even have any distinction left- I wouldn’t be surprised if the novelty goes the way of Altezza lights.

    It would have been great if GM had either A) not shown such a far-from-production concept or B) not deviated so much, but you seriously cannot tell me you expected the Volt to go into production without some serious alterations. The Chrysler of last decade might have spoiled us when it comes to designing production-ready concepts, but just look at the damn Volt concept- nothing close to production. And you’re surprised now?

    Frankly, Paul, you overlook the most important part: the buying public is worried about the styling of the Volt- they’re worried about the engineering. We all know Detroit can hit the styling ball out of the park, but we *don’t* need another Prowler- we need something functional and groundbreaking at the basic level. THAT is what is going to kill the Volt.

  • avatar
    Aegea

    As well as not taking into account the cost of electricity, the GMI cost analysis is slanted in another way. It assumes 40 miles per day, 7 days per week, which is probably not the way most people drive, but which just happens to be optimal for the Volt. Assume longer trips and the Volt will start using gas, worsening its cost relative to the Prius; assume shorter trips, and the Prius will use less gas, improving its costs relative to the Volt. It would be interesting to see the analysis redone with a more realistic driving profile.

  • avatar
    billc83

    Philbailey – It made sense when I wrote it, but the I confess the wording is a little confusing.

    It helps me to put the scenario on a scale of 1-10, with 1 being supreme happiness and 10 being extreme rage. If I had been quoted $300 and the price came to an even $300, I’d probably be at a 5. If the price was $250, I’d probably be at a 4.5 – relieved but not obscenely happy. If the price turned to $350, I would be closer to a 6/6.5, much further from the middle than 4.5!

    Of course, the above numbers are by no means set or perfect, as every person is different, but the general trend should hold up. People hate having their expectations not met!

    Hope that helps; I had a really tough time explaining that!

    I originally wrote that thinking of the old 2/10 rule: If you make a customer happy, he will tell two people about his good experience. But if you make a customer mad, he will tell ten!

  • avatar
    KixStart

    mikeolan: “Frankly, Paul, you overlook the most important part: the buying public is worried about the styling of the Volt- they’re worried about the engineering. We all know Detroit can hit the styling ball out of the park, but we *don’t* need another Prowler- we need something functional and groundbreaking at the basic level.”

    We also need something reasonably priced.

  • avatar
    law stud

    Gm is really beating the future on diesel 1/2 ton pickup trucks which will get 20-25 mpg, rather than 12-18 mpg.

    if that doesn’t work, GM is done like Thanksgiving Turkey cooked by my mother-in-law at 6:00am. Fucking dead…

    who wants gravy? Toyota is giving the gravy, because its all gravy on their side.

  • avatar
    KnightRT

    > The Volt concept was a blatant lie, because nothing of its mini-Sixteen form spoke to its intended EV role.

    Did someone kill your puppy? It was a concept. It was supposed to be an exaggeration. Frankly, I thought the concept was unattractive and looked too much like the Saturn Sky. The elongated proportions didn’t seem to lend themselves to practicality or visibility.

    The production version sacrifices drama for the sake of packaging, and I think GM did a bang-up job. Not everyone is a simmering vat of testosterone; I’ll bet the female focus groups loved it, and it’s a hell of a lot more attractive than a Prius.

    My problem isn’t the styling, it’s the price. This car will be dead in the water if it’s listed above $35K. Really, it should be below $30K, though Lutz’s comments seem to imply that it wouldn’t be profitable in that range. It remains to be seen just how inelastic hybrid demand really is. For GM’s sake, I hope it’s not just a fad.

  • avatar
    the duke

    @Michael Karesh:

    I thought the reason to have a high beltline was for exterior styling. So why have a high belt, then add a bunch of black paint to unconvincingly fake a low belt?

    There is a styling aspect to a hight beltline, but you notice all cars in the past five to ten years have gone to higher beltlines. The reason I belive is side-impact safety; a higher beltline puts more metal between you and a high-bumper SUV.

  • avatar
    the duke

    @Michael Karesh:

    “I thought the reason to have a high beltline was for exterior styling. So why have a high belt, then add a bunch of black paint to unconvincingly fake a low belt?”

    There is a styling aspect to a hight beltline, but you notice all cars in the past five to ten years have gone to higher beltlines. The reason I belive is side-impact safety; a higher beltline puts more metal between you and a high-bumper SUV.

  • avatar
    Campisi

    I’m going to have to throw my hat into the ring with everyone else that contest the main premise of this Death Watch. The Volt Concept was a concept, and one pointing towards an economy-minded model; perhaps assuming that the production version wouldn’t look like an out-there sports car would have been the more logical choice. Besides, GM is trying to sell a powertrain here, not a styling job.

    As for The Big Lie postulated here, I highly doubt that it would be a leading reason for people to not buy the Volt. The Insight and the Prius are going with a very similar shape for their top hybrid models, so the Volt only needs to look that little bit more striking/clean/crisp/whatever than the other two. The only two major things I see posing a major threat to the sales of this car are the price and the badge.

  • avatar
    shaker

    Bailout bait, pure and simple.

    Money that should have been spent on making the Cobalt platform EV/hybrid compatible, rather than the upgraded Cavalier stamping that it is.

  • avatar
    LoserBoy

    Since so many others are jumping on the cost analysis posted here, I’ll point out that it also fails to account for the time value of money. That is, $8,000 spent today costs you more than $8,000 saved over seven (or however many) years.

    Also, it ignores financing. It assumes the cars were bought for cash or there was 0% financing for both vehicles. I realize this was probably done for the sake of simplicity, because people would argue endlessly over the “the average down payment” and such, but the fact that some things are difficult to compute doesn’t make them go away. For most car buyers, financing happens; and any interest rate imposed will tend to hurt the vehicle with the higher initial cost.

    Remember: never compare costs; always compare opportunity costs.

  • avatar
    tankd0g

    monkeyboy: Their most recent car, the Camaro, is as close to the concept as I’ve ever seen, the Volt concept had many of the same design elements. Stop your apologizing for GM, this is a pathetic hack job of a Cobalt, something we all knew was going to happen when the first test mules started to appear but people like you said no, those Malibous are just test mules, the volt is going to be a whole new platform, a game changer.

    Ya right. I love saying I told you so.

  • avatar
    tankd0g

    Campisi : and defects, and fires. Well I guess you covered both those with the badge comment, really.

  • avatar
    tankd0g

    mikeolan: “Before you type up a rebuttal, think: If you had to compromise the concept’s design OR the drivetrain on THIS project, which would you pick?”

    Apparently both, or did you miss the constantly diminishing range estimates for the Volt? but at least it’s going to look cutting edge when it comes out right…right?

  • avatar
    amac

    Chevy Volt: From cutting edge concept to Corolla. The world sighs and moves on. Buh-bye GM.

  • avatar
    tankd0g

    Had they kept their mouth shut at GM, done the traditional closed door development and threatened everyone involved with death if they let any information out, there is the slightest chance that Toyota, Honda and everyone else now in the hybrid game would have become complacent. The volt could have burst on to the scene and blindsided everyone. Instead, the enemy has a copy of your battle plan a full 2 years before the invasion, you are as good as dead.

    Unless of course this is all a ruse, and the Volt DOES look like the concept (or better), gets 80 miles to a charge and is going to cost $35,000.

    Yeah, I don’t think so either.

  • avatar
    folkdancer

    so the Volt only needs to look that little bit more striking/clean/crisp/whatever than the other two.

    And the phony grill helps the Volt look clean and crisp?

    I agree with your editorial Mr. Niedermeyer except I didn’t like the original clunker either. GM is acting like American Motors when they were so poor they cut off the rear of the Hornet to make the Gremlin and called it a small car.

    GM may be making a great breakthough in auto technology and they are afraid we are too stupid to accept this so they hide their breakthrough in a boring box with a PHONY grill.

  • avatar
    Bill Wade

    tankd0g :
    September 14th, 2008 at 2:34 am

    Had they kept their mouth shut at GM, done the traditional closed door development and threatened everyone involved with death if they let any information out, there is the slightest chance that Toyota, Honda and everyone else now in the hybrid game would have become complacent. The volt could have burst on to the scene and blindsided everyone. Instead, the enemy has a copy of your battle plan a full 2 years before the invasion, you are as good as dead.

    I used to live in Japan. Believe me, they could care less about the Volt, it never was a threat in their minds. Toyota is convinced hybrids are the wave of the future. Other manufacturers are pinning their hopes on small diesels. I don’t know which will turn out to be best but I wouldn’t bet against Toyota on this.

  • avatar
    DearS

    No matter the reality, I like the writing. That was fun and well put together. It was clever and honest. It is nice. Long live the writing and author.

    I felt something similar about the Volt, your words certanly resonated as well as provided insight. I did not know it was a Cobalt platform though. Thats like a home project or something. Although it took a while for a reason, but I wont be to naive. The Volt idea seems interesting. I’m glad the nation is embracing such ideas. Although I do think its a bit of a mistake to ignore the Prius and Civic and Aveo like vehicles for the Volt. America can rely safety on foreign oil, just not at its current rate/percentage. Its funny that I do not see Americans kindly asking each other to let go of gas gusling ways so much. Its more like SUV owners are evil, and Prius owners are angels or asian loving devils. gsss.

  • avatar
    Campisi

    And the phony grill helps the Volt look clean and crisp?

    Note that I threw “whatever” in there as well. :p Again, it’s not trying to be another Alfa Romeo Brera or Ford GT styling blitz, it just needs to be an acceptable face on a slippery shape in order to compete with the Insight and the Prius, both of which look rather similar to this in many respects already. The fake-looking grilles are probably there primarily to give the Volt Chevrolet’s “corporate face” as well as avoiding that whole “we don’t need no stinkin’ grill” design theme that many American cars had during the Nineties.

    Personally, I’m expecting those fake grilles to be swapped out for something approaching real grilles between this “production” model and the showroom car; after all, the range extender engine, electric motors, and batteries will all require a robust cooling system, which at least necessitates a radiator.

  • avatar
    ex gm guy

    Let’s list some of GM’s radically new designs over the years (in no particular order):

    Corvair
    Vega
    Fiero
    X – Car (Citation, et. al.)
    GMRE (GM rotary engine) powered Monza.
    Dustbuster minivans

    Given that kind of track record, sign me up for one of of those shiny new $40,000 Volts. Does it come standard with 100 ft. of extension cord so I can recharge it in my driveway? Didn’t think so.

  • avatar
    EddieNYC

    Is GM Management doing this on purpose?

    I remember a FarSide cartoon, where the chairman of a hotdog company saying to his board of directors “I believe that this company is being mis-managed.” In the background there is a picture of a hot dog 90 degrees perpendicular to the bun…

    In GM’s case, no one is noticing the picture.


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