By on December 1, 2011

In the comments section of yesterday’s post on the ongoing Chevy Volt fire investigation, I noted that GM might

retrofit Volts with crash protection that can maintain battery integrity in all crash conditions… Mary Barra has said that GM is

“continuing to work with NHTSA to investigate additional actions to reduce or eliminate the potential of a post-crash electrical fire.”

I think some kind of update on the battery integrity front is inevitable, but we shall see…

Sure enough, today Reuters is running an interview with GM CEO Dan Akerson, who says that European deliveries of Opel-branded Volts (called Ampera) would be delayed pending NHTSA’s investigation, and that maybe, just possibly, the Volt’s battery might have to be redesigned. Says Akerson:

We want to assure the safety of our customers, of our buyers, and so we’re just going to take a time out, if you will, in terms of redesigning the battery possibly

Unfortunately, Akerson’s mangled syntax makes it tough to know if GM is really going to redesign the Volt’s battery, or what the “time out” in question means. He does tell the AP [via The WSJ [sub]] that a recall or buyback are options as well. Though redesigning the Volt’s battery could be expensive and devastating for sales, GM’s current post-crash safety protocol is incredibly human resources-intensive, and likely very costly as well. And the fact that GM is even considering redesigning the Volt for safety a year after its release is going to create a huge sales and marketing challenge anyway. Volt production edged down by 199 units in November, and now GM’s sales boss Don Johnson tells the Detroit News that the Volt will miss its 10,000 unit 2011 sales goal. At this point, GM may just want to take a mulligan on the Volt’s first year, redesign the battery, and relaunch the thing.

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82 Comments on “GM Considers Volt Battery Redesign, Halts European Deliveries, Will Miss US Sales Goal, Recall Or Buyback Possible...”


  • avatar
    GS650G

    Take a time out, go to your room, no TV tonight and no ice cream.

  • avatar
    highrpm

    GM was going to miss the 10,000 unit sales goal well before this battery issue came out. For the record.

    I’m curious if anyone on this site actually bought a Volt.

    • 0 avatar
      KixStart

      Site regular Dr. Kenneth Noisewater (probably not his real name) says he owns one and has expressed satisfaction with it.

      • 0 avatar
        Dr. Kenneth Noisewater

        That comment is entirely accurate.

        I’m curious to see where this goes, and while their accident protocol is highly labor-intensive, it’s not surprising for a car whose owners are basically beta-testers as well.

        If I minded being a beta-tester, I wouldn’t have gotten it, but I’m a big fan of new tech, especially if it promises to advance getting away from imported energy dependence (and military spending on access to same).

    • 0 avatar
      jhott997

      “GM was going to miss the 10,000 unit sales goal well before this battery issue came out. For the record.”
      They should were hell bent to “assemble” 10,000 of the things. “Sell” 10,000 is another story.

      • 0 avatar
        GarbageMotorsCo.

        Maybe they did and they’re sitting on the lots still?

        Almost half of them are at it seems

        http://www.cars.com/for-sale/searchresults.action?stkTyp=N&tracktype=newcc&mkId=20053&AmbMkId=20053&AmbMkNm=Chevrolet&make=Chevrolet&AmbMdNm=Volt&model=Volt&mdId=35025&AmbMdId=35025&rd=100000&zc=02345&enableSeo=1&searchSource=TRAIL_HEAD

  • avatar
    Da Coyote

    No one thinks less of GM than I do (after being stupid enough to purchase their cr*pmobiles during the 70s and 80s). However, as much as I think the Volt is a loser, I don’t think there is bad basic or bad safety design. Good grief, the car had some problems days after it was wrecked. Give me a break.

    The basic concept has promise…and if GM’s excuse for managers would give their engineering staff a bit of time to iterate on the Volt, it might become a decent machine.

    Engineeers: Good.
    MBAs: Bad
    UAW: Worse
    Politicians: Worst

    • 0 avatar
      jhott997

      There in fact is a fatal design “flaw” in the batteries but it can’t be addressed in this space. What the public is seeing is a CYA of this “flaw” that was covered over during development.

      • 0 avatar

        It seems to me that the issue is battery integrity in side-impact tests. If the battery could maintain integrity in a side impact, there would (theoretically) be no risk of fires. I think the fact that Nissan cases the Leaf’s battery in steel and hasn’t had a single fire or battery integrity issue yet says it all. The question is this: given how heavy and tightly-packaged the Volt already is, can a battery case be easily retrofitted?

        Incidentally, the pic in the OP is one that I took at the Volt launch. At the time, I asked some nearby Chevy guy why the bare battery was exposed to the underside of the vehicle, and if there was a risk of compromised battery integrity in a crash or road debris strike. Frankly, I got a pretty cavalier response… and now it seems those chickens are coming home to roost.

      • 0 avatar
        Volt 230

        EV1 will soon have company in Electric car heaven.

      • 0 avatar
        gslippy

        “EV1 will soon have company in Electric car heaven.”

        @Volt 230: Awesome.

      • 0 avatar
        highdesertcat

        I have seen the damage that the meltdown of a lowly 12V automotive battery has done and I’m not surprised at the damage and fire caused by a damaged Volt battery pack.

        Still, I am astonished at how the GM-fanboys defend the Volt with its flaws and compromises in spite of the factual proof that a Volt battery self-ignited after damage, in a controlled environment, no less. Maybe they’re in denial. I don’t know.

        To me it once again illustrates how the boys and girls doing the R&D at Toyota and Nissan are doing a much more in-depth engineering job than the superficial what-ifs that GM is renown for. All we have to do is look back on the track record of GM in its past endeavors.

        We can conclude therefore that the Volt is a great vehicle, ahead of its time, when everything is going good. But when it is involved in a crash, the Volt is best left parked outside in a field away from everything else until the battery can be removed and drained. Costly proposition.

        That makes it a candidate for a total-loss verdict from an insurance company when a Volt is involved in a crash more severe than a mere fender-bender. That will increase the insurance rates on a Volt.

        It is likely that as more Volts appear on the roads, more Volts will be involved in crashes. That’s what happened with the Prius over the past ten years. Fortunately for Toyota, the damaged Prius did not self-ignite. Luck of the draw? Maybe.

        Regardless, this is a PR nightmare for GM and they’d better deal with it or the Volt may be prematurely headed for the dust bin of automotive history.

      • 0 avatar
        golden2husky

        Highdesertcat: I strongly suspect that two factors came into play with the battery protection. One is weight, and I can understand trying to not saddle the car with extra dead weight. So instead of steel, alternative materials were used. I can’t blame the engineers for trying to use lighter, more advanced materials. Aircraft makers have moved to composite materials and there have been problems from doing so. I would like to think that proper testing would avoid most of these issues but for some reason they did not. It would be pretty shameful if testing revealed the flaw but they chose to ignore it. The second factor could be cost. This is still GM after all…

  • avatar
    jhott997

    1: BWAAAAHHHHHHHAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHAAAAAA
    2: Who didn’t see this coming?
    3: Ed, there is NO “relaunch the thing”. This was GM’s chance; GM’s ONLY chance.
    4: “GM’s sales boss Don Johnson tells the Detroit News that the Volt will miss its 10,000 unit 2011 sales goal”. NO SHITE!!! Many knew this one year ago. They won’t sell 10,000 of the things in 2012 either. The business case for the Volt falls apart.

    This is all one big joke. It has to be. It better be.

    • 0 avatar
      Secret Hi5

      Re: your point #3 – I’ve been thinking. What if, based on some twisted logic, GM uses this NHTSA investigation as an excuse to cancel the Volt altogether! (GM realizes that there’s no way to profit from the Voltec in the foreseeable future, even with the Ampera and Converj.

  • avatar
    Ralph SS

    “… Frankly, I got a pretty Cavalier response…

    Fixed.

  • avatar
    philadlj

    DOOVER!

  • avatar
    jpcavanaugh

    GM introduces a new car with much fanfare. A year later, there are serious issues with the design that will be 1)Embarassing and 2)Expensive. This seems more like Groundhog’s Day than news.

  • avatar
    orenweizman

    The Shitstorm has started, and those lightning bolts you see are Volts falling from the heavens, battery packs flaming !

    Get an umbrella GM, a really big UMBRELLA

  • avatar
    FleetofWheel

    “We [GM]….are just going to take a time out, if you will, in terms of redesigning the battery possibly.”

    No doubt Toyota and Nissan will stand down their EV/hybrid engineering staff in a gentlemanly manner until GM can get back on the field with their helmet on straight and shoes tied.

  • avatar
    JK43123

    Who didn’t see it coming? Absolutely! Meet the new GM, same as the old GM.

    John

  • avatar
    gslippy

    I’ve been roundly criticized for viewing the Leaf’s air-cooled system as superior to the Volt’s liquid-cooled system, because ‘liquid-cooled systems are superior’. Having personally designed cooling systems for electronics, I believe that an air-cooled system is much harder to engineer, but much simpler in operation and less prone to failure, even though a liquid-cooled design is more compact and efficient.

    Ironically, the Volt team may have been forced into using liquid cooling because of space constraints due to having the IC engine in there as well. They have two complete propulsion systems and heat loads to deal with in one small chassis.

    So I wonder if this design difference plays a safety role as well. Instantaneous loss of cooling in the Volt’s battery may mean that it can’t cope with a sudden heat spike from residual heat – akin to losing cooling in a nuclear reactor (see “Fukishima”).

    A recall of the Volt for this reason will be devastating. You can bet GM is scrambling to figure this out, and I would guess any follow-on projects using the Voltec platform are on hold.

    I’ve owned 3 Pinto/Bobcats; all were fitted with the blast shield. But explosion is all the Pinto is known for, even though it was a fine car for its time. If the Volt becomes associated with the word ‘fire’, its days are numbered, no matter what GM does to fix the (alleged) problem.

    • 0 avatar
      KixStart

      In re “liquid cooled systems are superior”:

      There is a story, perhaps apocryphal but I believe it, that DEC’s engineers brought Kenneth Olsen a design proposal for a new, liquid-cooled VAX computer back in the mid-80′s or so.

      KO is said to have listened politely and then asked, “How many of you guys do your own plumbing?”

      No hands went up and the project did not advance. The next generation VAX was air-cooled.

    • 0 avatar
      mcs

      @gslippy – you’re right about the coolant failure. There’s another problem with liquid cooling and lithium batteries. The interaction of water or water vapor and exposed electrolyte can result in the generation of hydrogen and hydrogen fluoride (HF) gas. A cockpit full of hydrogen and a spark (probably courtesy of OnStar) and well… I wouldn’t want to be in shrapnel range.

  • avatar
    Dimwit

    What I don’t understand is why this wasn’t found during GM’s crash testing. If it was, why was it allowed to go forward?

    We sweat the details indeed.

  • avatar
    areader

    “What I don’t understand is why this wasn’t found during GM’s crash testing. If it was, why was it allowed to go forward? ”

    Let’s not forget that it was the gone but not forgotten duo of Rick and Bob running things then, and that they were desperate for something to make them look other than the abject failures they had proven themselves to be. They were counting on the Volt to do that, as if a single win regardless of significance, could do that. Of course prudence would have led to a slower rollout with more thorough testing, but they were desperate men. After Rick, we’ve had IMO, two CEOs well short of what GM needs to reestablish credibility. This is terrible news, but it’s the truth and must be addressed. Panic within GM is just what is not needed now. The fact that the reponse seems to change on almost a daily basis is not encouraging.

  • avatar
    bumpy ii

    This is the sort of thing that happens when any complex engineering project is rushed. History is littered with the failures of management types who though that standard development timelines could be blithely discarded. A certain Bob Lutz failed to learn from the Solstice.

    • 0 avatar
      GarbageMotorsCo.

      But was it really rushed? The concept had been around for years before it came out. It think only the Camaro beats it for over-extended hype.

      • 0 avatar
        bumpy ii

        The concept showed up in January 2007 with no real intent to produce it. The first production cars popped out just before the end of 2010, so in practical terms GM took about 3.5 years to develop the thing. Most automakers take more time than that to develop regular cars.

      • 0 avatar
        doctor olds

        @bumpy ii-
        So you know the inner workings of GM’s product development timeline because you remember when the Volt concept was shown?
        May be a bit presumptuous.
        GM produced the EV1 in ’96 and showed the Hywire in 2002. Development of EV concepts have been ongoing for many, many years.
        It is dismaying to see such presumption in ignorance of the real depth of development work that underlies Volt.

  • avatar
    Lokki

    I think Bumpy has it just about right. The time pressure on the engineers was tremendous. Who hasn’t been in one of those meetings where somebody said,
    “You know I’ve been thinking about X. If X happens this whole system is going to Y.” You, or someone else in the meeting said,”Well, how likely is X?”. The answer comes back “Well, not very likely, a whole string of things would have to happen first”. You or someone else replied, “You want to go and tell the boss (who is a shouter) that we’re going to have to (redesign/scrap/start over) the whole project because there’s a statistically improbable chance of X?”. We’re already behind schedule.” Everyone in the room looks around, shrugs, and X is no longer spoken of, until it happens.

    Most likely long after the project leader has been promoted and everyone has forgotten the lousy decision.

    • 0 avatar
      Robert.Walter

      Problem is, that in those kind of meetings everybody willfully under-estimates the size of the problem until the lone Roger Boisjoly type, finally over-come by group-think, gives-in after being told to exchange his engineer’s hat for his manager’s hat…

  • avatar
    John Horner

    Ugh, don’t tell me that once again GM has released a design before it is really done. They have done that so many times over the decades as to make one wonder how the company has survived. The oldest such debacle I’m familiar with was the “copper cooled” air cooled Chevy of 1923, which vehicle GM ended up recalling and scrapping out.

    Later on we had the not quite finished Vega liner-less engine block, the failure prone GM diesel V-8 of the 1980s, the V-4-6-8 Cadillac engine, the Cadillac “HT” series of engines, the X-body fiascos, and so on. GM’s list of released-before-being-fully-developed power-trains over the decades is worthy of at least one Harvard Business School Case Study.

    Is this what inevitably happens when a combination of finance and sales people try to run a complex industrial enterprise?

    • 0 avatar
      Pch101

      Is this what inevitably happens when a combination of finance and sales people try to run a complex industrial enterprise?

      The air cooled debacle was the handiwork of Durant, an engineer’s engineer. It took Sloan, the king of committee-style management and style-oriented design, to kill it off. Sloan’s triumph came from moving GM away from being an engineering company, which had put it on the verge of bankruptcy.

      Engineers are often arrogant and destructive. The Wankel almost destroyed Mazda; the company was slavishly devoted to using it in everything for the sake of it, even though it didn’t suit most of the market. Ignoring the needs of the customer for the sake of some dubious design principle doesn’t necessarily create benefit for the customer, either.

      The problem with GM is exemplified in posters such as Doctor Olds, who are convinced that GM has to be the biggest in everything. Instead of getting things right, they’d rather be largest or first. They will give away margin in order to chase volume for the sake of volume, even if the volume produces losses or hurts the customer. They care passionately about “being #1″, but without knowing what that really means.

      • 0 avatar
        wmba

        “Engineers are often arrogant and destructive”

        What, just like everyone else, you mean? So you pick two cases and that proves what point, exactly? Corporate chest-puffing outtrumps the poor engineer, 99 times out of a hundred. You know, technical decision by CPA, jealously guarding the pennies column. Seen a lot of that in my 43 years as an engineer.

      • 0 avatar
        John Horner

        Durant was much more of a salesman than he was an engineer. He brought GM to the brink of collapse twice by willy nilly buying of companies and a complete disregard for watching the check book.

        The recent history of GM’s underdeveloped innovations has been much more driven by time-to-market-at-no-matter-what thinking than it has been by an excessive devotion to the art and science of engineering.

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        So you pick two cases and that proves what point, exactly?

        The car guys who frequent these websites seem to believe that car companies would succeed if they were engineering focused.

        The history of carmaking proves otherwise. The US has had hundreds of small car manufacturers, particularly during the early days of the industry. Many of these companies were founded by engineers, tinkerers and craftsman, and they failed. If anything, failures with engineers in positions of authority would be the norm, not the exception.

        DeLorean was an engineer by training, and we all remember what happened to him. The Duesenbergs made great cars for their day, but didn’t know how to run a business. Both businesses failed.

        The great leaps in the automobile mass market have been led by Henry Ford, Alfred Sloan and Taiichi Ohno of Toyota. Ford’s and Toyota’s innovations were not in vehicle engineering per se but in changing production methods, while Sloan’s were in branding and styling. So while failure in the automotive industry is closely associated with the failure to make engineering profitable, the great advances in the industry haven’t prioritized it.

        Durant was much more of a salesman than he was an engineer.

        Sorry, I should have referred to Kettering, for whom the “copper cooled engine” was his baby. Kettering kept demanding resources for it, even though he could never make it work, and it was Sloan who pulled the plug on it. That was a pivotal event for Sloan, who came away from the experience believing that the future of GM’s American operations lay in styling and features, not in radical innovation.

      • 0 avatar

        Durant had nothing to do with the air cooled car, he was gone from GM in 1920. it was Kettering’s baby. for all his genius the copper cooling was a dismal failure yet Boss Ket was so enthralled with the concept he almost left the company over it’s demise.

      • 0 avatar

        Speaking “of getting things right”:

        Billy Durant was no engineer. He was a high school dropout who sold cigars and then went into the carriage business. Durant was a businessman/promoter, not an engineer.

        With capable technical people like Henry Leland and Charles Kettering involved in GM, Durant didn’t need to be an engineer. The copper-cooled Chevy engine was Kettering’s baby, and he was mortified by the failure and offered to resign. Part of Sloan’s job, when he became president of GM, was convincing Kettering, perhaps GM’s greatest asset at the time, not to quit. I wouldn’t be surprised if every creative engineer hasn’t made at least one bad mistake. Nobody’s perfect and when you can back up your less than successful ideas with data, as Kettering and other engineers could, you can end up chasing technological dead ends. It’s interesting that before the Model M came out, the engine was tested by Oakland and they declined participation in the project.

        Air cooled cars weren’t necessarily a bad idea. Over the course of 30 years, Franklin sold over 150,000 air cooled cars. The company died, like other luxury makers, because of the Depression, not because their cars were poorly engineered. There Gilmore museum near Kalamazoo has a dedicated facility for Franklins, in cooperation with the Franklin club. Pretty cool looking cars – the early ones had round grilles because of the cooling fan shroud. One of these days I’ll finish processing my pics from my recent visit to the Gilmore and put up a post about Franklins on Cars In Depth.

        If you’re going to knock engineers’ arrogance because of the copper-cooled Chevy or some other bit of technical hubris, you also have to credit Kettering for making it possible for most women to drive – he invented the electric self starter, medical devices too.

        When I was a kid we actually learned about inventors like Cyrus McCormick and Tom Edison. To be sure, they didn’t tell us the whole story, like how Edison’s first successful invention, a specialized telegraph machine called the stock ticker, gave him access to capital to fund Menlo Park, but they at least taught us about those people’s accomplishments. I fear that the great inventors are now too white and too male to be included in the curriculum. Sure, Henry Ford was a crank and a bigot, but it’s impossible to deny the man’s accomplishments. The other day my mom was having medical tests at the Henry Ford Hospital. That hospital came from somewhere.

        Charles Kettering was a good guy whose inventions helped humanity. If some want to paint him as arrogant because of the copper cooled fiasco (though his offer to resign sounds pretty humble), or an environmental terrorist because of tetra-ethyl lead, so be it. I think Chuck was kinda cool.

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        Speaking “of getting things right”

        As you should have noted, I corrected myself several hours ago: “Sorry, I should have referred to Kettering”

        We all make mistakes and typos. Some of us actually make a point of fixing them.

        You’re welcome.

      • 0 avatar

        As you should have noted, I corrected myself several hours ago: “Sorry, I should have referred to Kettering”

        As I should have noted? Who died and made you God to tell me what I should or shouldn’t do? I have no obligation to read a complete thread just to see if you backtracked to correct a mistake you made by assuming you know everything.

        We all make mistakes and typos. Some of us actually make a point of fixing them.

        And some of us bother to do research and find out the actual history before we try to show off how much we know.

        Nobody’s perfect, though, which is why I submit revisions to my editors here when I become aware of factual errors in my work. Bertel and Ed can verify that. I also thank my readers when they point out factual errors.

        You haven’t just accused me, though, of factual errors. You’ve repeatedly accused me of deliberately misleading my readers of acting in bad faith. To be frank, it demeans me to even engage with someone who makes such an accusation.

        You’re welcome.

        And you’re the southern end of a northbound horse. For some reason you insist on playing Boris Karloff’s role in Ed Wood.

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        As I should have noted?

        Yes, as you should have noted.

        As is your usual routine, you’re sloppy. I corrected the name, but you want to act as if I didn’t. Either you didn’t notice that I had already corrected it, or else you’re desperate to try to prove something. (Knowing you, probably a bit of both.)

        With capable technical people like Henry Leland and Charles Kettering involved in GM

        The capable Kettering blew it with the air cooled engine, and it took Sloan to cancel the program after it had failed. Which, in case you missed it, was the reason that I brought it up — it was an example of an engineer who was out of touch with reality and who required a strategic thinker to be brought back to earth. Engineers who fixate on technical aspects of design can kill a car company just as quickly as can a finance guy who fixates on the numbers.

      • 0 avatar
        golden2husky

        “Engineers are often arrogant and destructive”

        What, just like everyone else, you mean? So you pick two cases and that proves what point, exactly? Corporate chest-puffing outtrumps the poor engineer, 99 times out of a hundred. You know, technical decision by CPA, jealously guarding the pennies column. Seen a lot of that in my 43 years as an engineer.

        No truer statement has ever been posted here. For all the crap that has flowed out of GM over the years, I am sure that there were engineers that knew the design was poor, yet they were either ignored or afraid of their jobs to speak up. The beancounters destroyed GM, and most of Industrial America. I’d never choose to be an engineer again if I had the chance to do it all over again…

    • 0 avatar
      John Horner

      Yeah, those engineers who built and run the likes of Intel and Google sure are less effective than are the finance guys running GM.

      And that engineer Mulally is making a real mess over at Ford. Oh, wait, er, um …..

      But, to give credit where credit is due, Marchionne is an MBA/lawyer and is doing a great job turning around Chrysler.

      My real point, however, is that GM has a long history of releasing incompletely developed power trains to market and then scrambling to clean up the mess. In modern times, GM has been run by finance and/or “brand management” people, which people have largely been responsible for the rush to release products before finishing development.

      • 0 avatar
        geeber

        Overseeing a company that engineers, styles, produces and markets a vehicle requires a very different set of skills from those needed to run a high technology company. You really can’t compare Intel and Google to GM (or Ford or any other auto company).

        As for Marchionne, the jury is still out regarding his efforts to turn around Chrysler. The launch of the Fiat 500 has been a fiasco, and the decision to rebrand Dodge trucks as Rams is just stupid.

        Mulally is doing a good job at Ford, but, from what I can see, he understands the need for effective marketing and strong brand identity, along with discipline in the areas of finance and production (for example, not overproducing vehicles just to get impressive sales figures).

        His pure engineering skills have not saved the company. He has been able to recognize Ford’s shortcomings in these other key areas, and has either taken steps to rectify them, or listened to the people who can.

        He has also been good at getting people to work together. His success tells me that Ford had plenty of talent. The key was getting the deadwood out of the way, and getting everyone else on the same page.

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        Yeah, those engineers who built and run the likes of Intel and Google sure are less effective than are the finance guys running GM.

        If you feel the need to go outside of the automotive industry in an effort to support your argument, then you should know that the argument isn’t very good.

        In any case, the senior management of GM as of the bankruptcy included several engineers. There has been no shortage of engineering talent that contributed to the demise of General Motors.

        The problems that led to GM’s failure were not specific to any one discipline, but were the byproduct of a dysfunctional culture. GM failed because of its “we’re number one” mentality, which first caused it to underestimate the competition and then prevented it from strategically reducing the size of the company in an orderly fashion once its dominance had been lost. By 2008, GM was an obese sprawling mess burdened with excess capacity and mediocre product; not only did it need to make better cars, but it needed to be smaller.

        Had GM been more market-driven, then it would have known that quality matters and that GM wasn’t delivering it. The finance, marketing, and engineering teams all conspired together to make sure that the consumer didn’t matter. Unfortunately for GM, consumers had other choices, whether the RenCen liked it or not.

  • avatar

    Ah, yes…the Copper-Cooled fiasco. Only one car still exists…in the Henry Ford Museum. The rest were dumped into Lake Erie.

    Really. Hey, it was 1923.

    At least GM owned up to their mistake and did the right thing. As in bought the cars back and scrapped them.

    As for today, GM needs to do whatever it takes to make this right. No band-aid “chain the exhaust manifold to the frame” type of el-cheapo fixes. They can still come out a winner, a little humility will go a long way here.

    • 0 avatar

      Ah, yes…the Copper-Cooled fiasco. Only one car still exists…in the Henry Ford Museum. The rest were dumped into Lake Erie.

      Sounds like a bit of an urban legend to me. It’s not like GM tried to suppress the story. GM has a copper-cooled engine on display at the GM Heritage Center, right next to a Stovebolt Six and other historically significant GM engines. You can see pictures of it here:

      http://www.carsindepth.com/?p=2104

      Less than 800 air-cooled ’23s were made, only 500 got to dealers and about 100 were sold to retail customers. Chevy did buy most of them back and scrap them. The one in the Henry Ford Museum is rare, but not the only remaining 1923 Chevrolet Series M.

  • avatar
    jberger

    I wonder how a buy back would affect the tax credit they used to sell these things?

    It’s bad enough to deal with a lemon buy back, can you imagine adding the IRS to the mix.

    Yikes!

  • avatar
    Rob Finfrock

    Gee, if only some people could have seen this one coming…

    (I had the event sequence slightly out of order, but I’m still on record here at TTAC that fires — thanks to GM’s lax engineering — would be this remedial science project’s ultimate undoing.)

  • avatar
    Zykotec

    I’m guessing ‘time out’ in this case means that GM has the drawings, and probably even prototype for a decent battery casing lying around, that was a bit more expensive (probably in the same closet where the big side windows went). And they are waiting for NHTA verdict. If the car is dangerous with the excisating pack, well, darned… If not, well, they’ll do exactly nothing. Except maybe charge you for any damage and extra miles on your loaner…

  • avatar
    James2

    Maybe battery-powered cars just aren’t a good idea.

    We’ve got iPhones blowing up on airplanes. Sony lithium-ion batteries catching fire inside laptop PCs. These devices typically won’t be hitting anything at 30-40 mph… yet they ignite on their own accord.

    Funny that *gasoline*-powered cars seem safer, eh?

  • avatar
    Carlson Fan

    So if a Volt broadsides a steel pole(that doesn’t give an inch) at 40 MPH the battery might start on fire days or weeks afterwards. OMG run for the hills what a deathtrap!…LOL Let’s for a minute try and use some common sense. These things aren’t burning to the ground immediately after a fender bender. That would actually be newsworthy. I drive a 3/4 ton crew cab PU and for that type of hit I’d rather sit my butt in the Volt. I’m sure I’d be safer and the same could be for most other vehicles.

    • 0 avatar
      Dimwit

      I thought that too, but if you, as the manufacturer, are willing to buy back every piece of production to rework and redesign the vehicle, that’s more than a minor flaw. GM is all but admitted that they have majorly screwed up the design and that it just isn’t road worthy yet.

      I’ll be very interested at NHTSA’s response. I can see them requesting that all Volts get pulled from the market until GM fixes this mess.

      • 0 avatar
        damikco

        “I thought that too, but if you, as the manufacturer, are willing to buy back every piece of production to rework and redesign the vehicle, that’s more than a minor flaw”

        I have to disagree, it’s called Excellent customer service and GM did not want to get burned like Toyota did with it’s pedal issues.

      • 0 avatar
        Rob Finfrock

        I have to disagree, it’s called Excellent customer service and GM did not want to get burned like Toyota did with it’s pedal issues.

        It reeks of desperation on GM’s part, a panicked bid to retain what few meager scraps of credibility the company may have among a blissfully ignorant audience of true believers (read, Volt owners.)

        Toyota took a calculated risk with its approach to the UA problem — which, remember, was largely caused by misplaced floormats and imbecilic drivers — and got burned for it. I understand Toyota’s gamble, though, because the company had a much larger well of customer satisfaction and goodwill to draw from than GM does.

      • 0 avatar
        geeber

        Yes, it’s good that GM is being proactive from a customer relations standpoint. But that doesn’t obscure the fact that there is a major problem with this car. A company doesn’t take this sort of drastic action on a vehicle that has received this level of ballyhoo unless there is a serious problem with it.

    • 0 avatar

      Actually, it was a 20mph side impact into a pole barrier, then a rollover. There’s been a lot of misinformation about the tests, with people saying that three Volts have burned at NHTSA (actually one Volt and two battery packs), folks implying that they caught fire on impact, and other factual inaccuracies that seem driven more by hostility to the Volt (for a variety of reasons) than by anything else.

      I’m trying to keep some perspective here. I think the Volt is safe. Still, Li-Ion batteries, as currently made, are indeed flammable. So is a tank of gasoline.

  • avatar

    loaner cars and buy backs are both sincere efforts to ease customer concerns. such comfort is not afforded stockholders (taxpayers).

  • avatar
    doctor olds

    There have been no Volt fires in customer usage. This is a PR issue.

    NHTSA probe testing of a rare, specific crash scenario does not prove that this is a customer safely issue, only that it could be.

    Following the current post crash safety protocol would have prevented the fires.

    Volt is the most technologically innovative vehicle on the planet, and the intense focus GM has on addressing potential product and customer satisfaction concerns should be applauded and recognized as the appropriate support for this new type of product.

  • avatar
    tparkit

    “I’m callin’ ya wid a message. Da boss do not like to be embarrassed when he is runnin’ for anoder term. You can fix dis problem, or “fix” this problem. He don’t care. But you make it go away. Or we make you go away.”

  • avatar
    doctor olds

    @Buickman- Volt was not released with any expectation that it would be a profit generator for GM for some time. GM knew that it would be a loss maker despite a relatively high price. Note Ford’s EV, without range extending capability, will be about the same price.

    Volt’s purpose is to prove GM’s technological capability,particularly to improve “Green” credibility and, most importantly to prove the EV concept.

    Toyota only produced 8,500 Prius in the first year with its radical new technology for the time. GM, similarly, planned to build only 10,000 Volts in the first model year so that it could be given intense focus (post crash protocal is one example) to uncover and address real world issues that will only surface with production volumes and in real customer usage. Real customers are more satisfied with Volt than any other product on the market, as a matter of fact.

    Volt is a first step in the modern electrification of the automobile. Bill Ford said, “I would say that about 25% of Ford’s fleet will be electrified by 2020.”

    Batteries may well give way to fuel cells as development proceeds, but make no mistake, 20 years from now, EVs will be a very large, if not the dominant share of all new vehicle sales. With current global vehicle “population” over 1 billion and projections of vehicle populations in China and India alone each surpassing 400 million in the near future, there really is no alternative.

  • avatar

    my good Doc, there are plenty of other options such as compressed air or natural gas. who knows what else may come into play should mankind produce another Nikola Tesla or John Galt?

    the Volt is not ready for prime time and was rushed to market. the production vehicle pales in comparison with the concept’s appearance. the need for heavy gov’t subsidies proves the market isn’t ready for the limited benefits of this technological exercise. the electric/gas dual powertrain should have been gradually implemented in a fashion similar to the e-assist, which itself is struggling due to the additional cost.

    GM needs to reestablish itself as a market leader. killing Pontiac and eliminating full size Buick sedans, only to replace with overpriced and speculative innovations is not the way to achieve that leadership.

  • avatar
    Nick

    On the bright side, modest sales should make the buyback a relatively inexpensive proposition. (Breaks out into Monty Python’s rendition of ‘Always Look on The Bright Side of Life’)

  • avatar
    Kevin Kluttz

    Still using consumers as Beta testers…if they live through the test this time. Get out the spare ribs…we’re having a barbecue!

  • avatar
    FleetofWheel

    Simple Solution:

    Declare that all Volt warranty and liability issues are the responsibility of Old GM (aka Motors Liquidation Corporation).

    But New GM still gets to take the tax write off for the loss.

    Can anyone in the UAW or govt doubt the soundness of this approach given that New GM is still too big to fail.

  • avatar
    Mike Kelley

    And there’s this:
    http://www.zerohedge.com/news/gm-channel-stuffing-surges-all-time-record

  • avatar
    doctor olds

    @Buickman-No one can foreseen miraculous future breakthroughs, but in the real world, car makers are already working on products around 10 years our more out. Most makers are working on EVs, though you are right about the technology being expensive. Our government has chosen to incentivize EV’s in particular through rebates and favorable treatment for CAFE. GM is responding to these realities. They did not create them. Ii doubt compressed air has any chance, and natural gas has been offered but not well recieved by the market. It is still a fossil fuel, and we will certainly move away from those finite resource in the future.

    Volt was not rushed to market. It has been under development for years by the best engineers cherry picked from the throughout the organization assigned to the program. You are right that the cost is currently prohibitive, but it will steadily come down, over time. If a 10,000 unit first year production is not gradual, what would that look like to you?

    GM must be doing something right. They grew away from second place Ford outselling them by 335,792 units through November, gaining 0.7%market share this year while Ford actually lost 0.1% share. GM is solidly #1 here, in China and the world, and they made over $7billion in the first 3/4 of the year while doing it.

    Don’t blame GM for the demise of Pontiac. They proposed keeping it as the enthusiast brand for the B-P-G channel. They were forced to dump it by Obama’s Auto Task Force. You can also blame CAFE for the demise of larger cars. There were some very exciting plans for large rear drive cars and a new 32valve “Ultra V8″ before the auto collapse and GM’s trip through bankruptcy.

  • avatar

    Doc,

    compressed air works fine and cars are running in France. sales aren’t likely here though as the petro cartel wouldn’t allow for it.

    “gradual” would have been offering the powertrain as an exclusive option on a top shelf Cadillac, or those Big Buicks the market would so eagerly soak up.

    GM’s unit sales have increased to a large degree due to the significantly higher days supply on hand. market share has improved only through the kindness of Mother Nature as she tore thru Japan and Thailand.

    if GM had understood marketing they never would have seen the inside of Gerber’s courtroom, and yet they could have kept the brand if they had the marketing savvy to present a logical business plan to Rattner & Co.

  • avatar
    doctor olds

    Compressed air has much lower energy density than even old fashion lead-acid batteries and less than 1/12 that of LI batteries!! It is a non-starter today and the petro cartel influence you cite is purely imaginary!
    GM sales by dealers to customers are up, unrelated to days supply, which relates to factory to dealer sales only. And in response to the “channel stuffing” nonsense- vehicles are ordered by dealers. GM does not ship vehicles without a dealer order!

    Why did GM gain share while Ford lost share? If it were as you write, Ford should have gained at least some of the lost Japanese share. GM certainly is outperforming second place Ford.

    You may think that Rattner could have been influenced by a “better” sales pitch, but that is pure conjecture and presumption on your part.

    • 0 avatar

      compressed air is a functioning reality and the cartel denial surprises me, ask any American driver and I’ll bet over 90% agree with me.

      Ford lost share being late to the brand chopping game with Mercury, the dismal performance at Lincoln, and the mess with their infotainment. also, GM was giving the farm away with free first payments, deferral programs etc…

      and yes Rattner was open to reason, he was shocked by the lack of any sense of financial position, ROI, or marketing. In “Overhaul” he named John Smith specifically as problematic and inept.

      • 0 avatar
        TR4

        The futility of compressed air can be proven with a real-world example and a few simple calculations.

        My 2hp air compressor will fill its 20 gallon tank from zero to 125 psi in 2.5 minutes. Let’s be generous and say that all .0833 hp-hrs [(2.5/60)*2] of this energy is delivered to the tank. (It isn’t really as the compressor pump dissipates plenty of heat). Now suppose for a car we have a larger 40 gallon tank and instead of 125 psi we have 4000 psi. The energy contained is now a whopping .0833*(40/20)*(4000/125) = 5.33 hp-hrs. This will run a 5.33 hp motor for one hour. Pretty weak for a practical car! Plus a 40 gallon tank that can safely contain 4000 psi will likely weigh several hundred pounds if not a few tons.
        Compressed air vehicles have been used for specialized uses like mining, where the complete lack of air pollution is a selling point.

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        Come on, you can’t honestly believe that there is a worldwide conspiracy to keep using oil, even if we could avoid it. What’s next, the 150 mpg fuel injector?

      • 0 avatar

        Buickman, I’m sure that large percentages of the population believes all sorts of nonsense and bullsh!t.

  • avatar
    eastcoastcar

    Let’s see. The Chevy “Citation,” and the GM Diesel cars. Then there is the Vega and of course the Corvair. Who would believe that GM could develop any new technology for mass market use? They had better stick to basic—VERY basic technology vehicles—and leave the new stuff to BMW, Mercedes, the Chinese, Japanese and the Koreans. GM should produce basic trucks and one or two basic cars for fleet and consumer sales and stop trying to innovate. Make a RELIABLE low cost car GM.


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