By on April 2, 2012

Since the early days of the Volt, the folks at GM loved to compare the car to putting a man on the moon. That analogy wasn’t without its problems. The moon program did cost more than three times its original budget of $7 billion, all it produced was a few rocks, and it ran out of money before it could get going in earnest. 40 years after Eugene Cernan and Apollo 17, the moon has remained untouched by human feet. But what the heck, GM loves the symbolism. To death.

GM likened the Volt to the moonshot in 2008.

GM likened the Volt to the moonshot in 2011.

They did it one more time in 2011.

A few days ago, the director of GM’s moon program, Bob Lutz, was at it again with his favorite moon analogy. Except that this time, Lutz asks readers to remember the “45th anniversary of the Apollo 1 disaster that killed three of our hero astronauts.”

I am old enough to remember that Chaffee, White and Grissom were killed by an electrical fire. Maybe that moon analogy wasn’t so good.

Or maybe it was.

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58 Comments on “The Volt Is A Moonshot? I Get It, It’s THAT Moonshot...”


  • avatar
    Chocolatedeath

    “40 years after Eugene Cernan and Apollo 17, the moon has remained untouched by human feet.” Yeah thats what they would like for you to believe. I am not reaching for my foil cap..Have a nice day..lol

  • avatar
    tbhride

    Ha!

  • avatar
    VanillaDude

    GM has had a long record of seeing itself as America. “Heartbeat of America”, “Baseball, hot dogs and Chevrolet”, “What’s good for GM is good for America”, and there has been a feeling since the Malaise days that America has grown away from GM.

    We have.

    And that’s OK. What GM has to do is recognize that our hearts no longer beat for them, and actually never really did. We had a nice long relationship, but it was based on service and products, not based on self identity.

    So comparing the Volt to a Moon Shot may be attractive to folks who remember the Moon Shot, but to everyone under 50, it is like hearing your grandparents talking about the good old days when they could drive around in a Rambler and smoke unfiltered Pall Malls in hospital corridors.

    Finally, one is a car and the other was the first humans on the Moon. Comparing the Volt to the Apollo program is inappropriate. I guess they think we are way too stupid to notice the differences, right?

    • 0 avatar
      carbiz

      You’re right: I am 50. My mother forced me at gunpoint to watch the first lunar landing, saying that one day I would thank her. Guess what – she was right. I can say I was there, even if it was B&W.
      I guess your generation must think the ‘Heartbeat of Seoul’ has a much better ring to it…..
      Americans are about to get everything they deserve.

      • 0 avatar
        VanillaDude

        You are 50, and watched the lunar landing?
        That was pretty tough going for a, what, 5-6 year old?
        I have a few little kids, and I can’t imagine convincing them to sit still long enough – kudos to your mother!

        What did she put in your Kool-Aid to pull this off, vodka or gin?

        I am a big supporter of American brands. I want GM to succeed since we shelled out billions to rescue them. But they still have a mind set that isn’t going to work for them in a world of global competitors. Comparing the Volt to the Apollo program, or Hoover dam, or Mt. Rushmore, or any other huge famous project is ridiculously over done. An electric car is not even close to what it took to design the space suit, let alone put the first human being on the Moon.

        It is this kind of stuff that makes GM look delusional – more than they usually look.

  • avatar
    Felix Hoenikker

    To be technical about the Apollo fire that killed Grison, White and Chaffee, it was the 100% oxygen atmosphere at 1 atmosphere pressure that escalated a minor electrical ignition into a terrible fire that killed them. Had they been practicing in a normal atmoshphere of 21% oxygen, the ignition would not have escaled into a fire so fast, and they could have probably escaped.
    The increased flammability of combustible materials in pure oxygen was not appreciated or well understood before this incident.

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      You’re missing the point…which was to snarkily compare a huge space disaster to the Volt, despite the fact that no one’s ever died from an oxygen-fed fire in one, last I checked.

      Next up: comparing the Tsar Bomba to the Volt.

      (eyes roll)

    • 0 avatar
      carguy67

      The Russians understood–they lost a cosmonaut in a similar accident several years before the Apollo 1 tragedy. Unfortunately, of course, they weren’t in the habit of sharing knowledge with the competition.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Valentin_Bondarenko

  • avatar
    red60r

    Apollo I’s fire, the Challenger explosion, and GM’s catastrophe-causing decision to leave sway bars off the original Corvair were the result of managerial dedication to expediency and cost saving. “What’s the worst that could happen?”

  • avatar
    mac

    Oh jeez, there’s so much intentional stupidity and hyperboly about NASA and the Apollo program that it hurts.

    “The moon program did cost more than three times its original budget of $7 billion…”

    The government (Not NASA, the edict was passed down from the White House) decided that that they were going to go to the moon in under a decade when they hadn’t even gotten people into orbit yet. Impossibly tight schedule and mind boggling levels of technological development required, surprise, it cost a lot more than projected.

    “…all it produced was a few rocks…”

    If you do not have the intellectual capacity to understand that the scientific and technological returns were far greater than the materials that were brought back, I invite you to kindly shut up and educate yourself of the matter.

    “…and it ran out of money before it could get going in earnest.”

    Well, no. Congress decided to discontinue the project. There wasn’t any fixed budget to “run out”. Congress actually cut funds that had already been promised. That’s why two *complete and flight rated* Saturn V rockets (the most complex and expensive machines ever produced) were laid down as monuments instead of, y’know, being USED, and why three fully complete and man rated lunar landers are scattered in museums around the country.

    “A few days ago, the director of GM’s moon program, Bob Lutz, was at it again with his favorite moon analogy. Except that this time, Lutz asks readers to remember the “45th anniversary of the Apollo 1 disaster that killed three of our hero astronauts.””

    What’s wrong with Bob Lutz asking us to remember our country’s fallen heros?

    “I am old enough to remember that Chaffee, White and Grissom were killed by an electrical fire. ”

    I don’t understand why you seem to be implying that the method of death makes it any less tragic, or makes the three of them any less heroic. Roger Chaffee may have been a rookie with no spaceflights under his belt, but was an astronaut none the less. Ed White was the first American to space walk. Gus Grisson piloted the 2nd Mercury flight and the first Gemini flight. The latter two were at the top of the very short list of astronauts being considered for the first moon landing, and the death of all three was a major national tragedy.

    Fire in a space capsule is incredibly dangerous and nothing to make light of; MIR was almost lost to fire on one occasion.

    • 0 avatar
      gslippy

      You demonstrate a good grasp of the space program, and I agree with your sentiments.

      GM’s Volt comparisons to the moon program merely reflect the challenges they faced to design and built the car. Out-of-context references to dead astronauts are an inappropriate connection to the Volt.

      Besides, if the Volt fails, nobody dies and no national pride is lost.

      • 0 avatar
        Toucan

        > You demonstrate a good grasp of the space program,
        > and I agree with your sentiments.

        True, but mac hasn’t yet got the very specific sense of humor defining this site, specifically Bertel’s posts ;)

        > Impossibly tight schedule and mind boggling levels of
        > technological development required, surprise, it cost a lot
        > more than projected.

        So he was right. It cost n times more than projected.

        > > “…all it produced was a few rocks…”

        > If you do not have the intellectual capacity to understand
        > that the scientific and technological returns [...]

        All of which could have been produced for much less, without the nonsense of flying there. Pride is a cruel mistress.

        > Well, no. Congress decided to discontinue the project.
        > There wasn’t any fixed budget to “run out”.
        > Congress actually cut funds that had already been promised.

        And they did so because the project was too expensive. So yes, it run out of money.

        > I don’t understand why you seem to be implying that the method
        > of death makes it any less tragic, or makes the three of them
        > any less heroic.

        It was not about less heroism. More about one of the better tongue in cheek jokes mocking the Volt here :)

      • 0 avatar
        mac

        >All of which could have been produced for much less, without the nonsense of flying there.

        Man, it’s hard to develop a robust global communications network centered around satellite communication without going to space. And vacuum-tube based electronics are perfectly fine for anything you could ever want to do, right? The requirements of vibration-resistant and light weight electronics for the space program jump-started the whole transistor industry. if it wasn’t for that, they would have remained expensive curiosities for decades to come. Technology doesn’t advance itself, it advances under the pressure of exceptional projects. The leaps in computer technology made between the early 60s and the mid 70s were mindbogglingly astonishing, and driven mostly by the space program. That’s just one of the simplest examples, too.

        >> Well, no. Congress decided to discontinue the project.
        >> There wasn’t any fixed budget to “run out”.
        >> Congress actually cut funds that had already been promised.

        >And they did so because the project was too expensive. So yes, it run out of money.

        No. Although the end result is the same, “Ran out of money” and forced to shut down implies a fixed budget that was mismanaged to the point of failure, which is both technically incorrect and casts an undeserved negative implication on the project. And it was only “too expensive” if you considered losing a war in Vietnam to be a better use of far, far more money.

        The fact of the matter is that NASA was given a mandate to go to the moon and told that success was more important than saving money. Once they VERY SUCCESSFULLY achieved that goal, the national interest waned and government priorities shifted. The fact that funding for followup projects was cut in no way reflects poorly on the achievements, the managers, or the engineers of NASA in the Apollo era.

        As for the “tongue in cheek’ joke, I don’t consider dead astronauts to be funny.

    • 0 avatar
      carbiz

      But the criticisms emanating from the Revisionist History crowd about the Apollo program are appropriate in this case. The ‘younger’ Americans who poke fun at everything their parents did, then go out and buy anything as long as it has nothing to do with Detroit, are exercising their freedom and their choice as is their right.
      And in capitals throughout Asia, South Asia and the Middle East, people are laughing. Very hard.

    • 0 avatar
      redav

      You completely miss the joke about the electrical fire … ELECTRICAL, you know, like a fire from batteries.

      No one dismisses the tragedy of the events, but if you can’t laugh occasionally at them, well, life ends up dull.

  • avatar
    Tree Trunk

    The Appolo mission was in the end a trip to nowhere, since the program was eventually canceled and we have not returned to the moon since. The lasting value however was in the numerous technological achievement obtained during the process that have lived on in other capacities.

    Same thing will hopefully turn out for the VOLT even though it is hard to argue by any conventional measure that it is a successful vehicle, hopefully the technology developed during the process will be in use long after the last VOLT of line is delivered to a museum.

  • avatar
    analoca

    Funny to see how Bertel is able to find the most trivial topics to highlight his negative standing towards GM…

  • avatar
    benzaholic

    Little piece of space program trivia that I remember learning long ago, although completely without reference citations. I still believe it.

    NASA had to calculate the numerical value of pi to many more decimal places to assist in finding the astronauts’ return capsules.

    I remember watching splashdowns on TV. We’d put a bunch of big boats out there and hope they could find them.

    • 0 avatar
      gslippy

      I can’t imagine that’s true. Knowing pi to 8 significant figures (3.1415927) is sufficient to get you within about 253 feet on a trip to the moon, if you’re just considering the circumference of the moon’s about the earth. Course corrections do the rest. There is sufficient unpredictability in other parts of the machine that a minor difference in the nth decimal place of pi would be insignificant.

      Spacecraft reentry into an atmosphere remains a tricky thing to calculate even today. Hypersonic course corrections by man or machine make a precision touchdown more possible, but not pinpoint-accurate no matter what your knowledge of pi is.

  • avatar
    Dr. Kenneth Noisewater

    “I am old enough to remember that Chaffee, White and Grissom were killed by an electrical fire. Maybe that moon analogy wasn’t so good.”

    At least they’d have been able to escape a Volt, unless NASA left them in it for 3 weeks.

    Also, the Moon’s never been touched by human feet, unless one of the astronauts took off their space trousers ;)

  • avatar
    PintoFan

    Let it be known far and wide that the chief editor of TTAC doesn’t believe humans have landed on the moon. That should really drive up the general value of the Op-Ed content.

    Here’s to hoping that this winds up on the front page of Jalopnik tomorrow.

    • 0 avatar
      aristurtle

      “Untouched by human feet” is technically correct — bare feet and hard vacuum don’t mix.

      And as every commenter on this site knows, technically correct is the best kind of correct.

    • 0 avatar
      mac

      I believe Bertel meant to write something more along the lines of “The moon has remained untouched by human feet for almost 40 years, ever since Eugene Cernan departed with Apollo 17″.

  • avatar
    TurboDeezl

    BS- In all honesty you should be ashamed of yourself for hijacking TTAC in your never ending quest to attack the Volt and GM. Come clean. What is your gripe with them? Go pick on another automaker. Like VW.

  • avatar
    kenzter

    Is this what TTAC is coming to? Someone so much as whispers Volt and it gets beaten to death?

    This article has been up how many hours? (as of my writing about 4). And only 16 comments? Proof positive that you’re beating a dead horse Bertel. Find another bandwagon.

    BTW, no one has died in a Volt fire.

    • 0 avatar
      wsn

      “This article has been up how many hours? (as of my writing about 4). And only 16 comments? Proof positive that you’re beating a dead horse Bertel.”

      I think it’s more of a proof that Monday is a slow day for an online forum.

    • 0 avatar
      etrnlrvr

      I don’t even like the Volt much because I think the fuel econ with the engine running is way too low. Also while their cars are OK/good now I have about a 20 year track record of hating GM cars.

      But damn the constant vitriol on here over the Volt and GM is ridiculous. How Bertel has any credibility on anything with these hilarious displays of bias that pop up over and over again is beyond me.

      The perspective he provides on the global auto industry would be interesting if I felt he could be trusted to not just make up whatever the hell he feels like for the focus of an article.

  • avatar
    Adub

    I laughed. Bertel’s comments were funny. People need to stop being so serious all the time. Whine whine whine.

    And for the record, the astronauts couldn’t get out because after Grissom’s splashdown, engineers decided against the need for a hatch with explosive bolts on Apollo 1. Oops!

    Personally, I find it hilarious that our greatest achievements were forty years ago. Hello, China!

  • avatar
    4-off-the-floor

    More NASA trivia:

    The astronauts need something to write with in zero gravity. NASA went ahead and designed a “Space Pen”(after spending untold time and money) which would work in zero gravity.

    The Russians used a pencil for the same purpose.

    The GM Volt analogy would not be lost here.

    GM is its own worst enemy.

    • 0 avatar
      PintoFan

      The “space pen” canard has been around for some time. It’s not true.

      http://www.snopes.com/business/genius/spacepen.asp

    • 0 avatar
      kenzter

      That is actually an urban myth. NASA bought Space Pens from Fisher, and used pencils before that. As did the Russians.

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      I can think of a lot of examples of “bad GM,” but the Volt isn’t one of them. It’s a brilliant piece of engineering, which is the reason it costs so much, and that – not poor design, engineering, assembly or quality – is the Volt’s Achilles heel in the market place.

      The resentment over the Volt comes from one of two sources: political ideology or anti-GM sentiment. I don’t discount either as irrelevant, but at least the Volt proves what GM can do, even if the resulting product is priced out of the market.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    “The moon program did cost more than three times its original budget of $7 billion, all it produced was a few rocks…”

    …uh, no, it was also one of the very first applications for the integrated-circuit computer technology that would eventually facilitate the introduction of personal computers. And without personal computers, there would be no website called “The Truth About Cars” for Bertel to draw a paycheck from.

    Don’t take it from me:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apollo_Guidance_Computer

    If the Volt fails commercially, it won’t be because it doesn’t work well as a car, or was a piece of junk – it’ll be because it was a brilliant piece of leading-edge tech that was too expensive for people to afford. Unfortunately that’s the way it goes for many new-tech products.

  • avatar
    Robert Gordon

    I’m not sure if it ironic that there are three splendind GM automobiles that are sitting wistfully on the surface of the moon as we discuss the appropriateness of the moon-shot metaphor.

    Also the last man to set foot on the moon was Harrison Schmitt, any relation to you Bertel?

  • avatar
    Steven02

    This site is a bit of a hypocrite at times.

    Apparently it is ok to make light of dead astronauts when referencing GM and the Volt, but is not appropriate for a make light of someone dying in an LFA during the SUA incidents with Toyota. Classy.

    http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/06/toyota-chief-test-driver-dies-in-lfa-crash/

  • avatar
    mcs

    GM is saying that they sold more than 2000 Volts in March.

    • 0 avatar
      highdesertcat

      mcs, GM needs to sell a great deal more Volts every month just to break even. That isn’t happening. And it won’t be happening because the Volt is out of reach for most Americans.

      Some companies will buy them for fleets but not many individuals choose to buy one. Overpriced and under-performing. A better bet would be the Cruze.

      But I also believe that the Volt should remain available to anyone who wants to buy one although it should not be subsidized by the tax payers since GM was already bailed out.

      If I were forced to choose, I’d have to choose a Prius over a Volt, simply because of the inefficiency of the Volt platform.

      There’s something unappealing about having an AC generator on board wailing like a banshee to charge the battery in order to turn the electric motor.

      It makes the concept of the Prius a lot more logical, economical and appealing. A plug-in Prius Hybrid is even better!

      • 0 avatar
        mcs

        >> GM needs to sell a great deal more Volts every month just to break even. That isn’t happening.

        I agree. I think they fell in love with the technology and ignored the realities of the market. I think Ford had a better approach. Started out with mostly hybrids, improved them, now they have multiple plug-ins on the way that slam volt-tec technology into the weeds and boast a higher MPG-E rating than the Volt. Everything is based on existing models so that the costs are lowered – another plus.

        The goal is to make a profit and they’re missing the “sweet spot” of the hybrid and PHEV market. The focus should have been on Cruze and Sonic hybrids. That’s where the market is now. If metal-air and solid state batteries live up to their hype, then maybe BEV and PHEV might be the place to be, but I’m guessing that won’t be until the latter part of the decade.

        With the subsidy doomed and numerous competitors on the way, I think the current Volt sales numbers won’t continue. GM needs to prepare for that reality.

      • 0 avatar
        carbiz

        Be careful with the scalpel: don’t poke yourself in the eye as you cut your nose off.

      • 0 avatar
        doctor olds

        @highdesertcat- If you can manage all electric operation, Volt is half the operating cost of Prius on its best day, with regular at $4. If you envision driving around in range extending mode, you are right to prefer something else. Volt does cost more per day to operate than 50 MPG Prius if you exceed 81 miles with one charge. Cruze Eco would not only be a better value than Prius over the life of the car, it would be a hell of a lot more fun to drive. You would much prefer the performance of Volt over Prius as well. Two seconds to 60 is huge. If you, like many here, have never driven Volt as you sit in judgement, shame on you. It is quite amazing. As for all of these wondrous upcoming products, where are they? Volt is for sale now and is not the only technology GM will be releasing. The do generate more green patents than any other carmaker.

  • avatar
    mcs

    Word is that they topped 2000 in Volt sales in March.

  • avatar
    mikey

    Yeah I have to agree, this TTAC Volt hate is starting to wear thin.

    We need something different.

    Hmmmmm? I got it! Lets do a UAW bash piece.

  • avatar
    GS650G

    Help us out here, how exactly did the writer or indeed anyone else here make light of 3 dead astronauts?

  • avatar

    A few comments:
    Yes, three astronauts that died 45 years ago should not be abused as car salesmen. You rightly complain that this is of extremely bad taste. I trust the people who raised this issue will make their voice heard in the proper places. To make it more comprehensible to some: Complain to Bob Lutz, he brought it up.
    As far as writing about GM and the Volt goes: We are a customer-focused website. As long as there are many comments, we assume that people are interested in reading more, we will strive to fulfill customer demand, and get you more – if there is more.
    Appeals to stop writing about something are routinely ignored. If the appeals for self-censorship become too incessant, we might just write more, inspite of the wannabe censors.
    To make it more comprehensible to some: Telling us to shut up will result in more stories, thank you.

    • 0 avatar
      carbiz

      Oh, the old ‘it sells newspapers line?’ Sensationalism is still sensationalism. It’s not that any one article sticks out on its own. It’s the cumulative piling on that is more telling.
      During the Death Watch days, I refused to read this site. The visceral hatred for GM sickened me. Is the irony of the self-fulfilling prophecy concept lost on its contributors? I got out of the business because in late ’08, at the height of the bankruptcy speculation I was losing sales because GM MIGHT go bankrupt. People were actually admitting to me that they were buying an inferior product (Malibu versus whatever) because they were afraid of their warranty not being honored.
      Frankly, it’s not the frequent posters on sites such as these that are the problem. I’d wager 90% of the readers here have already made up their mind about Detroit and could never be swayed in their deep seated opinions.
      It’s the casual reader that is the swing vote. You know, the odd person who puts down their Consumers Report bible long enough to read something supposedly unbiased on the internet.
      Unbiased. Internet. Now that’s a humor piece!

    • 0 avatar
      Steven02

      So again, Bertel thinks it is OK for TTAC to make light of death when they want to. TTAC covered the story of the LFA death and included the lines about not making references to SUA. Why is it ok in this instance, but not the other?

      Sorry, Bertel, but if you don’t get the hypocrisy, let me make it more comprehensible for you. TTAC is being a hypocrite.

      • 0 avatar

        Steve02 said:
        “So again, Bertel thinks it is OK for TTAC to make light of death when they want to. TTAC covered the story of the LFA death and included the lines about not making references to SUA. Why is it ok in this instance, but not the other?

        Sorry, Bertel, but if you don’t get the hypocrisy, let me make it more comprehensible for you. TTAC is being a hypocrite.”

        That’s it. Steven02 has been banned for grossly overstepping the rules set forth in the FAQ and the Terms & Conditions.

    • 0 avatar
      TheHammer

      Love the arrogance! Not surprised.

  • avatar
    tallnikita

    “Let’s start cheering on American innovation and ingenuity instead of spitting in its face.”

    Trying to sell an average midsize sedan for $45K is a spit in my face. Basing your business strategy on gov handouts is a spit in my face, Mr. Putz.

    • 0 avatar
      doctor olds

      A good performing midsize sedan with 100MPG operating cost equivalence at $4 gas and can operate with zero emissions and zero reliance on fossil fuels is not innovative enough for you to be proud of as an American success? The vehicle is winning awards all over the world, and every major carmaker is working to come up with their own erev. Seems like a lot to justify pride.

      Volt’s role in GM’s business plan is being fulfilled. It has never been expected to generate profits or sell in huge volumes, and is almost irrelevent in the overall, increasingly strong financial results of the company.


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