My time at TTAC has been full of surprises. Some days it seems that every hour holds a new, more gob-smacking shocker. But the surprise I received today, when I learned that I had been invited to the Volt’s press launch later this month, was one of the least expected and most gratifying to date. After all, not only has TTAC been a longtime critic of GM as a whole, but the Volt has been a special target for us since its conception, even earning its own category in our news blog. I’ve even criticized the Volt project (as opposed to the car itself) in the print media, drawing the ire (of sorts) of the White House press secretary. In the old GM, the very idea of rewarding our relentless criticism, questioning and second-guessing with access to the car itself would have been unthinkable. But today one GM rep explained to me that
The Volt’s been attacked at one point in time by just about everyone. Opinions of the vehicle have been all over the map, but fortunately we now have vehicles for people to drive and experience themselves rather than having to defend it with words and Powerpoint
That GM believes strongly enough in its most high-profile car to allow its most strident critic to drive it marks a material break from past practice (documentation of which abounds in TTAC’s archives, but here’s an especially infamous example). Allowing products (especially a controversial, high-profile car like the Volt) to speak for themselves before their harshest critics speaks to a much-improved culture taking hold at The General. This doesn’t mean the problems are over for the RenCen, but it shows that GM’s new managers are building for the future on a solid foundation of accountability. And that is a big enough deal to warrant a tip o’ the hat.
Nature abhors a vacuum, and so does journalism. GM has been trumpeting the Volt’s 40 mile target AER (all electric range) since it was first announced on January 7, 2007. From that very day three years and eight months ago, journalists and enthusiasts have been asking The Big Volt Question: what is its fuel economy in CSM (charge sustaining mode)? There has never been an answer, except that at the 2007 announcement Bob Lutz “reasoned that…(after the battery was depleted) the engine sipping fuel at a rate of 50 m.p.g.” An early target or a Lutzian wild speculation that GM soon refused to verify or qualify. Ever.
Fast forward to August 24, 2010: gm-volt announces that an astute reader has made a screen capture of an Aol Volt test drive promo video, that indicated that the Volt traveled 16.1 miles after the battery depleted and used .59 gallons, equaling 27.3 mpg. Did anyone really think that was a truly representative fuel economy for the Volt, not knowing precisely the conditions under which it occurred? Note the word “Hints” prominently in TTAC’s story. So far, it’s been the only shred of evidence to The Big Volt Question. But rather than use this fantastic PR opportunity to state a target CSM mileage figure, which could only (presumably) look good compared to that 27 mpg number; GM’s Volt Communications person Phil Colley (pictured above) states it delicately:
Yours (plugincars,com) and the other stories yesterday and today show a complete lack of understanding of the process and are quite frankly, lazy reporting.
GM’s decision to use its off-the-shelf 1.4 L four as the range-extender power source was a compromise born of necessity. The originally conceived 1.0 L turbocharged three cylinder engine didn’t exist (in the US), and GM’s pre-bankruptcy budget was a little constrained to spend the bucks for the tooling. The 1.4, in a different state of tune, is shared with the Cruze, as is as much of the rest of the car as possible. GM has made it pretty clear that the gen1 Volt is a bundle of compromises, given the time, technology and budget constraints it faced. But the gen2 is apparently another story. In an echo of GM past, Volt Vehicle Director Tony Posowatz tells Automotive Engineering that the engine options are wide open; way way wide open:
“That may be a Stirling cycle engine, perhaps it’s a Wankel, a gas turbine, a small displacement motorcycle engine– you can extend the possibilities to a lot of different alternatives.”
Accelerating up the motorway slip road, the Ampera charges hard and deceptively quickly up to 50mph, but by then the single-speed electric motor’s flat torque curve has begun a nose dive and acceleration at high speeds is poor.
The 0-62mph time of 9 seconds and top speed of 100mph are an indication of this – most family hatchbacks with that sort of sprint capability will have a top speed of nearer 130mph
The Telegraph‘s Andrew English lays into the Chevy Volt/Opel Ampera’s high-speed acceleration, in an early test drive on European roads. Apparently an Opel engineer was embarassed enough by the performance to tell English that
We are considering driving the wheels directly from the petrol engine
Production of Chevy Volt “integration models” began last week, as Hamtramck tools up for final production of GM’s wundercar, but GM still isn’t saying anything about the car’s two most important features: the pricetag and EPA rating. The General has hemmed and hawed on the Volt’s price over the last several years of hype, but it hasn’t ever been shy about touting an “expected” 230 MPG rating. Because apparently it’s the EPA’s job to clear up GM’s misleading marketing claims. So what is the deal with that 230 MPG number, anyway?
Way back when the Chevy Volt was taking center stage in GM’s case for bailout (as in give us one, or you won’t get the Volt), the Obama Administration’s task force on autos was not amused. “While the Volt holds promise, it is currently projected to be much more expensive than its gasoline-fueled peers and will likely need substantial reductions in manufacturing cost in order to become commercially viable,” was just one of the knocks the pols gave the then-mule-stage Volt. And even though the Nissan Leaf has since proven that the Volt is also “much more expensive than its pure-electric peers” the White House’s official car guys have changed their tune.
This week saw the Volt’s price point issues return to the public eye, as GM’s Chairman and CEO made it clear that he takes the government’s $7,500 tax credit for granted. But Whitacre’s dissembling revealed once again GM’s fundamental problem with the Volt: getting people past the sticker shock. Though GM’s short-term viability doesn’t hinge on the Volt selling like gangbusters, it’s clear that the Volt’s initial success or lack thereof will be a crucial factor in GM’s ability to hold a successful IPO and extricate itself from government ownership. Which, according to The Big Money‘s Matt DeBord, is one of the reasons the government should expand the Volt’s credit of $10k. Another reason: the Volt’s competition is too good!
with the base Prius selling for just over $20,000 and the base Honda Insight hybrid for under $20,000, the feds may have to start thinking about how to enable innovative electric and gas-electric plug-ins to survive. The EPA mandate to raise fleet fuel-economy standards to average of 35.5 mpg by 2016 looms, and a component of that target should be EVs and plug-ins. Otherwise, carmakers may abandon the tech, leaving it stillborn to cynically massage their fleet numbers by importing small cars from foreign operations to North America—cars they know Americans will only grudgingly purchase and that may force the government to chuck the 35.5 requirement.
Subtitle two: we don’t believe a word of it. The report comes from an exclusive interview of GM Chairman/CEO Ed Whitacre at the Volt fanboy site gm-volt.com. GM-volt’s Lyle Dennis asked Whitacre if GM would lose money on every Volt it sells, a fact that GM executives have never triedto substantively deny. Until now. Whitacre’s answer:
“We’re not in business to lose money,” he said. “We did enough of that already.”
The Volt “is going to sell in the low 30s,” said Whitacre. “We’ll get a margin on that.”
Oh really? Because it sure seems that GM plans on selling the Volt for $39,500-$45,500, and that the “low 30s” number is dependent on a tax credit. As for Whitacre’s claim that the Volt will make profit, the lack of time-constraints on his prediction is all you need to know. With enough sales and over enough time, almost anything will create profit, especially if the government is distorting the battery market for you. Meanwhile, GM still has to overcome $40k sticker shock (sorry, but you can’t exactly advertise post-tax break prices) and at least a few years of loss on the Volt. But if the gm-volt comments section proves anything, it’s that you can never go wrong misleading the fanboys.
It had to happen eventually: Bob Lutz, the father of the Volt, admits his last but not least automotive child is not going to reliably meet his lofty expectations. ABC reports that in an interview at the NIAS, Lutz let the air out of the Volt’s 40 mile EV range that has been predicted to be as reliable as the sun rising on a new day, and perpetuated by GM even more religiously than the 230 mpg claim: Sounding as if he had just read our recent post on EV range, ABC quotes Mr. Volt: Read More >
Getting a car like the Volt on Jay Leno’s Garage seems like a no-brainer. America’s patron celebrity of car obsession has the gearhead credentials to help explain the Volt’s positive attributes, and the enthusiasm to draw a very different crowd than the usual Volt fanboy sites. And yet from the first, the Volt’s visit to automotive Valhalla seems to have chief engineer Andrew Farah in permanent flinch mode. Leno is never overtly hostile (alá Letterman), but from his comparison of the Volt to a 1916 Owens Magnetic, to his assessment that the Volt is “not a tiny car,” you can’t help feeling that he thinks it’s all a bit of a joke. It’s a four-seater. Literally. They’re shooting for a 2,900 lb weight goal. Your mileage may vary. The hood is held up with a stick. What is the deal with that? Like any comedian, Leno’s only as good as his material. Luckily, the yawning chasm between the modest reality of the Volt and its relentless hype is fertile ground indeed.
Chrysler’s new advertisements may have been replaced by this video as the automotive marketing gaffe of the moment. When asked in a Fastlane webchat why GM had approved this questionable video, Sales and Marketing supremo Susan Docherty managed to come across as even more clueless and incompetent than she would have if she’d been prancing front and center:
I have to be honest I haven’t yet seen the Chevrolet Volt song and dance but it sounds like I need to spend some time tonight on the web viewing this. Thanks for the heads up. Do you have any suggestions for us?
Yeah, here are some suggestions: first off, it’s not the roaring twenties, Busby Berkeley. Kill the dance numbers. Suggestion number two: if you’re the head of sales and marketing, you should at least be aware of the existence of “promotional” materials like this. Third: if GM doesn’t take the Volt seriously, nobody will. Keep that in mind when approving marketing ideas.