The Truth About Cars » Volt Birth Watch The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Mon, 14 Jul 2014 16:00:14 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » Volt Birth Watch TTAC Invited To Volt Launch Mon, 04 Oct 2010 20:11:17 +0000

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.

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Volt Gas Mileage Flap: GM PR Blames “Lazy Reporting” Fri, 27 Aug 2010 01:58:09 +0000

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.

The “process” that Cooley refers to is that the EPA and and GM are still hashing out the methodology and labeling of the EPA sticker, which may likely not happen until after the Volt hits the streets. Big deal. How about an educated guess or target? GM has been driving fleets of Volts for tens of thousands of miles all over the country, and it can’t come up with a ballpark number? GM can, but it chooses not to. Here’s why:

Back in August of 2008, GM announced that the 2011 Cruze would get 40 mpg or better, on the EPA highway cycle. The EPA tests for the Cruze are still not final or announced. But obviously, it suited GM to have the press endlessly regurgitate that 40 plus mpg number, which it faithfully has done for two years. And GM had the info on the Cruz’ anticipated mileage way back then.

Yes, the Volt involves some new technology, but there’s absolutely no doubt that GM has a very good idea of the Volt’s  mileage in CSM, and/or what its fleet of testers are averaging. And here’s what GM needs to say now right now:

because the methodology of the final EPA sticker is not complete, we’re not going to guess or project what that will say. But the CSM component of it will probably be between X and Y mpg, based on our experience.

How hard would that be?

GM is holding back, because even if the CSM mileage is on the low side, it wants to score a BIG number on the EPA’s new standards for plug-in vehicles, likely to be the SAEJ1711 methodology. That will be a blend of electric and gas modes, and therefor look BIGGER than what a straight CSM (gas only) number would be. And lazy journalists might just spread information about the Volt’s actual fuel consumption that might contradict that.

GM took a lot of heat for their silly 230mpg draft methodology in 2008. Now it’s the other extreme: Volts will likely be sold without an EPA sticker until the favorable new EPA numbers are finalized. And so the world’s largest manufacturer releases a new car without a fuel mileage target. In lieu of that, “lazy reporting” will just have to do. Unless GM is willing to let us, or any other lazy journalist drive the Volt in CSM for a full tank of gas. We’re not too lazy for that; just tell us where and when.

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Volt gen2 Range Extender: The Field Of Infinite Engine Possibilities Mon, 23 Aug 2010 19:58:03 +0000

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.”

Aw come on Tony, this isn’t Popular Science of the sixties anymore. Unless the gen2 Volt is a lot longer off than the usual model cycle, isn’t it a bit late to be dusting off the Stirling cycle programs from back then? Or is this just the same old GM routine of seeding mid-engine Corvette rumors for the last five decades? I’m betting on the Wankel, because the tooling for GM’s Wankel engine is probably still in a warehouse somewhere.

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Quote Of The Day: Volt In Need Of A Jolt? Edition Mon, 28 Jun 2010 19:49:54 +0000

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


Opel’s Andreas Voight continues on this unexpected theme, telling English:

There are a number of different ways we could do it, but the whole thing is subject to some intellectual property rights negotiations so I can’t say any more. You will see an announcement this autumn

Except that GM already has a two-mode “parallel” hybrid drivetrain, and the Volt has been presented as an extended-range EV. Allowing the gas engine to power the wheels would be a fundamental repudiation of everything the Volt is supposed to be.

Luckily was on-hand to help The General get on top of this nasty development. Via the independent website, GM’s spokesfolks say

This report is inaccurate. First off, the Volt cannot be driven without electric power. It always makes use of electric power within the drive unit.

Secondly, we have no plans to make any mechanical or control strategy changes prior to launch.

The team is in the final stages of validation and durability and have not identified any reason to make any changes. We have a very innovative drive unit that includes a number of clutches and a planetary gear-set which is highly efficient and exists in our pre-production vehicles today. For competitive reasons we won’t provide more details on the operation at this point, but will soon.

Notice that GM does not comment on the Volt’s high-speed performance, and has not officially allowed reporters to drive a Volt over 50 MPH yet (although there is a rumor of someone hitting 92 MPH in a Volt). So, how will the Volt perform at freeway speeds? Though some argue that freeway performance for the Volt is irrelevant, the reality is that Chevy designed the Volt around the idea that it could be used as a single-family car. After all, what’s the point of eliminating range anxiety if the Volt isn’t up to long freeway jaunts at speed?

The answer to the problem: weigh less than 3800 lbs. But how?

[Want more answers than questions... check out Consumer Reports' test of a pre-production Volt]

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Volt Birth Watch 185: EPA Still Not Buying 230 MPG Number Tue, 13 Apr 2010 17:51:55 +0000 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?

Inside Line reports the latest on “negotiations” between GM and the EPA over the Volt’s testing paradigm and eventual MPG number.

“The 230 mpg number talked about a few months ago was based on some preliminary discussion with the EPA,” said Andrew Farah, the vehicle chief engineer on the Chevrolet Volt and Opel Ampera, when asked if the number is still relevant. “Those conversations have been continuing and have not yet come to a conclusion.”

After the media conference call, Inside Line asked Rob Peterson, GM’s Volt spokesman, if the Volt’s fuel economy is still up in the air.

“I couldn’t have said it any better,” he replied.

“The discussion continues to go on between the EPA and GM,” Peterson said. “[We're] working together to come up with a number that works best for the consumer.”

Now, try to imagine the case for the 230 MPG number being a good thing for consumers. Sure, miles-per-gallon is the standard measure, but the idea that consumers will ever be able to drive 230 miles on one gallon of gasoline is simply laughable. But the Volt project has always started with a big eco-marketing number (it started with “40 miles without burning a single drop of gasoline”) with the car being built to suit. So, will the EPA stick to its guns? One thing is for certain: if the Volt goes on sale with a 230 MPG window sticker, the Government Motors conspiracy theorists are going to have a freaking field day. Especially considering that the Volt’s rating appears to come down to “negotiations” between GM and the EPA.

UPDATE: The Detroit News paraphrases Chief Engineer Andrew Farah as saying that “road testing shows the Volt is meeting its targets, including achieving a 40-mile range on batteries alone and the goal of 50 miles per gallon when the range-extending gasoline engine kicks in.”

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Volt Birth Watch 184: Obama Administration To Buy First 100 Volts Thu, 01 Apr 2010 15:24:30 +0000

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.

The Detroit Free Press reports that the Obama Adminstration will buy the first 100 Chevy Volts… because unlike most Americans they can afford to pay non-commercially-viable prices for their green-mobiles. Oh, and did we mention they own the company too? That might have had something to do with it. And though it’s nice to have customers for your overpriced green image machines, this announcement sees to confirm once and for all the Volt’s inherently political raison d’etre. And to think that the folks who put Government Motors back together again nearly killed the Volt in the first place.

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Volt Birth Watch 183: Why The Volt Really Doesn’t Need A Bigger Tax Break Thu, 21 Jan 2010 18:52:46 +0000

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.

The Atlantic‘s David Indiviglio does a good job of knocking DeBord’s argument down on principle:

Essentially, this means that the government is making a bet on the future, without any particularly keen foresight… [an expanded Volt credit] would benefit if GM profits, since taxpayers own the carmaker. But this assertion falls prey to the same problem as the idea of expanding the credit: in nationalizing GM, the government chose a winner, while the market dictated the firm a loser. So the question here is really: do two wrongs make a right? Should the government throw more money at Volt tax credits in the hopes of rescuing a sinking ship that it shouldn’t have saved in the first place? I remain unconvinced.

But there’s more to this than principle: the core “fear factor” of DeBord’s thesis is fundamentally false. When he warns that automakers could abandon plug-in technology in favor of imported small cars forcing the government to “chuck the 35.5 requirement”, he ignores the fact that the 2016 standard includes credits for zero-emissions vehicles. Crazy fleet-average-multiplier “super credits” that give automakers so much credit for super-efficient vehicles that California has threatened to abandon the 2016 standard if credits aren’t reined in.

Under the proposed rules, automakers are actually over-incentivized to produce super-efficient, economically unviable vehicles like the Volt because the credits they generate could be carried forward, backward, and banked for up to five years. Plus, proposed super credits could “take the form of a multiplier that would be applied to the number of vehicles sold such that they would count as more than one vehicle in the manufacturer’s fleet average” according to EPA-DOT documents.

On top of the fact that DeBord’s fearmongering is without substance, there’s the huge pile of public money already sitting on the Volt’s hood. In addition to the $50b (give or take) the government has sunk into keeping GM afloat, GM got $105m from the DOE for its Brownstown Volt battery assembly plant plus another $30m for Volt testing, while the Volt’s battery cell supplier Compact Power got $150m in the same package for its Volt cell plant. Plus $10b+ in DOE retooling loans. And that’s not counting local tax abatements for Brownstown, Hamtramack and the Compact Power plant. Plus the Ontario government has already offered a $10k consumer incentive targeting the Volt, angering everyone from Toyota to Zenn. Factor in the already-existing $7,500 consumer tax credit, and soon you’re talking about real money. Where do the giveaways end?

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Volt Birth Watch 182: Whitacre Projects Volt Profit At “Low $30k” Price Point Mon, 18 Jan 2010 17:11:42 +0000 By the power of government intervention! (

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’s Lyle Dennis asked Whitacre if GM would lose money on every Volt it sells, a fact that GM executives have never tried to 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.

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Volt Birth Watch 181: Lutz Finally Comes Clean On EV Range; His Volt Gets 28 Miles Instead Of 40 Miles Wed, 13 Jan 2010 07:15:59 +0000 unrealistic expectations

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:

Lutz said that electric vehicles may not get the stated range on fully electric power because of weather, atmospheric conditions, terrain and driving habits. He said he had a Volt during the Thanksgiving weekend and got only 28 miles on full-electric power because of the cold weather.

Here’s the line we’ve been waiting for:

“It varies a lot more than the range variation with a gasoline-powered car depending on your driving style,” Lutz said.

We’re going to try to avoid sounding sanctimonious (and probably fail), but that’s exactly what we’ve been saying since the since the Volt was announced almost three years ago. Sooner or later the truth about EV range had to come out of the GM closet.

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Volt Birth Watch 180: Leno Welcomes The Volt To The 21st Century Tue, 29 Dec 2009 14:45:29 +0000

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.

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Volt Birth Watch 179: The Mystery Dance Number Mon, 14 Dec 2009 21:53:07 +0000

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.

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Volt Birth Watch 178: Splashdown Thu, 10 Dec 2009 20:54:56 +0000

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Volt Birth Watch 177: Can’t We Spend $100m On Something? Tue, 08 Dec 2009 15:18:01 +0000 More pre-pro test drives for everyone! (courtesy:ABG)

“A Flush GM to Lavish Cash On New Vehicles,” goes the NY Times headline, forshadowing the kind of profligacy that only happens when you have $42.6 billion of taxpayer money burning a hole in the corporate pockets. From the next generation of truck and SUV platforms to the Cadillac Alpha (known in-house as “BMW Fighter”), that money is going towards products…. at least it is when it’s not going to faltering overseas operations. And in most cases that’s a good thing. For example, Mark Reuss explains “ with the BMW fighter, the steering in that vehicle is going to be absolutely critical. In the past we would have gone to the lowest cost source, but not anymore.” Well, good on ya, mate. When it comes to the Volt though, the money doesn’t seem like it’s being quite as well spent.

The NYT explains:

At a meeting last month, directors offered to put another $100 million into the Chevrolet Volt if the company could get the battery-powered sedan into production sooner than its current start date in November, according to people with knowledge of the board’s move.

Dedicating more money for the Volt would not necessarily move up its timetable, said Jon Lauckner, G.M’s vice president for global product planning. But it could allow G.M. to build more vehicles for consumers to test-drive before full manufacturing begins.

“We have already reduced the Volt’s development time by about seven months,” Mr. Lauckner said in a recent interview. “Our date with destiny is November of 2010, but it could be useful for us to have the money to get some vehicles to consumers earlier than that.”

What’s the most worrying aspect of this situation? Is it that the Volt program is so rushed that $100m won’t speed it up any more? Or is it that GM felt it had to burn the cash on the program anyway, even if it only meant a few extra pre-production vehicles? Or is it the fact that the extra $100m raises yet another barrier to profitability for the Volt? There’s no argument that GM should spend cash on its future products, but reports like this make it sound like spending money is an end unto itself. For a firm that will never fully repay the American taxpayer, that’s a disturbing sign.

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Volt Birth Watch 176: Volt Jingle 2.0 Mon, 07 Dec 2009 15:18:51 +0000

Courtesy of, here’s GM’s first post-bankruptcy Volt jingle! And arguably a slight improvement over last May’s jingle. But if you think Big Ed Whitacre will stop all the song-and-dance frivolity, think again. “He will not try to run the programs,” Bob Lutz sneers at GM-Volt. “He knows almost nothing about the business. Nobody will diminish our focus on electrification.” As long as Whitacre kills the Volt-related musical development program, we’ll be happy.

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Volt Birth Watch 175: California Dreaming Thu, 03 Dec 2009 17:23:49 +0000

We had been hearing for some time now that GM planned to roll out its Volt EV in limited numbers and select markets, and it comes as no surprise to hear that the first such select market will be California. The Golden State is a hotbed of support for electric vehicles and, not coincidentally, one of the more affluent car markets in the world. A number of firms, from Coda to Honda have selected California as a test-bed for their high-efficiency but not-yet-ready-for-prime-time products. In California, GM is partnering with three public utility companies, and will spend some $30m of DOE-administered stimulus money to slow-roll the Volt into reality. According to GM’s release:

As part of the research and demonstration program, Chevrolet will deliver more than 100 Volts to program participants to use in their fleets for two years. Chevrolet will also utilize OnStar telematics technology to collect vehicle performance data and driver feedback that will be reported to the DOE and used to improve customers’ experiences with the new technology.

So how many Volts will actually be for sale in California, outside of the publicly funded data-collection program? “In the first few months we will be producing 4000 to 5000 Volts,” Bob Lutz said yesterday. “In the first full year we will make eight to ten thousand… We are going to ramp it up slowly because it is all uncharted terrain for all of us once we start turning out (battery) packs in very high rates.” Another challenge presented by the ramp-up to planned production levels of 50k-60k units per year is developing competency at building electric motors, since the first generation’s motor comes from a supplier…. which helps explain the Volt’s estimated $40k price tag.

No doubt the earliest Volts will sell, as Californians tend to be highly risk-tolerant, especially when it comes to limited-volume tech toys. The real news here is that GM believes it needs two years of research post-launch to “improve customers’ experiences with the new technology.” The Volt’s extremely limited availability in 2010/2011 will help prop up the Volt’s obscene price point, but there’s also a real chance of bad PR coming out of customer experiences.

And the longer-term question is also unclear. Lutz believes the EV/Plug-In/EREV market will hit 250,000 to 300,000 units per year in five years, and according to, he says “they will mostly be our products.” Given the products on the horizon, it seems unlikely that demand for these cars (which seem to have a price floor at around $35k) will really move at those volumes, let alone that the Volt will dominate the segment… especially if Lutz is worried about battery production levels of 50-60k units per year.

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Volt Birth Watch 174: Enough With The Prius Comparisons! Tue, 24 Nov 2009 22:55:09 +0000 Is anyone else seeing GM's business plans in this chart? (

As we saw in the last VBW, the Volt’s range-extender still needs some software work. But efforts to to keep the gas engine from acting like a thrashing, disembodied dervish will have to balance the desire for smooth operation and maximum efficiency.  And it’s looking like efficiency in charge sustaining (CS) mode won’t match the hybrid standard-setters. Volt chief powertrain engineer Alex Cattelan breaks the news gently to the true believers at

You’ve got to understand that all of the decisions that we’ve made around this product are made because its an EV. That is the first and foremost thing that it needs to be. So because it is an EV some of the decisions that we’ve made around engine operation will be different than what Toyota makes in its parallel hybrid. For them they are always operating in hybrid mode so they need to optimize everything for engine operation.

In our case we’re optimizing everything for EV operation and the secondary is certainly going to be better than conventional vehicles, but were not necessarily totally optimizing the system for charge sustaining mode because we don’t want to compromise electric vehicle mode.

Cattelan goes on to describe the sophistication of the Volt’s constantly-updating efficiency software, sourced from the abortive Two-Mode hybrid system. And as the chart above shows, the plan for charge-sustaining mode is an interesting one. Essentially, it involves keeping the battery state of charge between 30 and 35 percent, once the 40 miles of (estimated) EV range is tapped. Which is a fine idea as long as the engine on-off improves. Otherwise, drivers might just find themselves nervously counting down the five percent charge range before the 1.4 liter range extender thrashes to life again. Hoping for an answer to that question, Gm-volt notes “I’ve driven the 2-mode and notice you can see the switched in mode of operation without feeling it in the car.” Cattelan’s response reveals the trade-off that’s in play:

Which is the goal, you don’t want you to feel it in the car, we don’t want the customer to know these transitions are taking place, but we need to be able to enable them for efficiency.

Later, when Cattelan has explained the efficiency benefits of having a range-extending engine that’s independent of the drive axle, Gm-volt pushes again on the charge sustaining-mode efficiency question, saying “It seems to me then you should make CS mode even more efficient then in a car where the engine always has to turn the axle?” Cattelan’s answer once again downplays the notion, saying

Right and it is more efficient than a conventional vehicle because they do have to have that engine coupled. Again were optimizing some of those efficiency point puts we are really doing is focusing on the optimization of the EV. There are trade offs because we absolutely consider this product an EV by nature.

It’s not a hybrid! We’re focusing on EV mode! More efficient than a “conventional vehicle” in CS mode! Which means, what, 35 MPG? As Paul Niedermeyer explained some 18 months ago, the Volt is going to have a hell of a time beating the Prius on a mass-market basis. Which is what happens when you come up with the marketing line (“40 miles without burning a drop of gasoline”) before you develop the car.

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Volt Birth Watch 173: Generator Mode Revealed Mon, 23 Nov 2009 18:10:38 +0000 (courtesy: photobucket/emawk)

The Chevrolet Volt can very nearly be boiled down to a single a function: range extension. The Volt’s gasoline range-extender is the car’s major technological advantage over other electric vehicles like Nissan’s Leaf, promising consumers freedom from the terror of range anxiety. But how does it actually work? TTAC’s Volt Birth Watch has long asked the question, and GM has assiduously prevented journalists from describing the Volt’s transition from initial EV range to “generator mode.” Until now. The NY Times‘ Lindsay Brooke recently took a pre-production Volt for a spin at the Milford Proving Grounds, and files this report on the generator mode experience:

It takes a few laps of Milford’s twisty, undulating 3.7-mile road course to deplete the remaining eight miles of battery charge. With the dashboard icon signaling my final mile of range, I point the Volt toward a hill and wait for the sound and feel of the generator engine’s four pistons to chime in.

But I completely miss it; the engine’s initial engagement is inaudible and seamless. I’m impressed. G.M. had not previously made test drives of the Volt in its extended-range mode available to reporters, but I can see that in this development car, at least, the engineers got it right.

Or did they?

I push the accelerator and the engine sound does not change; the “gas pedal” controls only the flow of battery power to the electric drive motor. The pedal has no connection to the generator, which is programmed to run at constant, preset speeds. This characteristic will take some getting used to by a public accustomed to vroom-vroom feedback.

A few hundred yards later, as we snake through the track’s infield section, the engine r.p.m. rises sharply. The accompanying mechanical roar reminds me of a missed shift in a manual-transmission car. For a moment the sound is disconcerting; without a tachometer, I guess that it peaked around 3,000 r.p.m.

I asked what was going on.

“The system sensed that it’s dipped below its state of charge and is trying to recover quickly,” [Volt vehicle line director Tony Posawatz] said. “The charge-sustaining mode is clearly not where we want it to be yet.”

Immediately the engine sound disappeared, although it was still spinning the generator. A few times later in our test, the generator behaved in similar fashion — too loud and too unruly for production — but there is time for the programmers to find solutions. Volt engineers are revising the car’s control software, which will have the effect of “feathering” the transition from the nearly silent all-electric mode to the charge-sustaining mode, when the generator will be operating.

Oops! Brooke was a guest of GM, driving a much-fettled prototype on its home track. Surely GM was aware that “disconcerting” sounds accompanying the switch to generator mode would be noted with disapproval. GM’s answer?

“We’re designing a software set of rules, which will just require more seat time for the engineers to finish,” Mr. Posawatz said. “We have nine months to work this out.”

Brooke concludes by calling the Volt “an extremely refined vehicle,” giving GM’s engineers the benefit of the doubt on their attempts to smooth over the generator mode switch. When production vehicles roll out, Posawatz and company better hope the software codes are up to snuff. After all, the Volt’s range-extender is one of those technologies that doesn’t offer much marginal advantage to consumers in the typical EV early-adopter profile. It’s an attempt to make the Volt a potential replacement for a “real” ICE-powered car, making it an option for (well-heeled) mainstream consumers who might envision using it as a primary vehicle rather than a dedicated commuter. That mainstream appeal is a tough enough sale without weird engine-room thrashing. GM has got to sweat this detail.

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Volt Birth Watch 172: 3rd Generation Sustainability? Fri, 20 Nov 2009 16:55:31 +0000 (

“In every deliberation, we must consider the impact on the seventh generation,” goes a famous line in the Great Law of the Iroquois, “even if it requires having skin as thick as the bark of a pine.” Though TTAC tests the thickness of GM’s skin on a daily basis, GM is ahead of the seven-generation game. The Detroit News reports that GM’s engineering staff are already working on the Volt’s third-generation hardware, although previous iterations are still being used to collect data. Meanwhile, the major challenge remain getting everything road-ready for a 2010 launch, a goal that will be reached… “barring any last minute problems.” “I did place a lot of faith in the battery companies, who said they could have them ready,” admits Bob Lutz. Oh, and there’s still one other major obstacle to overcome: the cost. Test vehicles cost “over $250,000″ per vehicle to build, and a major focus of the testing process has been reducing the build cost. And despite the earlier Volt-as-sports-sedan rhetoric, the top attained speed in testing is 107 mph, although engineers say it will likely be limited to 104 mph. Though that’s faster than most EV early-adopters will take their Volts anyway, it’s also only about 15 mph faster than the much-cheaper Nissan Leaf EV, a vehicle that the Volt will have to differentiate itself from considerably to earn its estimated $10k premium over the non-range-extended EV.

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Volt Birth Watch 171: Weber Bails Fri, 30 Oct 2009 17:36:22 +0000 Like the Volt concept, Weber is outta here! (courtesy:treehugger)

Frank Weber, the man in charge of GM’s electric vehicle line, will be leaving GM for a senior leadership at the soon-to-be-sold (or not?) Opel. Weber previously worked on Opel’s development of GM’s global mid-size (Epsilon II) vehicle line, before becoming the head of GM’s electric vehicle development program in March 2007. Weber is the second senior executive in GM’s global electric, hybrid and battery development organization to leave in a month, following Bob Kruse’s departure at the end of September. And as with Kruse’s exit, the sound bites coming out of GM seek to portray the loss as no big deal. “There is a huge difference in the Volt program from when I came here,” Weber tells Bloomberg. “The entire organization has inhaled what we do here.” In reality though, Weber’s defection makes the introduction of the Opel Ampera (as the Volt will be known in Europe) even more difficult than it was already shaping out to be.

The Volt’s technology can not be entrusted to either Magna, which develops EVs for GM’s competitors (like Ford’s Focus EV) or Magna’s partner Sberbank, which would be likely to sell the intellectual property to a Russian automaker (GAZ). Weber says his role will be to act as a liason between GM (which will have a 35 percent stake in new Opel) and the new company’s owners, putting him directly in the middle of the Opel sale’s biggest challenge: sharing IP and development capacity between all of Opel’s stakeholders. In any case, the trained engineer will not be working on further development of the Volt. And as a second executive abandons GM’s EREV moonshot, it seems pretty clear that the program has major shortcomings that execs don’t want to be associated with. After all, New Opel is hardly a sure thing itself.

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Volt Birth Watch 170: The Color Of Money Thu, 22 Oct 2009 15:52:33 +0000

GM’s styling department was originally called “Art and Colour,” an indication of the importance The General has always placed on color. And since the Volt hype campaign is leaving no gimmick unturned, GM is offering fans an opportunity to name the greenish-silver color that debuted with the first production-look Volt. The prize? An early test-drive of a pre-production (of course) Volt. Since we’re sure to be barred from test-fleet Volts, why not submit a color name for a chance at what could be TTAC’s first road test of the automotive Hail Mary? Our choices: Silver Lining or Bailout Green. Yours?

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Volt Birth Watch 169: The Price Is Wrong Tue, 20 Oct 2009 22:14:51 +0000 But have you seen my tax bill?

Having a hard time guessing the value of the Volt showcase? Join the club. Everyone knows what the Volt is by now, namely a four-seat, 230 mpg, extended-range electric sport sedan that’s currently under-budget. But what does that sell for? The closest thing to a consistent answer we’ve heard from GM on this point is zero profit at $40,000 a pop. Which is always quickly followed up with reminders that consumer tax credits will make the crucial difference in transaction prices. But what about those tax credits? EV World‘s Bill Moore relays the following message from an anonymous “former GM executive”

“Assume you will trade in your Prius when the Volt becomes available.  The feds will probably put a $20,000 kickback on the price to move them.  If they do not, Volt will not make it.”

But consumer-end stimulus isn’t the whole game (although look for the cry to go up soon in congress).Production-end subsidies for everything from an engine plant to battery research are keeping the Volt moving towards the birthing hour. Bloomberg‘s headline couldn’t explain it any better: Obama Battery Grants May Help GM Market Cheaper Electric Cars. GM’s John Lauckner explains:

We’ve already seen significant reductions in the cost of batteries even since the start of the Volt program. At this point, we’re hundreds of dollars below the $1,000 a kwh benchmark

For reference, $1,000 per kwh is the typical current cost for Lithium-ion batteries, according to Southern California Edison’s Electric Transportation Department. But thanks to heavy taxpayer investment in Volt battery suppliers,  GM is claiming it can get prices down to $500/kwh in the next 12 to 18 months. Would Toyota VP Irv Miller like to comment on that?

I’ll buy all those batteries that anyone can provide me right now. Our numbers are about three or four times that, so maybe we’re missing something

Well, is he? Ford says the cheapest Li-ions they can find are $700/kwh and are located “in Asia.” Is GM lying or is there some world-class market distortion going on? Pick your poison.

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Volt Birth Watch 168: Shakedown Cruise, In More Ways Than One Thu, 15 Oct 2009 15:16:18 +0000 Drag racing. (courtesy GM)

I know these Volt Birth Watches are polarizing. So if you’re a Volt booster, look away now. ‘Cause I’m about to excoriate GM for attempting to keep the cloak of invisibility around its taxpayer-funded plug-in electric – gas hybrid Hail Mary Chevy Volt. Now I’m fully aware that any such criticism may spark (so to speak) charges of editorial hypocrisy. Although TTAC has no “party line” on any given subject, its main voices have consistently taken GM to task for boasting about the Volt—-when they should have just shut the f up, built the thing, tested it and THEN unleashed their PR campaign. This despite (or because of) the fact that the Volt eventually became GM’s poster child for its “Save Detroit, Save The Economy” campaign, that eventually led to the automaker’s nationalization (in case you’d forgotten). GM’s claims for the Volt’s completely untried technology—in terms of performance, reliability, price, profit, mpg (230 city!), this, that and the other thing—have done the company no favors, aside from the salutatory effect on environmentalists’ hope for change. But here’s the thing: GM crossed the e-Rubicon a long time ago. It’s time to tell its “investors” exactly what we’re paying for, or kill the goddamn thing and spend the money turning “May the Best Car Win” from a sad, pathetic, delusional joke to walking the talk. Ahem. Wired. Volt “shakedown cruise.” Irony? Absolutely. Insight (joke)? Nope. More GM lies and deception . . .

GM has always promised the Volt’s 16 kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery will provide a range of 40 miles, and Farrah says the prototypes are in that ballpark. “Pre-production (vehicles) still have some improvements to make,” he said. “I myself have not personally gone 40 miles on a charge, but I’ve come close. I don’t see any problems getting to 40.”

So what about GM’s claim that the Volt gets 230 mpg in the city when the engine is driving the generator? And what kind of mileage are they getting on the highway? Farrah isn’t saying.

“We’re working on hitting all the targets we’ve set up, but I’m not going to get into specific numbers, because we’re still looking at the data,” he said.

The crew filled the cars’ gas tanks on Tuesday and topped them off Wednesday. Farrah said “we’re still targeting 300 miles on a tank of fuel.” That doesn’t mean much without knowing how big the tank is, something GM isn’t disclosing yet.

We’re still looking at the data? Is that the engineering equivalent of “pay no attention to that man behind the curtain?” And I’m a little confused. Is that 300 miles AFTER the I-can-just-about-see-it 40 miles on electric power? Or total? At what speed? Grade? Temperature? Passenger load?

Come clean guys (so to speak). It’s not like you have to hide this information from Toyota, lest they decide plug-in serial hybrids are WAY better than their Synergy Drive. And this is my money you’re pissing away, now.

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Volt Birth Watch 167: The Midwife Bails Wed, 30 Sep 2009 16:22:20 +0000 Kruse cruzes for the exits (courtesy:businessweek)

Bob Kruse, GM’s executive director of global vehicle engineering for hybrids, electric vehicles and batteries and the man in charge of the Volt’s battery development and integration, is leaving General Motors. The Detroit News reports Kruse is leaving to start an EV consulting firm, creatively named E V Consulting. “My departure from General Motors has nothing to do with my view of the future success for the Volt,” says Kruse. “I’ve left on very good terms. I have a lot of respect for the leadership of General Motors.” And then he goes and confuses everything by claiming, “I’m not going to lie. Are they happy about my departure? Probably not.” And GM’s response? “There’s no good time to lose good people, but that said, the Volt team goes way beyond one person.” Which, for comparison, is a more straightforward response than Tesla’s Elon Musk gave when his head of development and manufacturing suddenly ditched. But the real irony is that GM’s bailout, which at this point is a gamble that rides on the success or failure of the Volt, was the motivation for the Volt’s top midwife to ditch in the middle of its frenzied gestation.

GM’s bailout came with consequences, not the least of which was a cap on executive pay. And GM has been putting the squeeze on white collar employees since the bailout as well. As another auto industry consultant puts it to the DetN,”You can’t blame the guy. What is the prospect of ever making serious money…working for a ward of the government, where your pay is capped?” Gotta love those consultants. And it seems pretty clear that this decision was based on “the prospect of making serious money.” According to the DetN:

Kruse said he decided to leave after Vice President Joe Biden’s announcement Aug. 5 that Michigan and Detroit’s Big Three automaker’s would receive more than $1.3 billion of $2.4 billion in federal grants to support the next generation of batteries and electric vehicles.

And here I was thinking the only reason to work on electric cars was saving the environment, reducing dependence on foreign oil and making the world a better place. Huh.

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Volt Birth Watch 166: Diminished (Battery) Expectations Tue, 22 Sep 2009 19:09:28 +0000 Side effects may include dry mouth, high retail price, hallucinations... (

Ever since Bob Lutz walked down from Mt. Lithium with the Volt’s Ten Specifications, the most potentially expensive and critical one was that the battery pack would have a ten year/100k mile warranty. No longer. reports that in a survey of potential Volt buyers, a number of Volt parameters were spelled out, in order to gauge how charged up they (still) are. The battery is described as having an eight year/100,000 mile warranty. That’s really going to help the economics, especially in light of a related announcement where the Father of the Volt preaches: “The Volt technology is very exciting, but costs will have to come down before it can become generalized . . . and US fuel prices will have to rise to world levels, meaning $5 or $6 per gallon.” Exciting indeed, despite being unprofitable for its maker, and un-economical for its buyers. One last detail: the survey also calls out the Volt’s price at “$32,000 to $38,000, after a $7,500 tax credit ($39,500–$45,500 MSRP).

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Volt Birth Watch 165: Audi Prez: Tesla Another “Car for Idiots” (If You Know What He Means) Tue, 08 Sep 2009 15:02:30 +0000

“Audi of America President asserts that sustainable technologies, not ‘silver bullets,’ will drive automotive progress.” And there you have it: President Johan de Nysschen public clarification re: widely disseminated reports that he called the U.S. taxpayer-supported Hail Mary-shaped plug-in electric/gas hybrid Chevrolet Volt “a car for idiots.” [Press release after the jump.] Clearly, de Nysschen has only slightly modified his central contention; I guess he meant to say the Volt is built by idiots for intelligent people. And then the VW suit picked-up the phone to hash it out with Volt Kool-Aid purveyor Lyle Denis over at The Audi Prez tickled his tonsils with his other foot. “’I don’t think the Volt is a car for idiots,’ he said. He claimed the headline was a journalist’s misinterpretation, and that his point was that the Volt was ‘an idiotic business case,’ and not how he would refer to people. ‘We might as well have been taking about the Tesla,’ he said.” Oh, dear.

HERNDON, Va., Sep 8, 2009  -  Finding practical ways to reduce automotive emissions and lessen America’s energy dependence isn’t something that can wait for technological breakthroughs years down the road, noted Audi of America President Johan de Nysschen. Instead, car companies and government policy makers should immediately embrace promising new technologies that can quickly add up to make a real difference. In a wide-reaching speech at Audi’s 100th Anniversary celebration in Sonoma, California, de Nysschen also discussed his thoughts on the future of luxury, asserting that the era of “legacy luxury” –products that convey status without regard to cost or resources consumed – is now at the end of its life cycle, with Audi representing the new era of “progressive luxury.”

Addressing journalists gathered to experience the latest Audi models and technologies, de Nysschen affirmed that Audi has an abiding commitment to bring sustainable automotive technologies to the world’s motorways. In particular, he noted several projects that increase the efficiency of existing internal combustion technology and could serve as effective bridges to a future that can deliver solutions to limitations found today on matters such as battery technology, energy production and well-to-wheel environmental impact. These technologies ensure that Audi will be the standard bearer of progressive luxury and the modern automotive industry.

Specifically, de Nysschen discussed the company’s clean diesel TDI engines which drastically reduce the need for petroleum products, light aluminum body designs, vibration dampeners to ensure the car effectively uses all energy it develops and smaller, high-performance engines that require less fuel to perform. Together, these systems ensure that the automotive industry will maintain until the next generation technology is more viable.

“Yes, we spend a lot of time ensuring that our owners drive something better,” said de Nysschen. “We and our consumers also want to drive at something better – a more sustainable future.”

Intrinsically tied to these sustainable developments, de Nysschen argued, is the need for the old concept of luxury to “recede into the rearview mirror” in favor of the “progressive luxury” that Audi strives to represent. He acknowledged that people of means will reward themselves for hard work with status symbols, but that those purchases must square “with the ethos of an era that has been called the end of excess.” To that end, Audi is providing products that are considerately-crafted inside and out – demonstrative of success without excess.

“This is the type of luxury that announces itself in aggregate. Everything just feels flawless, inside and out,” de Nysschen said. “You realize (that) when you get into an Audi, it’s not only the engine that moves you.”

Among the key quotes from Mr. de Nysschen’s speech (which is available in its entirety at

• We are thinking of a leadership position in terms of centuries, and so we must ask (questions about the sustainability of the industry), and answer them.

• As Audi enters our second century, we are answering these questions simultaneously – defining the future of luxury by redefining the future itself, to be more sustainable, more beautiful, and more progressive than ever before.

• When you look at the vehicles that defined luxury for the last several decades, you see size for the sake of size. Symbols for the sake of status. Aggressiveness bordering on arrogance. A “relentless pursuit of perfection” that somehow forgot about passion. How boring. These are all remnants of an automotive landscape that is fast receding into the rearview mirror. Progressive Luxury is what we see when we look through the windshield.

• We and our consumers also want to drive at something better – a more sustainable future.

• In pursuing sustainability, there’s no silver bullet.

• The challenge is that Americans, by and large, haven’t quite been willing to put their consumerism where their conscience is – sales of small cars have declined more than the average decline of all segments, meaning that sales are still migrating to small and medium size SUVs.

• The truly sustainable solution is to give today’s consumer a much more efficient version of what they already want – whether that’s performance, space, fine finishes, or all of the above.

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