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 GM-volt.com
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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?
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.”
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 . . .
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.
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. Gm-volt.com 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).
“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 gm-volt.com. 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.
I tell my kids, if you’re going to apologize for something, never use the word “if.” I’m sorry if I offended you” is not an apology. Audi of America Prez Johann De Nysschen is not, by nature, a word-mincing machine. Only now he is, ish, via Audi’s Facebook page.
An online report today, subsequently picked up by various other forums, left an unflattering sense of my feelings toward electric vehicles and the people who support their development. Let me clearly state that, in my opinion, electric vehicles will be part of the future transportation of society – but only if we go about it the right way. In fact, Audi is working on electric vehicles. I do not specifically recall using the term “car for idiots” during my informal conversation with the writer. It was certainly not my intention to leave the impression that I’m opposed to electrical vehicles, and if I was unclear on either of those points then I need to eat crow.
Audi of America’s Johann De Nysschen calls the Volt “a car for idiots,” in an MSN interview. “No one is going to pay a $15,000 premium for a car that competes with a (Toyota) Corolla,” he tells Lawrence Ullrich. “So there are not enough idiots who will buy it.” And you have to admit that the guy has a point. For all the Volt’s hype, GM has offered little in the way of an explanation of the Volt’s potential appeal to people who don’t merely “want to show what enlightened souls they are,” as De Nysschen puts it. But don’t worry, GM has a meme for that! Specifically, that deep down the Volt isn’t an overpriced hair shirt . . . it’s a performance car!
AutoExpress never met a car they didn’t like. Or, if they did, they kept that opinion to themselves. In keeping with the advertiser-pleasing house style, the British car mag offers readers a “review” of the Vauxhall/Opel version of the Chevy’s Hail Mary-shaped plug-in electric/gas hybrid. Despite the fact that the car isn’t in production, regardless of the company’s ongoing refusal to let anyone test the car in extended range mode (i.e., when the ICE kicks in), AutoExpress gives the Ampera . . . five stars! Other than than a quick kvetch about the price and an unquestioning reference to the Lutzian crock about “the gas going stale in the tank,” Paul Bailey is a booster. Still, at the end of the proverbial English day, “the project raises more questions than it answers.” Such as: will European governments buy into the Volt-as-savior meme that found such fertile ground in the US? You don’t hear the Germans talking about it . . .
More details about the Volt’s charging system emerged at a GM FastLane livechat with charging equipment engineer Gery Kissel. Kissel reveals that the Volt will have 120V and 240V power chargers, but the 240V unit will be wall-mounted and hard-wired. Though the 240V charger will refill batteries much quicker (3.3 kW), it won’t be portable. Though the 120V will be able to plug into any outlet, it will charge more slowly (1.2 kW) and the cord will only be 20 feet long. Kissel said code required the cord to be under 25 feet or have some kind of management system to keep it off the ground. A retractable cord has been ruled out, and a decision hasn’t been made to allow the cord to lock to the vehicle while charging.
One of our Best and Brightest, Kixstart, sent us this heads-up:
Jeff Belzer Chevrolet in the Twin Cities is running a newspaper ad today suggesting you “Order Your 2010 Chevy Volt! 230mpg EPA City!” Who could resist? When I called the dealer, “Mary Jo” answered. After a preliminary question or two Jeff Belzer, himself, called me back. Yes, they’re really taking orders. They want $10K down. The price of the Volt will be $40 to $50K, plus $10K on top. (Belzer wasn’t even slightly embarrassed by the surcharge.) If I wanted, I could pick a color. But there are no specific delivery dates. If I don’t like the car when it arrives, I can have my money back. According to Belzer, this is not a dealer cashing-in before time. “It’s official.”