“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.
Category: Volt Birth Watch
Courtesy of GM-Volt.com, 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.
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.
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.
Or did they?
“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).