Chrysler’s new advertisements may have been replaced by this video as the automotive marketing gaffe of the moment.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.
“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.
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.
“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?