The Truth About Cars » erev The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Sun, 27 Jul 2014 14:03:49 +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 » erev Blind Spot: The Twilight Of The Volt Mon, 05 Mar 2012 00:44:30 +0000

 “Do you want to accompany? or go on ahead? or go off alone? … One must know what one wants and that one wants”

Friedrich Nietzsche, Twilight Of The Idols

This week’s news that GM would stop production of the Chevrolet Volt for the third time in its brief lifespan came roaring out of the proverbial blind spot. Having watched the Volt’s progress closely from gestation through each month’s sales results, it was no secret to me that the Volt was seriously underperforming to expectations. But in the current media environment, anything that happens three times is a trend, and the latest shutdown (and, even more ominously, the accompanying layoffs) was unmistakeable. Not since succumbing to government-organized bankruptcy and bailout has GM so publicly cried “uncle” to the forces of the market, and I genuinely expected The General to continue to signal optimism for the Volt’s long-term prospects. After all, sales in February were up dramatically, finally breaking the 1,000 unit per month barrier. With gasoline prices on the march, this latest shutdown was far from inevitable.

And yet, here we are. Now that GM is undeniably signaling that the Volt is a Corvette-style halo car, with similar production and sales levels, my long-standing skepticism about the Volt’s chances seems to be validated. But in the years since GM announced its intention to build the Volt, this singular car has become woven into the history and yes, the mythology of the bailout era. Now, at the apparent end of its mass-market ambitions, I am struck not with a sense of schadenfreude, but of bewilderment. If the five year voyage of Volt hype is over, we have a lot of baggage to unpack.

When a history of the Volt is written, it will be difficult not to conclude that the Volt has been the single most politicized automobile since the Corvair. Seemingly due to timing alone, GM’s first serious environmental halo car became an icon of government intervention in private industry, a perception that is as true as it is false. I hoped to capture this tension in a July 2010 Op-Ed in the New York Times, in which I argued that

the Volt appears to be exactly the kind of green-at-all-costs car that some opponents of the bailout feared the government might order G.M. to build. Unfortunately for this theory, G.M. was already committed to the Volt when it entered bankruptcy.

But by that time, the Volt was already so completely transformed into a political football, the second sentence of this quote was entirely ignored by political critics on the right. The culture of partisanship being what it is in this country, any nuance to my argument was lost in the selective quoting on one side and the mockery of my last name on the other. One could argue that that this politicization was unnecessary or counter-productive, but it was also inevitable.

The Volt began life as a blast from GM’s Motorama past: a futuristic four-place coupe concept with a unique drivetrain (which still defies apples-to-apples efficiency comparisons with other cars), a fast development schedule and constantly-changing specifications, price points and sales expectations. It’s important to remember that the Volt was controversial as a car practically from the moment GM announced (and then began changing) production plans, becoming even more so when the production version emerged looking nothing like the concept. But it wasn’t until President Obama’s auto task force concluded that the Volt seemed doomed to lose money, and yet made no effort to suspend its development as a condition for the bailout, that a car-guy controversy began to morph into a mainstream political issue.

At that point, most of the car’s fundamental controversies were well known, namely its price, size, elusive efficiency rating, and competition. Well before the car was launched, it was not difficult to predict its challenges on the market, even without the added headwinds of ideological objections (which should have been mitigated by the fact that they were actually calling for government intervention in GM’s product plans while decrying the same). But GM’s relentless hype, combined with Obama’s regular rhetorical references to the Volt, fueled the furor. Then, just two months after Volt sales began trickle in, Obama’s Department of Energy released a still-unrepudiated document, claiming that 505,000 Volts would be sold in the US by 2015 (including 120,000 this year). By making the Volt’s unrealistic sales goals the centerpiece of a plan to put a million plug-in-vehicles on the road, the Obama Administration cemented the Volt’s political cross-branding.

When GM continued to revise its 2012 US sales expectations to the recent (and apparently still wildly-unrealistic) 45,000 units, I asked several high-level GM executives why the DOE didn’t adjust its estimates as well. But rather than definitively re-calibrate the DOE’s expectations, they refused to touch the subject. The government, they implied, could believe what it wanted. Having seen its CEO removed by the President, GM’s timid executive culture was resigned to the Volt’s politicized status, and would never make things awkward for its salesman-in-chief. And even now, with production of the Volt halted for the third time, GM continues to play into the Volt’s politicized narrative: does anyone think it is coincidence that The General waited until three days after the Michigan Republican primary (and a bailout-touting Obama speech) to cut Volt production for the third time?

Of course, having used the Volt as a political prop itself from the moment CEO Rick Wagoner drove a development mule version to congressional hearings as penance for traveling to the previous hearing in a private jet, GM is now trying to portray the Volt as a martyr at the hands of out-of-control partisanship. And the Volt’s father Bob Lutz  certainly does have a point when he argues that the recent Volt fire controversy was blown out of proportion by political hacks. But blaming the Volt’s failures on political pundits gives them far too much credit, ignores GM’s own politicization of the Volt, and misses the real causes of the Volt’s current, unenviable image.

The basic problem with the Volt isn’t that it’s a bad car that nobody could ever want; it is, in fact, quite an engineering achievement and a rather impressive drive. And if GM had said all along that it would serve as an “anti-Corvette,” selling in low volumes at a high price, nobody could now accuse it of failure. Instead, GM fueled totally unrealistic expectations for Volt, equating it with a symbol of its rebirth even before collapsing into bailout. The Obama administration simply took GM’s hype at face value, and saw it as a way to protect against the (flawed) environmentalist argument that GM deserved to die because of “SUV addiction” alone. And in the transition from corporate sales/image hype to corporatist political hype, the Volt’s expectations were driven to ever more unrealistic heights, from which they are now tumbling. Beyond the mere sales disappointment, the Volt has clearly failed to embody any cultural changes GM might have undergone in its dark night of the soul, instead carrying on The General’s not-so-proud tradition of moving from one overhyped short-term savior to the next.

Now, as in the Summer of 2010, I can’t help but compare the Volt with its nemesis and inspiration, the Toyota Prius. When the Toyota hybrid went on sale in the US back in 2000, it was priced nearly the same as it is today (in non-inflation-adjusted dollars), and was not hyped as a savior. Instead, Toyota accepted losses on early sales, and committed itself to building the Prius’s technology and brand over the long term. With this approach, GM could have avoided the Volt’s greatest criticism (its price) and embarrassment (sales shortfalls), and presented the extended-range-electric concept as a long-term investment.

Even now, GM can still redefine the Volt as a long-term play that will eventually be worth its development and PR costs… but only as long as it candidly takes ownership of its shortcomings thus far and re-sets expectations to a credible level. And whether The General will defy and embarrass its political patrons by destroying the “million EVs by 2015″ house of cards in order to do so, remains very much to be seen. One thing is certain: as long as it puts PR and political considerations before the long-term development of healthy technology and brands,  GM will struggle with a negative and politicized image. And the Volt will be seen not as a symbol of GM’s long-term vision and commitment, but of its weakness, desperation, inconstancy and self-delusion.

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Fisker’s Sticker Shock: 32 Miles On Electricity, 20 MPG On Range Extender Wed, 19 Oct 2011 21:38:41 +0000

The Chevy Volt’s best news in ages broke yesterday when GreenCarReports, er, reported that the Fisker Karma had received EPA approval at 32 miles of EV range, and 20 MPG (combined) thereafter. Moreover, the MPGE (the “e” is for “equivalent”) rating of 52 on electric power is nearly half the Volt’s 94 MPGE rating, suggesting that the Karma is not the most efficient car even in EV mode. And, at nearly 5,600 lbs (per, you don’t have to look far to find out why. But if you ask Fisker, the problem isn’t the car… the problem is those darn EPA numbers, which you should probably just ignore anyway. After all, nobody drives less efficiently than their car’s EPA numbers, right?

Says CEO Heinrik Fisker

We firmly believe that most owners will get up to 50 miles of driving range on a single charge and will use our electric-only mode most of the time they drive the car

Unless they keep the car in Sport Mode (which boosts acceleration by 25%, taking 0-60 times from 7.9 to 5.9 seconds), thereby making it “sufficiently potent to avoid damnation as a slug” (per C&D’s Google-topping review). Which, given the “about a hundred grand” price tag, seems like a reasonable expectation. But even if the Karma weren’t fast or fun, it might have a chance by making green cars sexy… but this doesn’t seem like much of a “green car.” Nor will it, when you’re showing off ala Ashton Kutcher and your range extending engine roars to life, mid-eco-boast.

And in the meantime, Fisker has been delivering vehicles to at least one celebrity client before EPA confirmation even arrived… which is an interesting strategy. Fisker also raffled off the first UK Karma, despite having not yet passed emissions in Europe (and possibly having a problem with start-up emissions, per But again, Fisker is running on hot, green air rather than facts and test results, simply claiming the Karma

is the only luxury sedan in the world that meets future fuel consumption and emission requirements, making it suitable for any international city.

Sorry, but 52 MPGE for 32 miles and 20 MPG thereafter is the ultimate in future-proof technology… especially when the (arguably overpriced itself) Chevy Volt does better at less than half the price. Might the Department of Energy be rethinking its $528.7m loan to Fisker right about now?

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The Chevy Volt’s Marketing Challenge Mon, 03 Oct 2011 23:09:47 +0000

I’m sure the resident anti-GM-bias patrol won’t look kindly upon this double-dose of Volt skepticism, but at the point that GM’s Volt production is ramped up well above its sales rate, we should be paying attention to what GM is saying about the challenge of marketing the Volt. Automotive News [sub] reports that it’s still too early to compare Volt and Nissan Leaf deliveries in terms of a competition, arguing

Chevrolet and Nissan are still selling to early adopters and green enthusiasts and will be for most of the coming year. Their real challenge is to learn how to market the high-profile cars to mainstream U.S. consumers in mass-production volumes in 2012 and beyond.

To prepare for that, both automakers are using 2011 as a sort of practice year, taking notes, tinkering with tactics and honing their marketing messages.

And according to GM sources, there’s a lot of honing to do…

“We’ve learned that this product is a different experience,” says Cristi Landy, the Volt’s product marketing manager at GM. “No customer who buys this vehicle is replacing a vehicle that was anything like it. So it’s new for the customers; it’s new for us.

“And we’ve also learned that it is confusing to people.”

What that means for the marketing mission, Landy adds, is that “we have two issues: There’s marketing to the people who are going to buy it, and then there’s marketing to people who just want to know about it.”

And we’re starting to see that confusion show up in Chevy’s ads for the Volt. The pair of ads above started running about two weeks ago, and they exhibit the confusion that Chevy was inevitably going to have to confront (and seem to be a response to this Nissan ad). After all, we saw the first signs of trouble in this respect within days of its launch, when controversy arose about exactly how efficient a Volt really is. Our take: the Volt is as efficient as you want it to be (or as your lifestyle allows). But the truth, in this case, doesn’t make the marketing any easier. Nor does the fact that the Volt wasn’t designed for maximum efficiency per se, but rather to give consumers a typical day’s driving worth of electric range and then gas power thereafter. This design brief was certainly innovative, but it forces marketers to ask consumers to think of their vehicles in a fundamentally new way, which causes “confusion.”

When I met with Bob Lutz, this issue was at the top of my “questions to ask list,” so I asked him: do you think [the Volt's eco-halo effect on the Chevy brand] is mitigated by the fact that it’s such a complex machine, and that things like measuring its efficiency on an apples-to-apples basis is very difficult? Do you think [this complexity] creates a mixed message? He answered:

Yeah, even internally some people were bringing up that argument, saying we’d be far better off doing a conventional hybrid. And I said “look, the issue here is that people want to drive 40 miles electrically.” They said “yes, but once they’re on the gasoline engine…” and I said “will you stop saying that? That’s not what this is about. The Volt buyers are going to feel as if they’ve made some sort of mistake if they’re on gasoline, or if they’ve made an especially long trip…” But that’s the beauty of the Volt, is that it gives you that flexibility. But for most people, most of the time, it’s a pure EV.

That’s the way people look at it. They don’t look at it and say “well, if I were to do 500 miles per day, I’d only get 40 miles electric, and the rest would be facing all this added weight, etc.” They just don’t do that. If you look at it through the eyes of the customer, as opposed to through the eyes of the way the EPA measures efficiency (which I think is… strange), the way the customers see it is “I’m getting 40 miles almost for free every single day, and twice a day if I can plug in at work.”

Yeah, it’s counter-intuitive if we had assumed the average Volt buyer would drive 500 miles per day. [If that were the case], I’d have agreed with the engineers [who advocated for max efficiency rather than the extended-range electric configuration] and said “stupid solution, we need to do something else.” But we know that average Americans drive 40 miles per day or less, and the car is for them. [The engineers] were looking at a usage cycle that’s hypothetical, rather than a usage cycle that’s real… and I was focusing on the real customers’ usage cycle, which is going to be predominantly electric. It’s like… and airplane engineer will tell you “you know, we can make this fighter plane much more efficient if we don’t add all the weight and complexity of an ejection seat, and I can prove to you that this airplane will be superior in combat… so let’s leave all that ‘needless complexity’ out of it.” Yes, but… good luck finding someone to fly it.

As the father of the Volt, Lutz knows all the arguments for going with the extended-range model… but whether his logic resonates with consumers is an entirely different question. After all, from his perspective, it’s just a matter of “seeing things through the eyes of the consumer.” Meanwhile, the majority of actual consumers still need to understand why a second car isn’t a better choice than the Volt’s range-extending hardware (after all, how many households with a $40k car in the garage have only one car?). And if you believe you’ll use your Volt almost exclusively on electric power, as Lutz thinks most consumers will, why not buy the cheaper Nissan Leaf with a 70-mile pure-electric range? Especially when Nissan has an interesting approach to apples-to-apples efficiency comparisons. GM’s marketing team is only just scratching the surface of its Volt challenge, and as production ramps up, the pressure to find buyers will only increase.

In the meantime, here’s what the Volt marketing team seems to have learned thus far:

• The Volt is skewing toward more of a luxury customer, often with a luxury trade-in.

• Volt owners are environmentally conscious but moderately so. They mainly like the idea of not buying foreign oil, Landy says.

• Once they own the car, customers’ impression of it changes. Instead of describing it as an environmental purchase, they describe it as “fun to drive.” Joel Ewanick, GM’s head of global marketing, recently commented that the Volt’s marketing must sell the vehicle as a car first — meaning as a product that appeals for the same reasons that any other GM model appeals.

• In order to sell Volts, dealers need a demo car. That wasn’t part of the plan. For that reason, GM is goosing production for the next few weeks to make sure all 2,600 participating Chevrolet dealers have at least one demo.

• Even as it focuses on the Volt as fun to drive, Chevrolet also has to educate consumers. According to Landy, future advertising will focus on how the Volt differs from other vehicles.

“When you try to explain the Volt to people on just a piece of paper or with a few quick words on a screen, they don’t necessarily get it,” she says. “You have to remember that most consumers have still never driven a hybrid.”

• Volt owners enjoy talking about their ownership experience with prospective buyers, and prospective buyers seem to enjoy hearing from current owners. Chevrolet hopes to tap into that consumer-to-consumer communication in future marketing.

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Chart Of The Day: The Chevrolet Volt’s Sales Challenge Mon, 03 Oct 2011 22:00:10 +0000 Is the Chevy Volt a flop? It’s a question that plenty of folks both inside the industry and beyond seem awfully curious about, and one that I’ve tried to stay away from until we had some strong data to go on. And with nine months of 2011 under our belt, we’re starting to get a sense of where the Volt is going… and it’s not been all reassuring news. Jalopnik notes that such unloved GM models as the Buick Lucerne and Chevy Avalanche outsold the Volt last month, but failed to look at the important stuff: production as compared to deliveries, and inventory. Jalopnik does quote a inventory  figure of 2,600 Volts on dealer lots, although the latest data we have from Automotive News [sub] shows 1,400 units in the national inventory as of September 1… which at that point  constituted a 121-day supply. Add in the 1,644-unit differential between Volts built and Volts sold in September, and the estimated Volt inventory across the nation should be closer to 3,000 units. We will be sure to update when AN gets new inventory numbers, but for now, the signs aren’t promising.

For one thing, it doesn’t seem likely that many Volts are being diverted from the Detroit-Hamtramck factory for sale in Europe. After all, only 10,000 Opel-branded Ampera versions will even be sold in the 2012 model-year, and European Volt volume could be even lower as the model will only be available in 50 European dealerships. In any case, with the European launch of both vehicles starting in November, GM is probably only just shipping the several-hundred Europe-bound Volts and Amperas now. In other words, it’s up to the US market to soak up the up-ramped production volume of Volts. As you can see in the top graph, production ceased in June as workers upgraded the lines for higher volume, which jumped from the 600-800 range up to the mid-2,000 unit range starting in August. What’s interesting, if you look at the numbers cumulatively (see graph below), that zero-production month actually corrected a slow divergence between the production and delivery lines. In other words, slowing production might have been a better move than ramping it up.

 So, why did GM bump Volt volume? Well, more volume could eventually come in from overseas market, for one. And in the post-ramp-up period, US deliveries are climbing… just nowhere near fast enough to keep up with demand. Which is why inventory levels are climbing. Meanwhile, if you keep a close eye out, you might find more anecdotal evidence that the Volt’s sales issues are about a shortage of demand, not supply: for example, Oregon Public Broadcasting story recently ran a story on EV rescue training, which noted

About 40 Oregon first responders took part in this training session in Salem.

John Brown with the Crescent Fire District in central Oregon checks out a brand new Chevy Volt, which runs 35 miles on a battery before switching to a traditional gas engine.

“Nice vehicle. Creates headaches for us.”

For now, if Brown does respond to an accident involving a Chevy Volt, it would be, well, a shock. The dealership that loaned this car for the training session says after a month on the lot, it has yet to sell a single one.

And with Nissan Leaf sales handily outstripping deliveries of Volts, 7,199 to 3,895 (Nissan does not break out inventory data to AN), it’s no wonder the “Volt is losing the EV race” storyline is all over the media. GM’s response to that line of thinking comes from spokesman Rob Peterson, who tells Insideline

Nissan’s sales target is 25,000 Leafs in 2011. (Their sales) should be higher than ours. Our target is to deliver 10,000 (Volts) and we’re on target to reach that goal. Only 1 in 3 of the 2,100 dealers selling Volts have one in stock, with nearly 1,700 in transit. The pipeline from plant to dealership is filling up, making deliveries much more fluid.

Which is another way of saying it’s still to early to tell of the Volt will find consistent demand in the marketplace… although the “one in three dealers” thing is a bit disingenuous. After all, GM launched in EV-friendly states first, which means they likely already have access to a lot of their market. Still, sales are trending upwards, and from here on out, the “supply constrained” argument won’t fly… so the next few months will be key to determining real demand for the Volt. And though GM may only be planning on 10k Volt deliveries this year, the Obama Administration is banking on 15k units this year… and a whopping 120k units in 2012. In fact, the Obama Administration is relying on GM selling over half a million Volts by the end of 2015, in order to meet its “million plug-in cars on the road” goal. Given how much work the Volt still has to do on the demand side in order to keep up with a 28,000 unit annualized production rate, I’d say that goal is pretty much dead on arrival. As far as GM is concerned, the Volt may not be a flop… but politically it’s well on its way towards being a bust.



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GM: No Volt Variations Until 2015 Fri, 30 Sep 2011 22:47:34 +0000 From the “how did we miss that?” file comes this Automotive News [sub] story, filed at the beginning of the week, which asked GM Europe boss Nick Reilly about plans for Volt-based variants. Reilly replied

We won’t do it with this generation, and that will run to 2015. You’d have to wait until after that until you see it.

Which is peculiar, considering GM just announced that it will build a Cadillac Converj-style Volt variant at some point. GM has also shown a near-production-look Volt MPV5 Concept, although that has never been confirmed as a future production model. But Reilly explains that current Volt’s slow ramp-up and “expensive technology” have doomed any possibility of a Volt family of vehicles before the next generation drivetrain launches.

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Review: Chevrolet Volt vs. Chevrolet Cruze Eco Wed, 28 Sep 2011 19:29:43 +0000 Ed, Sajeev, and yours truly have all weighed in on the Chevrolet Volt. We all agreed that it drives surprisingly well, but that aspects of the interior need work. I hadn’t been planning to review the Volt again, but was asked if I’d like to have one for a week following the Cruze ECO. And so an intramural competition was born. If the $19,995 Cruze ECO is such a solid, comfortable, and efficient commuter, why spend twice as much for the $39,995 Volt?

Okay, maybe not twice as much. A $7,500 tax credit takes care of over a third of the difference. And a run through TrueDelta’s car price comparison tool finds that the Volt includes about $2,300 in additional features. Give credit for these, and the difference is about $10,300. So figure fifty percent more.

A word about those earlier reviews. All three were based on short drives, about an hour in my case. More than a few people have wondered how valid such a review can be. Well, valid enough that even after a week in the car I find I have little to say that hasn’t been said before, save that the strengths noted earlier remain strengths and the weaknesses noted earlier remain weaknesses—neither significantly diminishes with experience.

The number one weakness: as Ed noted, “an iPod covered in buttons is no iPod at all.” Even after a week in the car the center stack remained difficult to use. At a minimum the many buttons need to be separated into clearly demarcated logical groups. As is, even basic functions often require far too much conscious thought and time with one’s eyes off the road. I never did figure out how to best operate the HVAC, as the AC and heating systems seemed to have minds of their own even in “comfort” mode. I’d also like a way to turn off the audio without turning off everything. As is, you either have to turn the volume all the way down or use the mute button on the steering wheel. Go the latter route, and the music returns at the original volume the next time the car is started—the “mute” is forgotten when the car is shut off.

Among other weaknesses, the Volt’s rear seat didn’t seem any less cramped after a week with the car than it did initially. And you’ll want the $695 rear camera option given the car’s poor rearward visibility.

Objectively, the Volt’s number one strength is, of course, its ability to run on electricity. Some will claim that the roughly forty-mile range before the gas-powered “range extender” automatically kicks on isn’t sufficient. Well, in my case I had to take the car off life support in order to test it with the engine running. Until I did so all of my runs to Costco, the doctor (daughter broke a toe), and the kids’ school were accomplished entirely on battery power.

How much cheaper is it to run on electricity? I complained earlier that the Volt’s display doesn’t include a report for miles-per-kWh analogous to the trip computer’s miles-per-gallon report while running on gas. I’ll repeat that complaint. Consequently, I had to do a little math, the upshot of which is that the Volt covers about four miles on each kilowatt-hour (when not running the air conditioning). Conservatively figure three miles per kWh to allow for charging losses and some AC use. In Michigan each kWh costs about 12 cents, so this works out to about four cents per mile. In the Cruze ECO I observed a bit over 35 MPG. With gas at $3.80, that’s about 11 cents per mile. Over the course of a 12,000-mile year, the difference would add up to about $800. In other words, it’ll be a while before that $10,000+ is recouped.

But does this render the Volt pointless? Perhaps there’s more to the car than cutting fuel costs? Any car beyond a basic transportation appliance is bought because it’s more pleasurable to look at, sit in, or drive. Perhaps all three.

The production Volt doesn’t look like the initial concept (which I personally never expected to happen, given GM’s propensity to create thoroughly impractical concepts). But it also doesn’t look like the Cruze or anything else, with the partial exception of the Prius. And it does have a more stylish, upscale exterior than the Prius. Just looking at it I felt like I was driving something special, and not just because of the $995 “veridian joule” paint and $595 polished aluminum wheels that helped bump the pre-tax credit total to $46,165 (someone inside GM did their best to induce sticker shock in reviewers). This was far from the case with the Cruze.

Sit in the Volt, and the sense of occasion goes up by an order of magnitude. Love it—or not—the interior styling is certainly distinctive and effectively expresses the leading-edge technology packed into the car. When pressed, the start button lights up blue while the car makes a video game-like “powering up” sound. Hit it again, and you get a “powering down” sound as the light goes out. (My boys loved this.) The problem we had figuring out whether or not the Prius was on: avoided. The two displays are gorgeous and far better designed than the buttons that assist them. The driving efficiency gauge, a ball the changes height and color, is the most intuitive I’ve yet experienced—though I wish it reported how much of the braking was being handled through the regenerative system. There’s also a driving efficiency report to surreptitiously test one’s “I’m not going to change the way I drive” spouse. (She scored a respectable 86 percent and reported liking the car far more than the relatively sluggish Prius.)

Drive the Volt, and you’ll find that, in this case at least, appearances aren’t deceiving. GM has tuned the powertrain to deliver an incredibly smooth launch. Even if you floor the accelerator from a dead stop in “sport” mode there’s not a hint of a jerk. You cannot chirp a tire in this car. Instead, the car smoothly and almost silently builds speed much the way a high-speed elevator does (if not in the same direction). As with the Prius, driving the Volt with an ultra-light foot feels natural. But, unlike with the Prius, driving it with a heavy foot also feels right. Once the car is underway the electric motor dishes out a firmer shove when prodded. Either way, the Volt never feels sluggish or strained the way a Prius (or Cruze ECO, for that matter) can. With the accelerator to the floor the car easily leaves traffic behind—if you’re in a hurry, sixty can happen in about nine seconds. Not a stellar time, but recall that this is with absolutely no sign of strain from the powertrain. While running on battery power the electric motor is nearly silent. I rode in an EV1 once, and the whine of its motor was far louder. Run out of battery and the Volt’s 1.4-liter gas engine automatically cuts on, but usually remains a distant hum while roughly matching the MPG of the Cruze (high 20s to mid 40s, depending on driving style and conditions, with a suburban average around 35), and so 10-12 MPG short of a Prius. At its loudest the gas engine remains far quieter than the 1.8 recently sampled in the new Chevrolet Sonic. If GM can achieve such silent running in the Volt, why not in the Sonic? Braking is also smooth and silent in the Volt, with no evident transition between the regenerative system and the conventional brakes. The entire experience of driving the car is distinctively effortless, almost magical.

This isn’t to say that the Volt is a cocoon. The suspension is firmer and more tightly damped than that in the Cruze ECO and there doesn’t seem to be as much road noise insulation. As a result, impacts are more sharply felt and heard, but body motions are also better controlled. The ride remains comfortable, and serious drivers will appreciate the chassis’s moderate level of feedback, which helps compensate for the incommunicative (if well-weighted) steering.

The bottom line: I wasn’t sad to see the Cruze ECO go at the end of the week—it’s a very well done appliance, but an appliance nonetheless—while I very much miss driving the Volt. In twenty years the way the Volt drives will likely seem typical, but we’re not nearly there yet. In the here and now the Volt’s worth $10,000+ more than the Cruze the same way other $30,000+ cars are worth more than the Cruze: by providing a different, more desirable experience.

Chevrolet provided the vehicle, insurance and fuel for this review.

Michael Karesh operates TrueDelta, an online source of automotive pricing and reliability data.

Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail Volt side Volt rear seat Volt rear quarter Volt interior Volt instrument panel Volt front quarter Volt front Volt engine Volt cargo Still rolling? ]]> 76
GM Considering Chinese Volt Assembly Tue, 27 Sep 2011 23:59:29 +0000

The Detroit News‘s David Shepardson has a way of being on hand with a microphone whenever GM CEO Dan Akerson lets loose with a memorable line, and today he has Akerson telling a Bloomberg News Forum that the green star of the American auto turnaround, the Chevy Volt, could be built in China within a few years. Said Akerson

We’re going to export into China for probably a year or two and see if it gets a take … if customers set the right usage patterns. If it does, we may manufacture it there.

As Bertel has noted, GM is outsourcing future EV development to its Chinese joint ventures, but this is the first time we’ve learned that the Volt could be made in the Middle Kingdom. In fact, just two weeks ago, GM said concerns voiced by Senator Stabenow (and echoed by Rep Slaughter in the video above) about Chinese technology demands, didn’t apply because it had no plans to build the Volt in China.

But why would GM hand Chinese firms the technological secrets to the car it insists is the future of transportation, when it could export it from the US and keep dreams of a US green car renaissance alive? Well, other than the fact that the Volt is about twice the price it needs to be to be a “gamechanger” and nobody will build it cheaper than China. Besides, we’re still waiting on evidence that China is actually going to take technology in exchange for EV market access. In other words, cheap labor and big subsidies mean it’s just a matter of time before the green icon of America’s Great Auto Bailout starts being built in China.

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GM, LG Team Up For “Single Purpose” EVs. Will Mark Reuss Let His Kids Drive One? Sat, 27 Aug 2011 15:44:21 +0000

GM tightened its ties with Volt battery cell provider LG this week, announcing a deal to jointly develop next-generation electric vehicles. GM, along with the other Detroit-based OEMs, have been seeking closer ties with their suppliers, and as the JoongAng Daily reports, this deal helps LG at a time when the Korean conglomerate has been struggling

Two of LG’s pillars – LG Electronics and LG Display – are floundering. LG missed the boat on smartphones and persistently-low prices of display panels have plagued LG Display.

LG officials are hoping the EV project will give it momentum.

And though it’s no surprise that GM wants to move into the pure-EV market, its gamble on the extended-electric Volt has backed it into something of rhetorical corner.

LG President Cho Juno tells JoongAng that

This partnership is strategically important for LG’s future. We fully support GM’s goal to lead the industry in the electrification of the automobile.

Of course, the Volt represents an aspect of “the electrification of the automobile,” but based on media reports it seems that the deal is aimed at “jointly designing a range of electric vehicles from the bottom up.” That indicates that GM is making a bigger bet on pure-electric cars. But given GM’s Volt marketing emphasis on “range anxiety” and recent quotes by GM North America boss Mark Reuss, the firm will have to overcome its own anti-pure-EV rhetoric if it ever wants to market pure EVs in the US. A few months ago, Reuss told a crowd at GM’s Spring Hill plant, not far from where the first pure-electric car from a major OEM, the Nissan Leaf, will be built that

(The Leaf) has a finite range and requires infrastructure and charging to run it, where the Volt is really an extended-range electric vehicle. The Volt can really be the only car you own. You better be living within a certain range for the Leaf. … It’s a lot different market, a lot different car and a completely different driver.

I’m not sure if I’d put the Leaf in the hands of my three kids. Say, what if they can’t charge it? What if they get to school and can’t charge it? The Leaf is a single-purpose car.

At the time, this was understandable: Nissan and its partner, Renault, have made a huge global gamble on the pure-electric car. With the extended-range Volt leading GM’s electrification efforts, all of The General’s marketing eggs were in the “range anxiety” basket. But when short-term prerogatives conflict with long-term strategy, a little care becomes necessary. And when GM finally brings a pure-electric car to the US, Reuss is going to have to explain why he would let his kids drive it, and not the Leaf. That might not be easy…

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Chevy Volt: Ask the Men and Women Who Own Them Fri, 19 Aug 2011 18:06:15 +0000

Volt owners gather before their parade down Woodward

Photos courtesy of Cars In Depth

As part of the festivities surrounding the Woodward Dream Cruise, GM organized a parade down Woodward and back up again made up of 50 Chevy Volts driven to the event by their owners, at their own expense, from around the country. As far as car company promotional events go it was fairly low key (I was asked not to publicize the pre-parade reception for the owners) but it was clearly a high priority item for GM. The Volt marketing team was out in force and they brought in NASCAR champions Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson, who are racing at Michigan International Speedway this weekend, to wave green flags at the start of the Volt parade. Gordon and Johnson both own Chevy dealerships and they both personally own Chevy Volts. They race for Rick Hendricks, who owns quite a few Chevy (and other GM) stores himself. There were news teams from at least two of the Detroit tv stations and a satellite truck that I believe was used for a national network or cable interview of the NASCAR drivers. GM also brought out a number of pace cars from their private stash of Camaros, Corvettes and even one Chevy SSR that paced races at Indianapolis and Daytona. There was also the ZR1 that set a lap record for production cars at the Nurburgring. Marketing being what it is, the parade also included 2 squadrons of Chevy’s most recent new product, the Camaro convertible and the subcompact Sonic. There were 100 cars in total, one for each year in Chevy’s current centennial.

There were t-shirts and baseball caps for the guests, and the Volt owners each got a nice die cast model of their car, but the Volt owners weren’t there for the swag or for autographs, though they eagerly accepted both. The Volt owners were there because they really, really, really like their cars.

Comments like “the best car I’ve ever owned” were not uncommon. Ear to ear grins were everywhere. These folks were bursting with pride. Sometimes people don’t want to talk to reporters and writers. Not in this case. These people were eager to tell all. I watched more than one Volt owner do more than one tv interview.  Understand, these are early adopters, and a number traveled across the country to buy a Volt and then drove the car home hundreds or thousands of miles after taking delivery. Likewise many drove hundreds of miles to come to this event. The chances of any of them driving to Detroit to complain were pretty small.

The sign on the side of that Volt reads "American Made - Solar Powered".

I don’t like to say I told you so, but I predicted that early adopters of the Volt would love it to pieces and want to tell everyone about it. That’s what early adopters do, isn’t it? There were a fair number of Apple enthusiasts in the crowd. iPhones and iPads aplenty. When I gave one owner my business card, which for this event had TTAC on one side and Cars In Depth, the 3D car culture site, on the other, he showed me his 3D HTC phone. If I were to make a snap judgment, the crowd was mostly white, about equally split male and female, well educated, and seemingly upper middle class. For some this was their first “green” car. One lady from Alabama traded in a Saab 9.5. Others were not new to alternative propulsion. One owner traded in a Prius. He said that his overall gas mileage with the Volt was higher than with the Prius and said that the even with the cost of recharging, it was still cheaper to run than his Toyota hybrid. It was not a homogeneous group of drivers in terms of how they were using there cars. Some were hypermilers, but most said they just drove their cars normally. Some had short commutes and could operate on battery power most of the time, others had 70 mile commutes or took their Volts on long trips. My favorite answer was the guy who had a 40 mile commute but couldn’t charge his car at work. Where does he work? The GM Tech Center in Warren. There are charging stations at the Tech Center, but not near his building and the shuttle buses don’t run on afternoon shift when he works.

With at least 50 Volts in attendance, this may be the largest gathering of privately owned Volts yet.

I asked each of the Volt owners that I spoke to the same questions: Do they hypermile or do they drive normally? How many gallons of gas have they used? What’s their overall gas mileage? What’s their gas mileage when on the range extender?

The satellite truck was for uplinking a network interview with Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson

Most drove normally, but some had short commutes. The champion gas miser had used a total of 2 gallons of liquid fuel since March, but he’s self employed and works at home. Others reported using as little as 8, 22 and 25 gallons of gasoline over months of service. One person said that charging their Volt was costing them about $1 per full charge. I think that most drivers wouldn’t mind paying only $1 to drive 40 miles. At the price of gasoline today, $3.65/gallon, you would have to get something in the neighborhood of 150mpg to get the same fuel cost. It takes about 12Kw-Hrs to completely recharge a Volt to get an idea of the cost based on your local electricity rates.

A Volt owner admires a '63 split-window Corvette

All of the Volt owners reported getting at least 40 miles per charge. One guy said he can sometimes get 50. The Volt owners that used the range extender regularly reported overall gasoline mileage of at least 65 miles per gallon, but many reported much higher numbers, double and quadruple that 65mpg. The reports on gas mileage while on the range extender were impressively uniform. All but one said “42 miles to the gallon”, and the one outlier said “42 to 45 miles per gallon”. One said that it was “consistently 42. 42 miles of range on the battery and 42 mpg on the range extender”. All were pleased with the level of fuel economy when the ICE was running. I asked if there was anything that displeased them, and one owner reported being less than thrilled with the navigation system. That was about the only complaint.

Gordon and Johnson schmooze while waiting for their satellite interview. For all the talk of any feud, the men are in business together. Gordon is a part-owner of Johnson's #48 team. Other than personally winning the championship they share interests.

I did bring up the question of hybrids and EVs being a false economy. One of them, a businessman from Ann Arbor, said that a $40,000 car is a $40,000 car and you don’t buy a car for that much for the purposes of saving money. He said that when his friends raise the issue of the Volt’s (or any hybrid’s, for the matter) false economy, he points out that their $300 smartphone and $120/month data plan for it is costing, not saving, them money. I didn’t get the impression that any of these people were starry-eyed idealists. They also didn’t seem smug, which is nice.

Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson, who are Volt owners themselves (and Chevy dealers too) wave green flags to start the parade of Volts.

Obviously, this is not a crowd that is going to be hypercritical of the Volt. There’s a lot of selection and self-selection going on here, so they’re not going to be average drivers, no matter how average their use of the car may or may not be. A few days ago the notion of GM emulating Apple was bandied about. I’d say that most people outside of GM scoffed at the notion. I’ve been around personal computers since the early Altair and Sol days and I remember something from when Apple was rolling out the original Macintosh after the computer they branded as Lisa was a dud in the market. The Lisa was not a bad computer. A solid advance over the Apple IIe, it had some innovations that later became standard issue on Macs and PCs, but the Lisa didn’t sell. Then there was the Macintosh, which had evangelists, literally. Guy Kawasaki was given the title of Chief Evangelist to go out there and spread the good word about the Mac.

Chevy Volts parading on north Woodward Avenue

I think that GM has indeed taken a page from Apple’s book in terms of how they are cultivating the people who are buying the Volt, using them as evangelists for the brand. I mentioned swag above. When people were gathering around Johnson and Gordon to get the NASCAR stars’ autographs, I noticed that a number of them were having some kind of book signed. I asked one of them about it, and they said it had come as part of a thank you package from GM when they took delivery of the car. Obviously it was a gesture, like Hyundai giving away iPads with the Genesis sedan (and Hyundai discontinuing that practice is a different kind of gesture to consumers), but it appears that the gesture was appreciated with these Volt owners. The success of the Volt is an open question that won’t be answered until the dealer network is fully supplied and we see if those dealers sell enough Volts to match the annual production capacity of 60,000 units. I think in the case of the early Volt buyers, GM can rely on them to spread positive things about the car, to be their brand evangelists.

Like every hotel that GM uses for Volt events, the Kingsley Radisson has charging stations. Those are not manufacturer's plates so most likely, a private owner was topping off before the parade.

The Volt is a special case with special attention, special marketing, and a special group of consumers. It’s a cutting edge, high tech product that appeals to both tech geeks and people concerned about the environment so you’re already, again, doing some selection for people that tend to be good evangelists for the products they buy. I don’t know if this kind of marketing would work with more mass market cars like the Cruze, but it is possible. The name that GM gave the event, Volt Homecoming, evokes memories of the two Saturn Homecomings that GM sponsored in Spring Hill, TN. Before the Saturn brand was dissipated through badge engineering and poor product planning, the 1994 and 1999 Saturn Homecomings drew 30,000 and 44,000 people to Spring Hill, respectively. Now those homecomings may just have been part of ad genius Hal Rainey’s overall touchy feely promotional campaign but they do show that you can generate some brand loyalty to a mass market car with something that looks and feels like a personal touch. Meanwhile, based on the Volt owners who attended this event that I spoke to, they have both responded to that personal touch  and are willing to extend it to others on behalf of a car that clearly has charmed them.

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Is Audi Wankeling Without Permission? Tue, 04 Jan 2011 16:08:17 +0000

Automotive News [sub] reports that Audi may be going against the wishes of its parent company by introducing a Wankel rotary range-extender for the trial version of its A1 E-tron EREV, which will begin fleet testing in Germany later this year. Volkswagen reportedly wants each of its ten brands to agree on a common EV strategy in order to cut costs, but Audi is looking for a more refined concept for its range-extender in order to compete with BMW’s forthcoming Megacity lightweight city car, a consideration which caused the luxury brand to settle on a rotary range-extending engine. The German press reports that Audi’s decision has left it “at odds” with its parent company, and they describe the situation as “anarchic.” An Audi spokesman, however, tells AN [sub] that

There is no problem between VW and Audi

But a Wankel engine is hardly the kind of cost-cutting move towards commonality that VW had envisioned for its concern-wide EV effort, and bosses from the firms corporate headquarters have not yet commented on the story. And considering that the Wankel-powered Mazda RX-8 was recently yanked from the European market for its gas-guzzling ways, it’s hard to see Audi making the Wankel work. Still, we’ll wait for VW to comment and for the results of the A1 E-tron’s fleet testing (which will determine if the concept is production-ready) before we pass judgment.

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Holy Cow!: Fisker Karma Weighs Over 5,000 Pounds Mon, 15 Nov 2010 15:54:40 +0000

The Fisker Karma looks as sleek and and sexy as any four-door car on the market, but it’s got a secret: Spanx. Fisker’s powertrain sand battery suppliers tells the New York Times that prototypes of the series-hybrid Karma are weighing in at “over 5,000 lbs.” Says battery supplier A123 System’s Jason Forcier

It’s a pretty heavy car, but you have to look at all the technology, which includes a large gas engine, large electric motors and large batteries.

Fisker reps insist that the final product could come out weighing slightly less, but don’t hold your breath. Meanwhile the 50-mile EV range, 5.9 second 0-60 time and 125 mile top speed goals remain unchanged…. it will probably just feel lead-footed in the twisty stuff. On the other hand, by packaging its batteries in a low, central mass, Chevy’s Volt (the only other EREV on the market) actually handles fairly well for a nearly 4,000-lb compact. Still, “over 5,000 lbs” is full-sized SUV territory, and the Karma is being positioned as a green performance luxury car, not a chauffeured limo. Could this possibly end well?

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Review: 2011 Chevrolet Volt Take Two Wed, 10 Nov 2010 19:30:53 +0000

We’ve been hearing about the Chevrolet Volt for so long that it’s hard to believe that it is finally here. Or almost here. Close enough for a preview drive. And?

I never expected the Volt to look like the obviously impractical original concept. Similarly, I was not surprised that the production Volt resembles a prettified Prius, since the Toyota’s styling so successfully communicates its advanced technology to the general population. The most questionable aspect of the exterior design: the ultra-wide glossy black beltline moldings. They’re intended to disguise the small size of the side windows. Why not just make the windows larger? Because this would increase the load on the battery-powered AC.

Does the Volt’s interior seem like that of a $33,500 (post tax credit) car? Well, no. I was more impressed by the materials and workmanship of the much more conventional interior in the related, much less expensive, conventionally powered Cruze. But the Volt’s interior is distinctively styled, effectively communicates the car’s technology, and is significantly nicer than the interior in the Prius. If the Prius interior is good enough for a nearly $27,000 car (with nav)—and sales suggest that it is—then the Volt’s is good enough for a $33,500 car. Don’t care for the glossy white iPodish trim? Then get the dark trim instead. The reconfigurable LCD displays seem to provide a wealth of information, including a grade on your driving style (92 while I was trying to behave). But they provide no clear indication of when braking is hard enough to engage the conventional brakes (reducing efficiency). Also, no report of miles per kW-h while running off electricity. According to the GM exec in the back seat, few people desire such numerical statistics. Though GM will be adding features in the future—the Volt will be a work in progress. And more detailed reports are already available on the Internet, where the Volt regularly uploads data via OnStar. The controls on the center stack are the touch-sensitive type that recently debuted in the 2011 Ford Edge and Lincoln MKX. Whether or not you like them—I do—they’re the future. The oddest bit among the various odd bits of the interior: you must reach into a cave at the base of the center stack to grasp the shifter when it’s in Park.

The rake of the distant windshield is reasonable, obviating the need for windowlettes ahead of the doors. In the current GM fashion, the A-pillars are thick, if not quite to the point where they reduce safety more than they enhance it. Rearward visibility is considerably worse—the optional Park Assist Package is highly recommended. The front seats don’t feel as substantial or as solidly upholstered as those in the Cruze, but they do provide decent lateral support. Unlike in the Cruze, there’s only a single manual height adjustment, so the tilt of the seat cannot be adjusted. The rear seats are the weakest aspect of the car. Low to the floor, overly firm, and cramped, unless you’re a child (or the size of one) you won’t be comfortable. Cargo volume beneath the wiperless hatch is similarly marginal, but will do for typical around town errands. The Prius offers considerably more room for both rear passengers and cargo.

The Volt’s powertrain is more complex than previously imagined. Around town with the battery pack at a viable level of charge, the primary 149-horsepower electric motor-generator powers the car through a fixed gear ratio. At highway speeds this ratio becomes too short, so a second, smaller motor-generator engages the planetary gearset to reduce the ratio. Once the battery pack is depleted (figure 30-50 miles), a 84-horsepower 1.4-liter gas engine automatically starts. Around town it spins the smaller motor-generator to send power to the primary motor-generator via the battery pack. At highway speeds with the battery pack depleted, the second motor-generator again engages the planetary gearset to vary the transmission ratio, but now with the gas engine coupled to it. In this last mode the gas engine enjoys a mechanical connection to the front wheels. While this mechanical connection has purists a little perturbed, it is more efficient when running on gasoline. Personally, I’d prefer a mechanical connection at lower speeds for the same reason, though perhaps the powertrain design, with the engine only driving the planetary gearset through the smaller motor-generator, precludes this.

So, what does it all feel like? Surprisingly normal. I feared that a gas engine decoupled from the drivetrain and running to suit the needs of the battery would sound odd. Would the engine sometimes be racing while sitting at a traffic light? As it turns out, no. If anything, the Volt’s engine sounds less disconnected from the accelerator than that in the typical CVT-equipped conventional car. Transitions among the various modes are not only smoother than those in the Prius or Ford Fusion Hybrid, but are nearly undetectable. In some situations the engine might be a little too undetectable, as it sometimes generates a low frequency rumble right at the edge of perception. A barely perceptible noise can be more annoying than one a bit louder.

GM suggests that, given the high torque output of the primary motor-generator, the Volt feels about as strong at low speeds as a V6-powered sedan. Well, not really. But even with four adults aboard the Volt does feel considerably more energetic than a Prius, and almost as quick as the Ford Fusion Hybrid. Three driving modes are available, including one for mountains and “sport.” I detected little difference between normal and sport, apparently because my foot was too heavy. The modes make the most difference with the pedal less than half way to the floor. Moving the shifter from D to L aggressively engages brake-energy regeneration whenever you lift off the accelerator, nearly eliminating the need to use the brake pedal. I found this too aggressive for typical around town driving, but it would no doubt be welcome on a hilly road.

Only the first five miles of my drive were on battery power—there hadn’t been much time for a recharge since the car’s previous outing. I then babied the car for a while, and achieved about 35 MPG. The second half of my drive—when I was seeking the claimed V6-like low-speed performance—burned a gallon of gas every 28 miles. These figures are about five MPG short of the Fusion Hybrid when subjected to similar (mis)treatment, and about 10 to 15 MPG short of the Prius. GM envisioned the gas engine as backup power which most owners would not need often, so it was optimized for cost not fuel economy. They also talk about improving this aspect of the Volt in future iterations, with just about anything a potential future power source.

The biggest surprise: the Volt handles significantly better than either the Cruze or the Prius. GM has long demonstrated a talent for making cars feel larger and heavier than they actually are. With the Volt they’ve at long last accomplished the (for me at least) more desirable opposite. The steering isn’t exactly chatty, but through it even a fully occupied Volt feels light and agile, with minimal understeer, far exceeding my expectations. In contrast, even the latest Prius feels oddly heavy and pushes wide in turns. While the Volt is still certainly no sports car—even the Ford Fusion Hybrid feels a little sportier—it’ll serve well as a commuter. I sincerely hope the Volt team shares its chassis tuning tricks with the rest of GM.

Body motions are fairly well controlled, though some additional damping would be welcome. The Volt’s ride is a little firmer, busier, and noisier than that in the Cruze, but the Cruze rides better than anything else in its class. The Volt’s does ride better than the Prius and Fusion Hybrid. Among efficiency-maximizing alt-energy cars, this is about as good as it gets.

People have been critical of the Volt’s pricing, but a $7,500 tax credit brings the net MSRP down to $33,500. Nearly everything, including nav and the fancy displays, is standard. Options are limited to heated leather seats, the Park Assist Package, and polished wheels. TrueDelta’s car price comparison tool suggests that the Prius lists for about $4,000 less when both cars are equipped with leather, nav, and 17-inch alloys. A Ford Fusion Hybrid with nav lists for only $1,150 less. Adjust for feature differences (most notably a sunroof, unavailable on the Volt), and the Ford’s advantage increases to about $3,000. Adding leather to both cars adds about $1,000 to both figures—Ford kicks in additional savings when all of the boxes are checked. Three or four grand isn’t pocket change, but it seems reasonable for the Volt’s extended electric-only capability. Likely a better value: GM is offering a lease for $2,500 down and $350 a month.

So, my first drive of the Chevrolet Volt included a few surprises, nearly all of them to the upside. The largest: oddly enough, the handling. The powertrain most impressed with its normalcy. The largest disappointment: the small rear seat. GM has clearly put a great deal of thought and effort into this car, and achieved a much higher level of detailed execution and refinement than I thought possible just a few years ago. My personal commute extends all the way from the second floor of my home to the first. So no Volt for me. But if you daily spend an hour or two commuting, and the thought of expending no gas in the process excites you, then go ahead and get in line. At least initially, there’s likely to be one.

GM provided the vehicle, insurance and very little gasoline for this review

Michael Karesh owns and operates TrueDelta, an online source of automotive pricing and reliability data

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For $15k, Voltify Your EV With A Range-Extending Trailer Tue, 02 Nov 2010 16:35:55 +0000

OK, so the EMAV PRU (Electric Motors and Vehicle Company Power Regeneration Unit) isn’t expected to go on sale until sometime next year, but it’s one curious approach to the “range anxiety” problem that caused GM to develop the Volt as a range-extended EV rather than a pure battery-only EV. The PRU takes a simple concept, a trailer that can both store goods and generate 25kWh of electricity from a 750cc diesel engine in order to extend range, and makes it considerably more complicated than it needs to be. For one thing, it’s self-propelled, necessitating on-board lithium-ion batteries, as well as an electric drive unit.

As a result, the projected pricetag comes to a prohibitive $15,000, and the weight reaches an EV range-sapping 1,220 lbs. And for all that, wouldn’t a $15k hatchback make a better “range extender” than this cumbersome trailer? On the other hand, a trailer like this just might work as a rental item, offering a portable generator as well as range extension that its makers say will work with any electric car. But would something like this be more appealing as a simplified, lighter unit (non-self-propelled), or will add-on range extension always struggle to offer more for money than having a gas car as a compliment to an electric car? Given that American families typically have several cars anyway, the answer would appear to be yes… [via]

Genius or rubbish? emavpru Picture 8 Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail ]]> 35
Review: 2011 Chevrolet Volt Mon, 25 Oct 2010 18:48:16 +0000

For a vehicle named after a unit of measure, the Chevrolet Volt is a difficult car to pin down. From its drivetrain to its efficiency rating, the Volt defies categorization. From price point to performance, it defies comparison. It’s a rolling contradiction, this car, part electric car and part gas-burner, part high-concept moonshot and part workmanlike commuter. And yet for all its mysteries, contradictions and (yes) compromises, the Volt is also a deceptively simple car to use. Which makes it what exactly?

Let’s start with the easy stuff. Whether posed or on-the-go, the Volt’s styling exudes a sense of quiet anonymity; it’s distinctive compared to anonymous C-segment sedans like the Chevy Cruze it’s based on, but it lacks the Leaf’s sense of eco-occasion. Cues from the bold Volt Concept cut through its windtunnel-defined shape, but they seem tacked-on rather than integral to the overall design. As a result, the American take on Prius design values ends up looking a bit disjointed in three dimensions.

Not that the locals of the Detroit Metro area seem to mind. Kids gawk at the Volt from backseats, and employees at donut shops ask if “that’s one of them Volts.” It never gets mobbed, but the reaction is always some variation of “sweet.”  After years of hype, the Volt may not exactly be a rockstar, but it’s at least a popular indie artist with a crossover single or two.

But complex characters can struggle achieving mainstream appeal, and the Volt is no exception. Underneath its hood lurks a combination of clutches, gears, motors and an engine that, like any other hybrid system, continuously varies its operations based on conditions and input. Unlike any other hybrid, however, the Volt emphasizes all-electric range, and returns “25-50″ miles of it as advertised. Using moderate hypermiling techniques, the Volt will cross 45 miles of board-flat Michigan terrain, but stretching the range further requires antisocial levels of right foot restraint.

And most drivers won’t be tempted to go easy on the Volt’s “gas” pedal. At full throttle, the Volt cruises seamlessly to freeway speeds with quiet competence, giving no reason to doubt its nine second-ish 0-60 time. At lower throttle positions, however, the “instant torque” promise of the Volt’s electric drivetrain has been computer mapped away in favor of better efficiency. “Sport mode” provides more direct access to the torque at lower throttle positions (“Sport” and “Normal” mode pedal maps are identical at over 80% throttle), but GM’s engineers say the mode encourages inefficient driving… even though they prefer it themselves.

But switching into “Sport” isn’t the only change the discerning driver will want to make before taking off in the Volt. Move the chunky gear lever past “Drive” into “Low,” and a regenerative engine-braking effect slows the Volt as soon as you get off the “gas.” Combined with the more precise pedal feel of “Sport” mode, this setting concentrates the driver on matching throttle position with road conditions, and (with a little luck and planning) allows nearly brake pedal-free driving. It’s just too bad that the Volt’s most satisfying and engaging setting requires two separate settings changes from default.

But despite the need for options-menu fiddling and all its underlying complexity, the Volt’s drivetrain largely leaves a good impression of seamless power. Though it lacks the pure instant torque of an non-throttle-mapped EV, it also lacks the two-mode feel of a parallel hybrid. Where a Prius would juggle between a weak gas engine and strong electric torque, the Volt simply eases forward on a non-stop (if unhurried) wave of power. It’s a point-and-shoot experience that lends some credence to the Volt’s pretensions of mass-market accessibility, and when the battery’s music stops, the transition to range-extended mode is admirably unobtrusive. In fact, the only time the Volt’s gas engine really registers is in high-load throttle applications after the jump to gas-generated power. Only then does the 1.4 liter engine rev hard enough to be heard as well as felt through the pedal, but the experience is surprisingly normal until you ease off the throttle and the low-frequency engine noises bounce around a bit before settling back into a wallflower grumble.

In a parked Volt, the steering wheel exhibits GM-typical lightness, allowing for effortless parking lot operation. On the road, the tiller firms up ever so slightly, but never generates a truly feelsome experience. But what the steering lacks in feel, it makes up for with sharpness, translating subtle wheel movements into crisp direction changes. With its 400+ pound battery mounted so low to the road and towards the rear of the vehicle, the Volt’s center of gravity is low and central, giving the car far better handling characteristics than its concept and weight figure would lead one to believe. Eventually it will push forward over its front wheels, revealing its low-rolling-resistance tires as the weak link in the handling equation. Still, at legal speeds, the Volt’s handling is plenty sharp. In the real world, the Volt’s relatively modest power output would be the far more limiting factor.

If quiet competence defines the Volt’s powertrain and handling, the ride is on roughly the same page. Body stiffness is admirable, and road noise is remarkably well-controlled, even when there’s no gas engine noise to drown out the tire thrum. Over rough Michigan roads, the Volt’s 3,781 lb curb weight finally comes into play, as potholes raise the first signs of unseemly juddering. There’s hardly any feedback through the wheel, but the seat of your pants will be sure to let you know when the Volt gets unsettled. Luckily, the shifter’s “Low” position ensures that maintaining composure is as easy as lifting off the throttle.

For most drivers, however, many of these observations might seem nit-picky. The reality is that, if driven in the detached American style, the Volt is incredibly easy to get along with. Its commuter appliance roots and mission are in full evidence, and the sharper “Sport” mode and motor-braking “Low” speed add a few welcome wrinkles for the more engaged driver. It’s unmistakeably a “real car,” and GM’s engineers deserve credit for translating Bob Lutz’s bold vision and its complex Two-Mode Hybrid-derived innards into such a harmonious, approachable whole.

But the Volt is more than just its engineering, and the cabin experience is where the reality of executing such an ambitious program begins to show. Clearly much of the Volt’s $41k pricetag is spent on its unique and surprisingly-refined drivetrain, which left GM’s interior designers and accountants with more than a few challenges. Interior design continues the theme established by the exterior: an unremarkable whole punctuated by seemingly tacked-on design cues that rescue the look from pure mediocrity but still come up short of a coherent design. Acres of soft-ish black plastic is broken up by hard plastic door inserts that sweep into distinctive flat-topped shelf elements which wrap across the dashboard, but none of these elements has a sense of purpose beyond “adding design.” And the door inserts don’t exactly improve the quality impression, especially when outfitted with an available graphics package.

The dramatic center console dominates the stripped down dash, with a glossy hard-plastic design that invites inevitable comparisons to an Apple iPod. Good materials and novel touch-sensitive controls help lift the cockpit’s overall quality impression, although the pop culture reference point is a bit obvious and under-inspired. Worse still, it fails utterly to live up to the promise of its Apple-alike styling when it comes to the user experience. The lack of button definition and intuitive layout mean you spend a lot of time looking for even basic controls like H/VAC, and subtle labeling doesn’t make the search any easier. The lesson is clear: an iPod covered in buttons is no iPod at all.The Volt may have little to no learning curve when it comes to driving, but in-car controls will take some time to adjust to.

The not-quite-an-iPod feel continues with the seven-inch screens that crown the center console and make up the Volt’s instrument panel. Some functions require input from the console’s buttons and wheels, some require touchscreen inputs, meaning more learning curve and more distraction. The division of labor between the traditional instrument panel and the console screen is also confusing, as “drive mode” selection requires pushing a button on the central console, but the options are displayed in the IP. Gear selection is also hampered by its tiny readout located far from the action in the top right corner of the IP. Sure, the Volt’s two screens look fantastic and can display a wealth of information about everything from your driving style and energy usage to navigation and music, but more thought needs to go into the user experience before it’s anywhere near as approachable as the rest of the vehicle’s operations.

Leg, head and hip room are more than sufficient up front, and though the seats lack definition and lumbar support, they didn’t cause outright discomfort (although older backs should spend some time in them before buying). Leather seats and steering wheel bring the Volt a little closer to a price-appropriate quality impression, but cost extra. The manual seat adjustment lever and parts-bin window switches hurt the quality picture the worst.

Backseat accommodations are considerably less plush, as rear legroom is largely a function of the size (and consideration) of the person seated in front of you. Still, four adults can be seated with sufficient leg comfort, although nothing will prevent a six-footer from bumping their head against the Volt’s long rear hatch. Between the poor headroom, more road noise filtering through the hatchback, and the cheap hard plastic console covering what would be the middle seat (which is home to the Volt’s battery), the backseat is one of the Volt’s bigger disappointments. Still, it’s not “avoid at all costs” uncomfortable, and should suffice for the kind of short trips that the Volt tackles most efficiently.

As indicated earlier, getting 40 miles of EV range from a fully-charged Volt in relatively flat terrain was not a momentous challenge. In this respect, the Volt lives up to its most basic promise. In range-extended or “charge sustaining” mode, after the EV range has been used up, indicated average fuel economy readings ranged from about 32 MPG to about 38 MPG. Attempts to get sub-30 MPG mileage on rural roads were thwarted, although a greater disrespect for posted speed limits (and more varied topography) might have made it achievable. Still, 35 MPG should be readily available, and hypermilers might well see more (at least until they’re shot by a road-raging commuter). This isn’t stop-the-presses efficient, and GM emphasizes that its range extender is about freedom more than getting the most for each gallon of gas. Helpfully, Onstar offers a smartphone app and online usage tracking to help time, and optimize charge-ups, even alerting the driver via text message when charging is complete.

The general impression of the Volt, then, is a mixed bag. Especially once carefully explained, the Volt’s drivetrain inspires serious engineer awe, all the more so because its operation is so seamless and simple for even inexperienced drivers. The fact that it salvages know-how from the disastrous Two-Mode Hybrid program makes it all the more appealing: GM used some already-broken eggs for this omelet. Still, it’s clear that the Volt’s revolutionary drivetrain and hefty battery dominated development, leaving such details as design, quality impression, backseat accommodations and user interface for non-driving controls short of money and attention. On the other hand, those who appreciate the Volt’s unique ability to drive 40 miles on electricity with unlimited range thereafter will not be overly vexed by these compromises.

Strangely then, the decision to buy a Volt comes relentlessly back to the two factors we’ve known for some time: the drivetrain and the price. This is, ultimately, an endorsement of the Volt in the sense that it does exactly what it’s supposed to without drama or unreasonable sacrifice (beyond the price point). And since the Volt will no more be purchased for purely economic reasons than will a Nissan Leaf or Toyota Prius, the absolute uniqueness of what it is able to accomplish makes the $41k base price seem considerably more reasonable. After all, for the price of an anonymous Mercedes C350, you can have something that’s increasingly rare in the automotive landscape: a truly unique vehicle with a drivetrain unlike any other, and the option of doing much of your daily driving free from the gas pump. It’s one choice in the growing segment of alt-drivetrain vehicles, and if you have the money and inclination, it’s not one to be dismissed out of hand. Until we learn more about living with the Volt from long-term testing, comparisons with emerging competitors and consumer reporting, however, our sense of this complex car and its role in the marketplace will remain clouded.

General Motors provided airfare, accommodations, meals and entertainment for this review. What entertainment, you ask? Dinner on the final day of testing was held at a go-kart facility, to which attending writers and PR staff were given free access. For what it’s worth, your humble correspondent was able to record the fastest lap amongst the attending journalists, and scored the fourth-fastest lap at the track in the month of October.

DSC_0284 DSC_0257 DSC_0286 A Volt from the blue? DSC_0275 2011 Chevrolet Volt 2011 Chevrolet Volt 2011 Chevrolet Volt DSC_0291 Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail DSC_0245 DSC_0241 DSC_0264 DSC_0269 DSC_0252 2011 Chevrolet Volt DSC_0251 DSC_0277 2011 Chevrolet Volt 2011 Chevrolet Volt ]]> 170
The Chevy Volt: As Efficient As You Want It To Be Tue, 12 Oct 2010 21:26:29 +0000

If the recent flap over the Volt’s drivetrain has taught us anything it’s that A) GM’s internal-combustion-assisted plug-in is more complicated than we thought, and B) GM is fine with simplifying its complex reality in order to make it appear as attractive as possible. Which is just fine: they’re the ones trying to sell a $41k car, and as such they’re entitled to do what they can to make it seem worth its many shortcomings. What the automotive media needs to take away from the brou-ha-ha isn’t necessarily that GM’s hesitance to bring forward “the whole truth” is an intrinsically big deal (let’s just say this wasn’t the first time), but rather that knowledgeable writers should focus on explaining the Volt in ways that are both comprehensible and fully accurate. In this spirit, the most important question isn’t “what should we call the Volt?” but “how efficient is the Volt in the real world?”And on this point, there’s plenty of room for some truthful clarification.

But as with questions of the Volt’s taxonomic category, objectively analyzing the Volt’s efficiency requires a certain amount of semantic clarity. After all, unlike any car that has come before, the Volt operates in two discrete modes: “EV mode,” in which it drives on pure electrical energy, and “Charge Sustaining” or “CS Mode,” in which its gas “range extending” engine generates electricity and (under certain circumstances) even sends torque directly the Volt’s wheels. Unlike a Prius (or other parallel hybrids), the Volt doesn’t continuously vary between gas and electric drive, but runs on pure plug-in power until the battery reaches 30 percent capacity, and then switches to CS Mode.

Because of this drivetrain concept, it’s crucial that EV Mode range is presented separately from CS Mode MPG. After all, combined MPGs from a trip using both EV and CS modes will depend entirely upon the length of the trip. If a trip lasts (say) five miles longer than the EV range (say, 40 miles in EV mode and five miles in CS mode), and the car returns (say) 50 MPG over those last five miles, it will have burnt .1 gallons for the entire trip, resulting in an average MPG of 450 MPG. But if you charge the car’s battery once (giving another hypothetical 40 miles of EV range) and then drive 450 miles (410 of which burn gas at the hypothetical rate of 50 MPG), you’d be lucky to get 55 miles per gallon for the trip. In short, how often you recharge the Volt’s batteries is the single defining factor in determining an overall MPG rating for the Volt.

And this reality is already leading to confusion. Over at Motor Trend, former TTAC writer Jonny Liebermann claims to have wrung 127 MPG out of his Volt tester, gushing

Broken down, over the course of 299 miles on Los Angeles highways, byways and freeways, the Volt burned 2.36 gallons of gasoline (fine, 2.359 gallons — we rounded up). Most other cars use up a tank of gas going 299 miles. The Volt, to reiterate, used 2.36 gallons over 299 miles. That’s freaking amazing!

Unfortunately, Lieberman prevents us from concurring with his breathless assessment by failing to include an accurate log of the trips he took to achieve that number. Working backwards through his less-than-scientifically-presented data, we reckon Lieberman got about 52.6 MPG in CS mode, with at least one battery recharge somewhere in the middle. That’s better than the consensus forming around the Volt’s CS-Mode efficiency (somewhere around 35 MPG according to Popular Mechanics and Car & Driver), but it’s still nowhere close to supporting 127 MPG as a consistently-achievable CS Mode rating (it’s also a number that GM would likely not stand by if pressed).Unsurprisingly, this hasn’t prevented GM’s social media and PR team from sending copious numbers of detractors to Lieberman’s piece by way of “educating” them.

Of course, Lieberman’s analysis is not without value: it shows that the Volt can achieve 127 MPG in “normal” driving. But with an extra charge-up somewhere in his poorly-defined test, he could easily have achieved twice that number (think the infamous “230 MPG“).  Without an actual trip log showing how much gas and electricity were used on each leg of his test, however, Lieberman’s 127 MPG number means nothing. By using it as proof that the Volt is indeed a “game changer” GM’s PR team is simply proving the extent to which they’re willing to exploit confusion (even among the august ranks of buff book contributors) in order to hype their car.

At the end of the day, the Volt’s efficiency will most accurately be represented to consumers by outlets that test EV range and CS mode range independently and transparently. Actual EV mode is important, because it will give consumers a real-world sense of how far they can go without using any gas (i.e. whether their commute is short enough to use the Volt regularly in EV mode alone). CS mode MPG is also important because it tells consumers what they can expect when the Volt’s EV range is expended. Any attempt to fuse the two into a number that can be compared to the MPG of a Prius or Escalade must be clearly qualified by a transparent accounting of the trips used to get that rating.

Thus far, a consensus on these points is building:

Popular Mechanics calculates a 33 mile average EV mode range, and between 32 and 36 MPG in CS mode.

C&D claims between 26 and “the upper 30s” for EV range in miles, and 35 MPG for CS mode.

We’ll keep a close eye on efficiency test results for the Volt, and report them here at TTAC in terms of EV range and CS mode efficiency. Anything else would be less than the whole truth.

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Chevy Volt: Truth And Consequences Tue, 12 Oct 2010 05:46:15 +0000

The autoblogosphere is agog at the revelation that the Volt’s gas engine occasionally powers its wheels. The GM-created “category” of Extended-Range Electric Vehicles (EREV, or E-REV) as uniquely epitomized by the Volt is suddenly revealed [by Motor Trend via GM] to

[have] more in common with a Prius (and other Toyota, Ford, or Nissan Altima hybrids) than anyone suspected.

So, why did the putative “Father of the Volt” (aka “Maximum” Bob Lutz) tell the car’s primary fan site that the Volt was born because

My desire was to put an electric car concept out there to show the world that unlike the press reports that painted GM as an unfeeling uncaring squanderer of petroleum resources while wonderful Toyota was reinventing the automobile, I just wanted something on the show stand that would show that hey we’re not just thinking of a Prius hybrid here, we’re trying to get gasoline out of the equation entirely.


OK, so MaxBob made frequent “off-reservation” appearances. Let’s not take his word for it. Once and for all, what is the GM position on the Volt powertrain?

- The Volt has an innovative electric drive system which can deliver power in both pure electric and extended range driving. The Voltec Electric Drive cannot operate without power from the electric motors. If the traction motor is disabled, the range-extending internal combustion engine cannot drive the vehicle by itself.

- There is no direct mechanical connection (fixed gear ratio) between the Volt’s extended-range 1.4L engine and the drive wheels. In extended-range driving, the engine generates power that is fed through the drive unit and is balanced by the generator and traction motor. The resulting power flow provides a 10 to 15 percent improvement in highway fuel economy.

Our overriding objective in developing the Voltec Electric Drive was to deliver the most efficient, yet fun-to-drive experience in both pure electric and extended-range driving. We think our unique technology lives up to its most important promise: delivering our customers with the only EV that can be their primary vehicle, with EV operation for normal daily driving, and extended range driving for weekends, holidays, longer trips, all with no range anxiety.

That’s from an official GM post titled “Clearing Up Myths About the Chevrolet Volt.” The post links to friendly pieces from Motor Trend, Automobile and TheCarConnection, none of which ever question GM’s reason for hiding the fact the Volt’s gas engine does power its wheels in range-extended mode. The excuse:

We did not share all the details on how the system works until now because the information was competitive as we awaited patent approvals. Based on a small number of inaccurate media reports, we want to set the record straight.

Or, as Motor Trend masterfully dissects the newly GM-approved “party line”:

“It’s not a hybrid! It’s an electric car with a range-extending, gas-powered generator onboard.” That was the party line during most of the masterfully orchestrated press rollout of what we’ve been promised will be the most thoroughly new car since, what, the Chrysler Turbine? The Lunar Rover? Well, the cat is now out of the bag, and guess what? It is a hybrid, after all. Yes, Virginia, the Chevy Volt’s gas engine does turn the wheels. Sometimes.
The MT boys have the right attitude towards automotive journalism: when the industry you cover lies, it won and it’s your turn to play the sad clown. TheCarConnection, on the other hand, has the wrong approach: pieces titled
How GM Didn’t ‘Lie’ About The Volt, And Why The Press Is Wrong
don’t inspire respect or credibility. Nobody likes the angry clown. TCC’s Nelson Ireson has a tough go at explaining how exactly GM didn’t mislead the public , settling instead to make a stand on the assertion that critics were making a “distinction without a difference.” Ireson sums up in his most reasonable “they’re not PR guys, they’re my friends” tone
The “GM lied” fanatics can build their semantic sand castles and kick down GM’s own all day long, but at the end of the day, this “lie” means the Volt is more capable than any other vehicle in its class. Is a flashy headline really worth dragging what may be the best EV/hybrid/futuremobile/whatever through the mud over a case of dubitable nomenclature? Apparently, to some, it is.
But the Volt has too much history to be worth Ireson’s Dudley Do-Right impression. From Bob Lutz’s (and Ed Whitacre’s) numerous pricing and production “announcement” gaffes, to Fritz Henderson’s “230 (MPG)” stunt, to an original concept car that flunked its aero test by a mile, the Volt’s storyline couldn’t be more PR-nightmare-laden. At this point there are only three questions left: A) is the Volt a good car, B) does GM have credibility issues, and C) how does the answer to B) change the answer to A)?
The first question (A) needs a road test (TTAC’s is scheduled for next week) and more long-term reporting to answer. Just because GM wasn’t forthcoming about its technical details doesn’t mean the Volt is necessarily a bad car. On the other hand, GM’s latest credibility question simply adds to the stack of issues that have been piling up against the Volt as the years of its hype campaign have worn on. And as interesting as the Volt’s more-complex-than-we-thought innards are shaping out to be, the comedy of errors surrounding the car’s history is proving to be the more compelling story. Conception in a pique of anti-Prius Lutzian rage, government intervention, a $41k pricetag, and now this? With the storyline already overtaking the reality of the Volt, whatever “competitive” benefits GM was able to protect in this latest round of Volt PR flailing, probably weren’t worth the downsides of keeping this spectacle going.
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Inside Line: GM Lied, Volt Uses ICE For Propulsion Mon, 11 Oct 2010 16:19:03 +0000

As GM finally begins to let journalists drive its Chevy Volt, the two-year-long trickle of bad news about the project is turning into a raging torrent. The latest bit of bashing: InsideLine claims that, in direct contradiction to GM’s hype, the Volt is in fact powered by its gasoline engine under certain circumstances.

At the heart of the Volt is the “Voltec” propulsion system and the heart of Voltec is the “4ET50″ electric drive unit that contains a pair of electric motors and a “multi-mode transaxle with continuously variable capacity.” This is how GM describes it:

“Unlike a conventional powertrain, there are no step gears within the unit, and no direct mechanical linkage from the engine, through the drive unit to the wheels.”

The 4ET50 is, however, in fact directly bolted to the 1.4-liter, four-cylinder Ecotec internal combustion engine. When the Volt’s lithium-ion battery pack runs down, clutches in the 4ET50 engage and the Ecotec engine is lashed to the generator to produce the electric power necessary to drive the car. However under certain circumstances — speeds near or above 70 mph — in fact the engine will directly drive the front wheels in conjunction with the electric motors.

As in the Prius, the Volt’s drivetrain includes a planetary gear set that acts as a transmission. The intricacies of planetary gears are many, but in rough terms each element (electric engines and internal combustion engine) of the Prius or Volt drivetrains are hooked up to different elements of the gear set. In the Volt, its Ecotec engine is clutched to the outer ring gear and as the car’s speed reaches the edge of efficiency for the electric motor, that ring is set from its normally rigid mounting in the 4ET50′s case and allowed to spin. That has the Ecotec driving the front wheels.

The Volt’s Vehicle Line Engineer Doug Park confirmed that there is, on occasion, a direct mechanical connection between the internal combustion engine and drive wheels in an interview with Norman Mayersohn of The New York Times. This isn’t idle speculation or educated inference, it’s an admitted fact.

It doesn’t take much work to discover that GM has directly concealed this reality from the public, by stating repeatedly that the Volt is powered by electricity at all times. GM even “corrected” reports that it was “considering” allowing the Volt (or its sister car, the Opel Ampera) to drive under gas power under certain circumstances. And its most recent press release calls Voltec a “pure electric” drivetrain with a gas range extender. The last thing GM needs going into its Volt launch is a credibility gap in its explanations of the Volt’s convoluted internals.

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Video Hints At Volt Performance: Just Over 40 Miles Of EV Range, Under 30 MPG Thereafter Tue, 24 Aug 2010 16:33:07 +0000

TTAC has a long, proud tradition of tearing into puffy automotive journalism, so it was not without a little trepidation that I wrote in the comments section of Michael Karesh’s excellent review of Zero To Sixty that

Toothless reporters put execs at their ease… which allows them to say naive or revealing things that toothy bloggers can then rip into. In a weird way, the worse the reporter, the better the reporting (as long as the quotes are then duly digested). As time goes on, I find myself more and more at peace with this evolving media food chain… and TTAC’s place in it.

To be clear, this is not an endorsement of toothless coverage per se, it’s just a pragmatic response to the reality that auto industry coverage will continue to be dominated by PR-approved puff. And this video provides yet more proof that non-threatening journalists are actually the most effective at snagging scoops, even if they’re totally unaware of said scoop. Which is where the bloggers come in.

AOL Autos’ TransLogic was invited to Milford Proving Grounds for a PR-guided tour of the Volt, and in the process accidentally reveals one of the few still-guarded secrets about the Volt’s performance: post-EV-range, or “Charge Sustaining Mode” (CS Mode) efficiency. Speculation has been rampant about what kind of mileage the Volt gets after exhausting its 40-mile electric range, with guesses ranging from 30 MPG to 50 MPG. And though the video shows that TransLogic was able to get the Volt to 43 miles on electric range, it also shows that, as reports,

The car then traveled an additional 16.1 miles using .59 gallons of gas for an average real-world MPG of 27.3 MPG.

Now, 16 miles isn’t exactly a definitive test, nor do we know exactly how the 16 miles was driven. Besides, GM would surely argue that the Volt tested was not a true production model, and that drawing inferences from this inadvertent information nuglet is premature. Still, they’re the ones concealing the Volt’s CS Mode performance, and if sub 30 MPG performance is what we can expect, the decision to keep the number under wraps is completely understandable. After all, that’s hardly an eco-friendly number coming from the Volt’s main claimed competitive advantage over the Nissan Leaf, namely its gas range-extender. With the “230 MPG” fiasco still festering, and GM and the EPA “negotiating” a fuel economy window sticker that is likely to be unique to the Volt (at least for now), we have to wonder how truthful GM plans on being about the Volt’s CS Mode efficiency.

Here’s hoping we learn more soon via a tough question honestly answered, rather than through an inadvertent leak by way of a breathless video report… but who’s holding their breath for that?

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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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To Stay Competitive In The EV Transition, Suppliers Focus On Gas Engines Wed, 23 Jun 2010 16:23:27 +0000

The simplification of the automobile that’s set to take place with the transition to electric drivetrains is a troubling trend for the industry. As Bertel Schmitt has already explored, switching to electric drive could see component counts cut by as much as 90 percent, meaning the suppliers who build most of the components in modern cars are staring down a steep drop in their business. As Automotive News [sub] reports, even electric motors, which were once thought of as a growth area for suppliers looking to get in on the EV shift, are being largely built by OEMs, freezing suppliers out of potential growth. Toyota, Nissan and GM supply their own electric motors, leaving suppliers like Remy International behind in the dust. So how can suppliers stay competitive as EVs become more popular? Counter-intuitively, the answer may be gas-powered range extenders.

Several firms have announced new developments in range-extending technology of late, including GM, which recently hinted at a future Wankel rotary range-extender on future iterations of the Chevy Volt. We dismissed the rumor initially as just another way for GM to keep hype around the Volt bubbling, but it seems that The General isn’t the only one spinning right round baby, right round over the possibilities of using a rotary electricity generator. Audi is currently looking into the possibility of a Wankel range-extender, specifically for subcompact applications like a possible E-Tron version of its A1 city car.

Interestingly though, only OEMs are looking seriously at unusual engine configurations for passenger-car range-extenders. Sure, Capstone has developed a CNG-capable micro-turbine for hybrid applications, but it’s designed for hybrid bus applications rather than mass-market cars. Generally, three-cylinder engines seem to be the favored solution for bolt-on range extenders and other hybrid applications, with companies like Mercedes, Jaguar and BMW hinting at future three-pot-powered vehicles.

Anticipating this demand, Lotus Engineering has developed a line of 1.2 liter, three-cylinder range-extending engines that it hopes will offer an out-of-the-box solution for firms that want to sell EVs but don’t want to worry about range anxiety hurting sales. Thanks to aluminum monoblock construction, and Lotus’s decision to integrate the cylinder block, cylinder head and exhaust manifold in one casting, the new range of Lotus range-extenders weigh a mere 125 lbs. With that compact of packaging, the OEM-developed Wankels will be hard-pressed to deliver enough size and weight benefits to outweigh the cheaper, simpler, inherently more-efficient three-banger that Lotus is about to put into production.

But will range-extenders catch on? That’s a huge open question that the OEMs still have yet to answer. According to Automotive News [sub]‘s survey of the industry, most automakers are waiting to watch how round one develops, in which the non-extended Nissan Leaf will take on the extended-range Chevy Volt. After all, range-extenders require more batteries due to incomplete charge-draining and increased battery degradation, adding cost before the range-extender is even bolted on.

Based on their relative performances, it seems much of the industry will then decide whether or not to more heavily favor range-extenders. Which could mean more work for companies like Lotus, or it could mean going back to counting the number of parts suppliers are no longer needed to build. There’s a lot at stake, and the possibilities are wide open. And for a number of suppliers, this single question could be a matter of life or death.

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Suzuki Announces Volt-Alike Swift Plug-In Fri, 14 May 2010 18:07:53 +0000

Hybrid/electric cooperation between Volkswagen and Suzuki appears to be yielding fruit already, as the Japanese automaker is announcing a plug-in hybrid version of its Swift subcompact. According to Bloomberg BusinessWeek, the new plug-in will combine lithium-ion batteries supplied by Sanyo, paired with a 660cc three cylinder engine. An electric-only range of just under ten miles is being thrown around, after which the gas engine will apparently be used to generate electricity along the lines of GM’s Volt Extended-Range Electric concept. 60 test units of the plug-in Swift will be delivered to Japanese dealers for testing “later this year,” although official plans regarding when and where the vehicle will eventually go on sale have not yet been announced. Suzuki had previously said that one of the goals of its cooperation with VW was to develop electric vehicles for the Japanese market.

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Quote Of The Day: Maximum EVolution Edition Fri, 07 May 2010 22:15:35 +0000

Bob Lutz may have left GM, but TTAC’s not through with the man of Maximum just yet. One quote in particular, from an “exit interview” with, exemplifies the kind of candor that seems likely to disappear from GM along with Lutz. Possibly for good reasons. Well, good PR reasons, anyway. After all, with Lutz unable to deny that GM will lose money and/or battle sticker shock with its forthcoming Volt EREV, he’s the kind of guy who will tell the unspeakable truth instead of playing coy like a good PR man. To wit:

How do we get the cost down without in any way diminishing the value of the car in the eyes of the customer? By just doing some more elegant engineering than we did the first time around where we inadvertently did some belt and suspenders stuff because we wanted to move fast. Now as we look back at the car we say ‘gee I wish we’d done his different,’ …’ gee I wish we’d done that different’ because this is a very expensive solution and we could have done that for a lot less money.

That faint sound you just heard was Ed Whitacre expelling fillet of rattlesnake out his nose after reading that little nugget. Meanwhile, you’ve heard it from the horse’s mouth: the Mk.1 Volt will be expensive, unprofitable, and unpolished. Or, to use a PR term, “belt and suspenders.”

But don’t worry, there’s more. But hell, this Bob Lutz we’re talking about… you knew there was more:

Gen two will have all these intelligent cost saving things built in. Ultimately there’s no question that we will make some money on the Volt.

On pricing, its going to be higher than people would normally expect to pay for a car of that size, but on the other hand there’s a federal credit of $7500. Many states are now talking about credits, some cities are talking about credits, and some employers are offering credits, like Google.

So that at the end of the day if somebody has a federal credit, a California credit or whatever state, a major urban credit, and she works for Google, she’ll wind up writing a five thousand dollar check and getting a Volt.

Can you see the ad now? “Do you have a job? Do you have five thousand dollars? Well, come on down to Maximum Bob’s House of Volts, where you don’t buy a car… the government does.” And, in typical GM fashion, though the marketing come-on has already been committed to memory, there are still a few things to work out. Specifically, the “some restrictions may apply” part.

Without committing to [a] ten year or 150,000 [battery] warranty basically we are very very confident in the capability and the life of this battery in all but the hottest climates. So it could be that in certain very hot climates where people leave this thing in a baking supermarket parking lot all day, these lithium ion batteries, if they get much over 95 or 100 degrees Fahrenheit, they quickly start losing life. So we may have to adjust warrantees, but we really haven’t decided how to do that yet.

Too bad GM didn’t have time to do its two years of “customer experience optimization” testing until after the Volt goes on sale in California. At least it never gets too hot in California, right? But, as Lutz himself told Newsweek back in December of 2007

If some Silicon Valley start-up can solve this equation, no one is going to tell me anymore that it’s unfeasible.

You know, eventually.

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What’s Wrong With This Picture: What We Need More Of Is Science Edition Wed, 28 Apr 2010 19:13:03 +0000

Former EV-1 driver and “science guy” Bill Nye hams it up while promoting GM’s Volt Extended Range Electric Vehicle. And actually, according to a recent interview with Bob Lutz, GM now prefers that you refer to the Volt as “an electric vehicle with range extension.” Huh? Sounds like they’re gonna need a science guy to break this one down…

Instead, El Lutzbo explains:

We have stopped calling it an extended range electric vehicle and we now call it an electric vehicle with range extension. We’ve kind of swapped the emphasis on that.

We did some research in various areas but predominantly on the West coast, and we conducted this research several times. We have reason to believe that Nissan conducted the same research and is now somewhat less bullish about the volume for their vehicle.

We asked people to pick from three concepts. Once is an electric vehicle of about 40 miles range but with a gasoline powered generator that would permit when necessary another 250 to 300 miles of range. Choice B is an electric vehicle with quick charging of a range of a hundred miles, and Choice C an electric vehicle with swappable batteries, with a range of 100 miles and you find a battery swapping station and you swap out.

83% of the vote went to the Volt concept.

OK Bob, but did you include price point differences in your analysis? Because as long as nobody’s asking about prices, I’d still rather have a 400 horsepower, mid-engined supercar than a Camry. Why isn’t GM building that?

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What’s Wrong With This Picture: Volt Lumina Edition Tue, 20 Apr 2010 14:27:47 +0000

Patent drawings of what appears to be a compact/subcompact MPV bearing the Chevy Volt’s grille have surfaced at GMInsidenews, setting off much speculation as to what it all means. And boy is there room to speculate. Initial impressions are of a Chevy Orlando/Buick Granite with a Volt-alike grille, but upon closer inspection the line drawings appear to show a smaller vehicle. After all, Orlando is supposed to offer a seven passenger option, and it’s hard to imagine sitting aft of those rear doors. And yet the Volt drivetrain was built around GM’s Delta II platform, which underpins both the Orlando and Granite (in concept); why would GM downsize its expensive EREV to the Aveo’s Gamma II platform before building out Delta II variants?

Other speculation: this is simply a five-door Volt, which is being developed specifically to address the Volt’s lack of five-place seating. Or maybe it’s an EV-only hatchback aimed at a more Leaf-like price point than the Volt’s $40k-ish. One thing is certain: GM is already moving towards a lineup that’s heavy on compact crossover/MPVs like this one. Unless this replaces a planned Buick-branded, plug-in Gamma II-based MPV, there’s overlap breaking out all over. Besides, isn’t it starting to look like GM is turning Volt into a new brand? For a former branding addict, straight out of a government bankruptcy rehab, this is a dangerous sign…

(Courtesy: GMInsidenews) voltec-cuv-1 voltec-cuv-3 voltec-cuv-4 voltec-cuv-5 Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail ]]> 3
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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