The Truth About Cars » Volt http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Thu, 11 Sep 2014 17:31:41 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.2 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 editors@ttac.com editors@ttac.com (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » Volt http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/wp-content/themes/ttac-theme/images/logo.gif http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com Chevy’s Next Volt Shooting For 200-Mile Range, $30k Price Tag http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/12/chevys-next-volt-shooting-for-200-mile-range-30k-price-tag/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/12/chevys-next-volt-shooting-for-200-mile-range-30k-price-tag/#comments Wed, 18 Dec 2013 12:30:13 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=682802 Prior to stepping down as CEO of General Motors, Dan Akerson made a few mentions about an EV similar to the Volt that would possess a 200-mile range on a single charge with an on-board generator that could run on gas, diesel or natural gas. He also hoped the car would sell for around $30,000. […]

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2013 Chevrolet Volt Exterior-002

Prior to stepping down as CEO of General Motors, Dan Akerson made a few mentions about an EV similar to the Volt that would possess a 200-mile range on a single charge with an on-board generator that could run on gas, diesel or natural gas. He also hoped the car would sell for around $30,000.

What wasn’t reported, however, was that Akerson wanted this car to be GM’s moon shot in order to surprise the competition, namely Tesla with their proposed $30,000 Model E, set to debut in showrooms as early as 2016. With the upcoming Cadillac ELR helping to bring more EVs to the road (along with the funds to develop the Volt Mk. II), GM could end up planting their flag next to the Chinese telescope left behind in the Bay of Rainbows. Only time will tell, and with 2016 approaching, there is little of it to waste.

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Review: 2013 Chevrolet Volt (Video) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/07/review-2013-chevrolet-volt-video/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/07/review-2013-chevrolet-volt-video/#comments Mon, 22 Jul 2013 13:00:21 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=495593 The Chevrolet Volt may be the most maligned and least understood car on the market. After a week of strange questions and bipolar reactions to GM’s plug-in hybrid, I came to a conclusion. GM’s marketing of the Volt stinks. By calling the Volt an “Electric Vehicle (EV) with a range extender,” a huge segment of […]

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2013 Chevrolet Volt Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

The Chevrolet Volt may be the most maligned and least understood car on the market. After a week of strange questions and bipolar reactions to GM’s plug-in hybrid, I came to a conclusion. GM’s marketing of the Volt stinks. By calling the Volt an “Electric Vehicle (EV) with a range extender,” a huge segment of the population can’t get past “Electric” and immediately cross the Volt off their list. There is also [strangely] a segment of the population that says, “that’s great but I want a hybrid.”  Guess what? The Volt is a hybrid.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Exterior

Aerodynamics dictate the shape of modern high-efficiency cars, and as a result, the Volt has a profile very similar to the Honda Insight and Toyota Prius. Like the Japanese hybrids, the Volt is a liftback design which is more practical than your typical trunk lid for carrying large items from the home improvement store.

The Volt’s styling isn’t for everyone, but I find the overall style aggressive and attractive. There is a caveat. Since the shape is dictated by wind-tunnel testing (just like the Prius and Insight) the Volt reminds me of NASCAR cars. Why? Because they all have the same shape and teams paint / add decals to “brand” their car. The Volt/Prius/Insight reminds me of this tactic and parked next to one another in the dark you’d be hard pressed to differentiate them by silhouette.

For its first refresh since it launched as a 2011, GM decided to ditch the somewhat awkward black roof and black painted liftgate opting for a more harmonious body-matching hue. There are also subtle tweaks to the rear tail lamp modules this year.

2013 Chevrolet Volt Interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Interior

Hybrids have long suffered cheaper looking and feeling interiors than their “normal” counterparts. That is true for the Prius, Insight and the Volt. The reason is two-fold. The first is obviously cost. Motors and batteries aren’t cheap and the Volt has 288 batteries jammed into a “T” shaped battery pack that runs the length of the car and across the back of the car behind the rear seats. With a nominal 16.5kWh capacity, this battery is about four times larger than the Prius Plug-In’s pack and nearly twice the size of Ford’s Energi. The second reason is weight. Hard plastics weigh less.

Hard plastics included, the Volt is a nicer place to spend your time than a Prius but Ford’s C-MAX takes top position in terms of interior parts feel. Style is subjective, but I would rank the Volt between the Prius’ funky interior design and the C-MAX’s mainstream interior. Part of this is because 2013 brings more sedate and mainstream choices to the Volt’s interior. Gone are the funky orange door panels with “circuit board” patterns replaced by a dark silver plastic panels on the black interior. New for 2013 is some brown love, a color combo that brings the Volt’s interior feel up a substantial notch without actually improving the quality of the plastics.

Front seat comfort slots between the Ford and Toyota alternatives up front, in the rear there is less headroom and legroom than in the Prius or C-MAX. There is also one less seat. The lack of a 5th seat seems to be a common reason given for choosing something else over the Volt, but the battery had to go somewhere so the Volt trades more cargo room with the seats in place vs the C-MAX Energi for that 5th seat. Pick your poison.

 

2013 Chevrolet Volt Interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Infotainment & Gadgets

When it comes to infotainment and trendy gadgets, the Volt scores big. Sure the 7-inch LCD gauge cluster isn’t as snazzy as Land Rover’s 12-inch readout, but the Prius is stuck in a 1980s Chrysler LeBaron electrofluorescent-time-warp and one 7-inch readout trumps Ford’s twin-4.2″ display setup in my mind. That’s before I comment that the Volt’s gauges are where they belong, in front of the driver…

The Volt gets Chevy’s latest MyLink infotainment system with some slight tweaks for 2013. GM’s mid-market  entertainment operating system is one of my favorites. The graphics are slick, the display is easy to read and GM offers a touchscreen and a joystick/knob controller so you can use whatever comes naturally. Unlike MyFord Touch and Cadillac’s CUE, the Chevy is virtually crash-free and always responsive. 2013 brings improved voice commands for your USB/iDevice allowing you to command your tunes at the press of a button, and unlike Toyota’s similar system, MyLink doesn’t have a problem with large music libraries. If you opt for nav software, destination entry is quick and the map software uses high-resolution maps with satellite traffic info.

On the safety gadget front 2013 brings collision and blind spot warning systems from the Cadillac XTS. The system is camera based so you can’t get radar adaptive cruise control, a system that is offered on the Prius and the Fusion Energi but not on the C-Max Energi.

2013 Chevrolet Volt Drivetrain, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Drivetrain

Before we dive into the Volt, it’s important to know how hybrid systems work. GM’s Belt-Alternator-Starter, Mercedes’ S400 Hybrid and Honda’s IMA hybrids are all systems where the engine is always connected and even if the car is capable of “EV” mode, the engine is spinning. Porsche, VW, Infiniti and others use a pancake motor and clutch setup to disconnect the engine from the motor and transmission allowing a “pure EV” mode. Honda’s new Accord has a 2-mode setup where the motor drives the wheels via a fixed ratio gearset, the engine drives a motor and above 45MPH a clutch engages, linking the engine and motor together at a ratio of roughly 1:1. Ford, Toyota and the Volt use a planetary gearset “power splitting” device. Yes, the Volt uses a hybrid system that although not identical, is thematically similar to Ford & Toyota’s hybrid system.

Say what? I thought GM said it was a serial hybrid? Yes, GM did at some point say that and I think that has caused more confusion than anything else about the Volt. The bankrupt Fisker Karma is only a serial hybrid. The engine drives a generator, the generator powers the battery and the motor to move the car forward. At no point can the engine provide any motive power to the wheels except via the electrical connection.

The Volt’s innovation is that it can operate like a Fisker Karma or like a Prius. It is therefore both a serial and a parallel hybrid. To do this, GM alters the power split device power flow VS the Ford/Toyota design. Then they add a clutch allowing the gasoline engine to be mechanically isolated from the wheels. And finally they add software with a whole new take on a hybrid system.

volt-tranmission, Courtesy of MotorTrend.com

The Volt has four distinct operating modes.

  1. Starting off from a stop, the Volt draws power from its 16.5kWh (10.8 usable) battery pack to power the 149HP main motor.
  2. At higher speeds, the car will connect the 72HP secondary motor/generator via the planetary gearset. This is not to increase power, but to reduce the main motor’s RPM therefore increasing efficiency. Maximum horsepower is still 149.

When the battery is low, or when “hold” or “mountain modes are engaged, the system switches to one of two hybrid modes.

  1. The system starts the 1.4L 84 HP gasoline engine and uses it to turn a 72HP motor/generator. The system feeds the power to the battery and primary motor. Maximum horsepower is still 149. When more than 72HP is being consumed, the balance is drawn from the battery.
  2. When more power is required, the system disengages the clutch pack and the system functions very much like a Ford/Toyota hybrid with the gasoline engine assisting in the propulsion both mechanically and electrically via the power split device. Maximum horsepower is still 149 BUT this mode alters the torque curve of the combined system and in this mode acceleration is slightly faster than in any other mode.

2013 Chevrolet Volt Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Drive

Why do I mention the four modes? Because you can easily encounter all four modes in a single trip. Which mode the Volt uses is determined by the car, it is not user-selectable. Starting off at home with a full battery, I was able to drive 32 miles in EV mode. That’s about 22 more than the Prius Plug-In and 18 more than the C-MAX Energi. How is that possible with a battery that is so much larger? Allow me to digress for a moment.

GM takes an interesting and very conservative approach to battery life. Rather than charging and discharging the battery nearly completely as Nissan and Tesla’s EVs do, the Volt will only use the “middle” 65% of the battery. This means that when the display says it is “full,” the battery is really only 85% charged. When it reads empty, the true state of charge is around 35%. Why? Because batteries degrade more rapidly when they are at high or low states of charge. By never operating the battery at these extremes and having an active thermal management system, I expect the Volt’s battery to have a longer life than other vehicles on the market with the same battery chemistry.

Back to those modes. We clocked 0-60 in 8.72 seconds when the Volt was operating as an EV (slightly faster than the C-MAX Energi and much faster than a Prius). In parallel hybrid mode, the broader torque curve dropped this to 8.4 seconds. Transitions between modes is practically seamless unless you are driving the Volt aggressively on mountain roadways. On steep inclines when you’re at a lower state of charge, the Volt will switch from serial-hybrid to parallel-hybrid modes to keep from draining the battery below the minimum threshold. Transitioning from one mode to the other causes a momentary delay in power application as the transmission disengages the clutch pack and synchronizes the speeds of the motors and engine. This transition is more pronounced than a typical gear shift in a traditional automatic.

2013 Chevrolet Volt Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

When it comes to road holding, the porky 3,899lb C-MAX Energi is the winner thanks to its wide 225-width rubber and the chassis’ Euro origins. The Volt is a close second at 3,781lbs with the standard 215 low rolling resistance rubber. The Prius? A distant third despite being the lightest at 3,165lbs. Admittedly handling better than a Prius isn’t a terribly high bar to leap, but in the grand scheme of things the Volt handles as well as the average compact sedan. Overall wind and road noise slot (yet again) between the quieter C-MAX and the noisier Prius.

Fuel economy is the most important part of a hybrid, and this is the area where the Volt starts having problems. Starting with a full battery (at my rates, this cost $1.52) the first 32 miles were in EV mode followed by 26 miles in hybrid mode. My average economy was 90 MPG, a few better than the Prius plug-in’s 72 on the same trip and 60 for the Ford. Being unable to charge the Volt at my office due to construction, these numbers fell rapidly on my way home. On this single-charge round trip, the Prius averaged 62 MPG, the C-MAX averaged 50 and the Volt dropped to 46. What’s going on? Once under way the Volt’s four-mode hybrid system seems to be less efficient than the C-MAX. The exact reasons for this I’m not sure, but on a round-trip commute without charging, I averaged 32-33 MPG vs the 40.7 in the C-MAX Energi and 52 in the Prius Plug-In. The longer you drive your Volt without charging it, the more it will cost to run than the Ford or Toyota.

2013 Chevrolet Volt Charging Port

On the flip side if your commute is within 30-35 miles of a charging station you will almost never use the gasoline engine. (The Volt will run it now and then to make sure the gasoline doesn’t go bad in the plumbing.) Unlike the alternatives, the Volt will also stay pure electric even under full throttle acceleration giving you a driving experience that is very much like a LEAF/Tesla until you deplete the battery.

This brings us full circle to the EV vs hybrid question. What is the Volt? In my opinion it’s a plug-in hybrid. I also think this is the best marketing angle for GM because when you explain to people that there is no range anxiety in the Volt and you can use the HOV lane in California solo, they seem to “get it.” The fly in the ointment is the price, The Volt starts at $39,145 and ends just shy of 45-large. The “that’s too much to pay for an electric Cruze” is a hard rep to shake, and even GM throwing cash on the Volt’s hood isn’t helping. Factor in the $8,000 premium over the C-MAX Energi and Prius Plug-In and you start to see the rest of the problem. At the end of my week with Chevy’s car with a plug I came to the conclusion that the Volt is the most misunderstood car on the market right now. But with a high sticker price and only four seats I’m not entirely sure that understanding GM’s conflicted EV/Hybrid will help them sell.

 

 General Motors provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of gas for this review

Specifications as tested

0-30: 3.285 Seconds (EV Mode)

0-60: 8.72 Seconds (EV Mode), 8.4 Seconds (hybrid mode)

1/4 Mile: 16.66 Seconds @ 84 MPH (EV Mode)

Average Observed Fuel Economy: 48MPG over 565 miles, 32-33MPG hybrid mode

 

2013 Chevrolet Volt Charging Port 2013 Chevrolet Volt Drivetrain 2013 Chevrolet Volt Drivetrain, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Chevrolet Volt Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Chevrolet Volt Exterior-001 2013 Chevrolet Volt Exterior-002 2013 Chevrolet Volt Exterior-003 2013 Chevrolet Volt Exterior-004 2013 Chevrolet Volt Exterior-005 2013 Chevrolet Volt Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Chevrolet Volt Exterior-007 2013 Chevrolet Volt Exterior-008 2013 Chevrolet Volt Exterior-009 2013 Chevrolet Volt Interior 2013 Chevrolet Volt Interior-001 2013 Chevrolet Volt Interior-002 2013 Chevrolet Volt Interior-003 2013 Chevrolet Volt Interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Chevrolet Volt Interior-005 2013 Chevrolet Volt Interior-006 2013 Chevrolet Volt Interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

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GM Shells Out Cash “to stay in the electric vehicle game.” http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/06/gm-shells-out-cash-to-stay-in-the-electric-vehicle-game/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/06/gm-shells-out-cash-to-stay-in-the-electric-vehicle-game/#comments Mon, 10 Jun 2013 19:59:28 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=491572 GM is sitting on 4.5 months of slow-moving Volt inventory, says the Detroit News. To make matters worse, production on the 2014 model is about to start. To make a dent into the 140 days of Volt supply, what do you think GM will do? You guessed it, they don’t call you the Best & […]

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GM is sitting on 4.5 months of slow-moving Volt inventory, says the Detroit News. To make matters worse, production on the 2014 model is about to start. To make a dent into the 140 days of Volt supply, what do you think GM will do?

You guessed it, they don’t call you the Best & Brightest for nothing. GM offers $5,000 off 2012 Volts (yep, there still are a few sitting around) and $4,000 off 2013 Volts, Chevrolet spokeswoman Michelle Malcho told the Detroit paper.

Alternatively, the Volt can be leased for $269 a month for 36 months, with $2,399 due at signing, or bought with zero percent financing for 48 months, and receive $3,000 in cash off the price.

The DetN was told that “GM has increased its incentives to stay in the electric vehicle game.”

Volt sales were up 1.4 percent to 7,157 vehicles through May. Volt sales have fallen for the past three months.

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Chevy Volt “starts to lurch forward, like my foot is on the gas peddle, slammed to the floor” http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/05/chevy-volt-starts-to-lurch-forward-like-my-foot-is-on-the-gas-peddle-slammed-to-the-floor/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/05/chevy-volt-starts-to-lurch-forward-like-my-foot-is-on-the-gas-peddle-slammed-to-the-floor/#comments Thu, 30 May 2013 11:00:06 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=490006 A post titled “Fix this before someone dies”causes concern at the Chevy Volt enthusiast forum GM-Volt.com. Poster Isteiner describes how he wanted to switch from one driving mode to the other without taking his eyes off the road. The poster says: “I don’t know why but this time my hand was too low and instead […]

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Volt Central Stack - Picture courtesy ohgizmo.com

A post titled “Fix this before someone dies”causes concern at the Chevy Volt enthusiast forum GM-Volt.com. Poster Isteiner describes how he wanted to switch from one driving mode to the other without taking his eyes off the road. The poster says:

“I don’t know why but this time my hand was too low and instead of pressing the Drive mode button four times in succession to switch to ICE, I inadvertently press the Power button four times. By the way the ICE actually came on at that point. The front LCD screen goes nuts and the air conditioning goes off and heat at the highest temperature starts pouring out of the vents. The car starts to lurch forward, like my foot is on the gas peddle slammed to the floor. I put my foot on the brake but when I lift it off the car rushes forward again. Again, my foot IS NOT on the gas peddle! The ICE was revving at it highest point but I finally was able to get the car to the side of the road by slamming my foot on the brake and keep it there till I came to a stop. Then while keeping my foot on the brake, press the Start button again several times until the car finally resets and officially turns off.

I was really lucky that the freeway was light at this time and there was no other car close to me or I definitely would have smashed into it.

A consultation of the 2013 Chevrolet Volt operating manual indeed shows the POWER button in close proximity to the DRIVE MODE button. The manual says that the Volt can be switched off while driving by either holding the POWER button pressed for more than two seconds, or by pressing the button twice in five seconds.  The manual does not cover a behavior as above.

The NHTSA database has at least two complaints similar to the one described in  the  GM-Volt forum, however, in the cases described on the NHTSA database, the car shuts off.

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GM Vows To Increase Voltage http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/02/gm-vows-to-increase-voltage/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/02/gm-vows-to-increase-voltage/#comments Thu, 28 Feb 2013 13:14:55 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=479427 GM is planning to build up to 36,000 Chevrolet Volts and other plug-in hybrids for worldwide delivery this year, 20 percent more than in 2012, “two people familiar with the effort” told Bloomberg. GM sold about 30,000 Volt and similar Opel Ampera cars globally in 2012, GM spokesman Jim Cain told the business wire. He […]

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GM is planning to build up to 36,000 Chevrolet Volts and other plug-in hybrids for worldwide delivery this year, 20 percent more than in 2012, “two people familiar with the effort” told Bloomberg.

GM sold about 30,000 Volt and similar Opel Ampera cars globally in 2012, GM spokesman Jim Cain told the business wire. He did not want to confirm the 36,000 target.

Bloomberg could not help but remark:

“Chief Executive Officer Dan Akerson has struggled to compete against more successful alternative-power vehicles such as Toyota Motor Corp’s Prius. The CEO originally touted the Volt’s gasoline-and-electric system as the technology of the future and forecast global Volt sales of 60,000 in 2012, before settling for half that amount.”

Cristi Landy, GM’s marketing director for small cars, put her own spin on the matter:

“We had some on and off starts with the assembly plant. California, which is our strongest market, was selling great then they would have no products. They’ve run out of products probably three or four times in the last 12 months, it’s been very frustrating.”

Wow! The Volt can’t keep up with demand!

 

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Chicago Auto Show: 2014 Cadillac ELR http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/02/chicago-auto-show-2014-cadillac-elr/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/02/chicago-auto-show-2014-cadillac-elr/#comments Thu, 07 Feb 2013 23:39:17 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=476841 TTAC writers will stoop to any trick to get access to cars. This may be my last post at TTAC because I bribed my way into the ELR and may be removed for ethics violations (a Diet Pepsi was involved.) Fresh off its début in Detroit the ELR may be old news, but since none […]

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TTAC writers will stoop to any trick to get access to cars. This may be my last post at TTAC because I bribed my way into the ELR and may be removed for ethics violations (a Diet Pepsi was involved.) Fresh off its début in Detroit the ELR may be old news, but since none of the TTAC staff had seen one in the metal, I knew my duty.

Is it a “Cadillac Volt?”  Yes. But what that means is thankfully different now that GM seems to be shunning badge engineering. So it’s a Volt with a different body, different interior, different infotainment systems, a more powerful motor and plenty of tweaks, so it’s not really a Volt at all.

What do you need to know?

It’s a two-door, two-plus-two coupé that places style and efficiency on the same high pedestal. Power is up from 149HP to 207 while torque takes a more modest increase from 273 to 295. Cadillac hasn’t released any weight numbers but we were told that the weight would be largely the same as the Volt since the battery pack is essentially the same. The ELR seems to focus more on handling than economy with wide 245-width rubber all the way around on 20 inch rims.

Did you sit in it?

That’s where the soda bribe came in. The interior is oddly enough the best that Cadillac has made yet. It shares the steering wheel design with the XTS and ATS but the cheap plastic airbag cover is replaced by a leather/suede version. The dashboard is full of angles as you would expect from Cadillac but the materials choices are higher than expected for the most part. As often happens things get a bit less harmonious down on the center console but on the whole it’s a marked improvement.

Cadillac hasn’t announced the important things like sale dates or pricing yet, but you can be sure with wide rubber and a lead foot that the ELR won’t have the same range or economy as the Volt. Does that matter? No. This is what GM should have built first, luxury buyers are more likely to want to pay for gasoline/electric novelty.

2014 Cadillac ELR 2014 Cadillac ELR-001 2014 Cadillac ELR-002 2014 Cadillac ELR-003 2014 Cadillac ELR-004 2014 Cadillac ELR-005 2014 Cadillac ELR-006 2014 Cadillac ELR-007 2014 Cadillac ELR-008 2014 Cadillac ELR-009 2014 Cadillac ELR, Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Cadillac ELR-011 Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail

 

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Review: 2013 Ford C-MAX Energi Plug-In Hybrid (Video) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/01/review-2013-ford-c-max-energi-plug-in-hybrid-video/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/01/review-2013-ford-c-max-energi-plug-in-hybrid-video/#comments Fri, 25 Jan 2013 13:48:51 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=474057 In 2005, ABC News Polls claimed the average daily commute in America was 16 miles, a number borne out in our own Facebook poll. If you have a commute like that and want an EV for commuting and a hybrid for road tripping, you’re the target demographic for a plug-in hybrid. Since I’m not a […]

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In 2005, ABC News Polls claimed the average daily commute in America was 16 miles, a number borne out in our own Facebook poll. If you have a commute like that and want an EV for commuting and a hybrid for road tripping, you’re the target demographic for a plug-in hybrid. Since I’m not a trust fund baby, and neither are most of TTAC’s readers, I’m going to forget about the Karma while we dive deep into Ford’s first (and interestingly spelled) Energi.

Click here to view the embedded video.

C-MAX and C-MAX Energi

“Energi” is Ford-speak for “plug-in hybrid.” On our shores, the C-MAX competes with the Prius V and to some extent the Prius, while the Energi targets the Prius Plug-in and Volt. Let’s cover the basics first. “Our” C-MAX is an Americanized version of the European C-MAX. Aside from making the requisite changes for American safety legislation and some bumper cover tweaks, the difference boils down to one major change: the American C-MAX is hybrid only while its Euro twin get a traditional gasoline/diesel mix.

The C-MAX strikes an interesting pose on American roads looking like the product of crossbreeding a Focus and a Windstar. The hatchback’s tall greenhouse, tall roof-line and crossover styling cues were no doubt penned to confuse entice the suburban set. I find the design as a whole more attractive than the Prius, but less exciting than the Volt. At 173 inches long, the C-MAX is 2 inches longer than a Focus hatchback, but 3 inches shorter than the Prius and 3.5 inches shorter than the Volt. Exterior dimensions are a tough comparison however since the Prius and Volt have a more sedan-like profile.

Interior

The Energi shares most of its dashboard with the new Escape. The only major change is a unique instrument cluster with twin LCDs like the Fusion hybrid. Since this cabin wasn’t designed with weight savings in mind, it has a more premium feel than the Prius or Volt thanks to Ford’s dedication to squishy dash bits and color matching plastics.

Perhaps due to the non-hybrid roots, you won’t find anything futuristic or weird in this cabin. There are no centrally mounted gauges, no acres of touch-buttons and no all-LCD instrument cluster. That’s not to say the Energi has a sumptuous cabin per se, but it is the only cabin in this trio that could pass muster in a “normal” $37,000 vehicle. Barely. (Our tester rang in at $37,435.) The Prius on the other hand is full of plastics and fabrics more at home in a $16,000 econo-box.

Ford offers two interior colors on the Energi: black-on-black-on-black, or a greyish tan and your choice of fabric or leather. (I recommend the lighter shade as it makes the cabin feel less claustrophobic.) Front seat comfort is good thanks to an upright crossover-like seating position, wide seats and a decent range of motion. The tilt/telescopic steering wheel extends further than I had expected and made finding a comfortable driving position easy for a variety of driver sizes. The tall cabin and upright seats didn’t fool me into thinking the Energi was a crossover, but my back and legs appreciated the seating position and it means the Energi offers considerably more headroom than the Prius or Volt.

The rear seats are a bit close to the floor for adults but are the right height for most children. Despite looking narrow, the Energi is more than 3 inches wider than the Prius and 1.5 wider than the Volt which translates into a wider cabin. Sitting three abreast is more comfortable in the Energi than the Prius and more legal than the Volt which only has belts for four. If you routinely carry adults in the rear, the Energi provides 4 inches more headroom and a 2 inches more legroom than the Volt.

When cargo schlepping, the C-MAX’s non-hybrid roots are obvious because of where the battery is located. As you can see in the photo above, the battery pack takes up the entire spare tire well and about 7 inches of the trunk floor as well (4 more than the C-MAX without the plug). The reduced hold is a few cubes smaller than the Prius Plug-in (19.2 vs 21.6) but about twice the size of the Volt’s 10.6. Keep in mind that 19.2 cu-ft is larger than most sedans, but because Ford didn’t adjust the roller-cargo-cover position, you can only put three carrry-on roller bags under the cover. Without the cover it was possible to fit four such bags (rotated 90-degrees) and still see out the rear window.

Infotainment

All Energi models come with Ford’s MyFord Touch system with SYNC voice commands. The system combines climate, entertainment, telephone and navigation chores into one integrated system that looks snazzy and responds to your every whim via voice commands. When it landed in 2010 the press (and owners) soon discovered the system had more bugs than a bag of 5-year-old flour, thankfully Ford has corrected the majority of the flaws although the system remains sluggish at times. Ford’s system used to be unique in its ability to voice command your tunes and climate control but Toyota’s Entune and Chevrolet’s MyLink systems now offer very similar features without the bugs or “laggy” graphics.

Ford’s decision to make the C-MAX look and feel like a normal car has a downside. While the “normal” displays will make hybrid virgins feel at ease, they do little to tell you what’s going on under the hood. Instead of a tachometer you’ll find a configurable kW gauge showing how much power the engine and motor are providing. You’ll also see a small battery icon that displays your state of charge and your EV range. The system provides a “braking coach” display that grades you on your ability to recover energy but it does so after the fact rather than helping you adjust your foot while braking.

Drivetrain

The heart of the C-MAX and the C-MAX Energi drivetrain is a 2.0L Atkinson cycle four-cylinder engine producing 141HP and 129lb-ft of twist and a Ford designed hybrid transaxle that combines a 118HP traction motor and a smaller motor/generator. When working together, the system delivers 188 system horsepower and a TTAC estimated 200-220lb0ft of torque.This is considerably more than the Prius’ 134 system HP and the Volt’s 149HP. Like the Prius, the Ford sips regular unleaded while the Volt demands premium.

The Energi model uses a 7.6kWh battery pack (7.2 usable) which slots between the Prius Plug-in’s 4.4 (4.2 usable) kWh and the Volt’s 16.5kWh (10.8 usable) packs. If you look at those numbers you’ll notice something, the Volt has a bigger battery but uses less of it. There’s a reason. Battery life is reduced by a number of factors but one of the big ones is being at either a high or low state of charge. By using a “larger” battery and never charging it beyond 85% or discharging it below 20% GM is treats their cells with kid gloves. Because of this I believe the Volt’s battery is likely to last longer than the competition. Ford claims the Energi is good for 21 miles of EV driving while the Volt claims 38 miles and the Prius lasts only 11. In my testing, the real world numbers drop to 16 for the Energi, 29 for the Volt and 9 for the Prius.

Charging times for the Energi vary from 7 hours when plugged into a regular 120V outlet to 2.5 hours if you have access to a 240V “Level 2″ charging station. This (yet again) slots between the Prius Plug-in’s 2.5/1.5 hours (120/240V) and the Volts 16/4 hours (120/240V). As with the Prius and the Volt, you don’t have to charge the car if you don’t want to. (Although why you would spend $8,500 for the bigger battery and never use it is beyond me.)

On the road

Like the Prius Plug-in, what allows the Energi to operate as an EV has nothing to do with what’s under the hood. The battery’s discharge rate is what limits EV travel. The C-MAX’s battery tops out at 46HP while the Energi increases the discharge rate to 91HP. As with the rest of the drivetrain metrics, the Energi’s output slots between the Prius Plug-in’s 51HP and the Volt’s 149HP. Think of the Volt vs Energi in this way: In normal EV driving they operate very similarly, but while the Volt delivers 149HP with or without the engine running, the Energi offers 91 or 188 ponies depending on how far you press the go pedal.

As a result, the Energi isn’t a “Ford Volt” but it is “more EV” than the Prius Plug-in. Unlike the Volt, the Energi will also use its engine to augment cabin heating rather than relying solely on its electric heater in cold weather. While this exacts an MPG toll, defrosting is considerably faster than in the Volt. However, unlike the Prius plug-in, the Energi doesn’t need to run the engine to accelerate to highway speed or climb a mountain pass. The Energi is part of a new breed of car where locomotion blends fuel sources allowing you to trade a portion of the gasoline you pay $4.35 a gallon for in California for electricity at $0.10-$0.15 per kWh.

The C-MAX already heavy at 3,600lbs. Add 6.2kW more battery and the Energi’s 3,860lb curb weight is a cheeseburger shy of a Jaguar XJ. In comparison, the Prius Plug-in weighs a svelte 3,165lbs and even the porky 3,781lb Volt is lighter. The C-MAX’s cub weight and 225/50R17 tires define every aspect of on road performance from how it handles to how it sips fuel.

Thanks to its Focus roots, the C-MAX proved a competent handler with a well composed ride when we had it for a week in November. Thankfully the Energi doesn’t depart much from this formula, simply feeling like a C-MAX that has an extra 260lbs in the trunk. While the extra battery weight no doubt improved the weight balance, no vehicle equipped with low rolling resistance rubber is going to be a corner carver. That being said, it is more engaging than the Prius or the Volt. On the bright side, the Energi rides like a larger vehicle displaying none of the “crashy” tendencies the Prius is known for. While the electric power steering robs the hatch of 99% of its road feel, it manages to be more engaging than a Prius – admittedly not high bar to jump.

Stomp on the Energi’s go-pedal and 60MPH arrives 0.86 seconds later than the C-MAX Hybrid. If you keep your foot on the gas, the Energi recovers some composure finishing the 1/4 mile 0.6 slower. Any way you slice it, that’s considerably faster than any flavor of Prius. While we haven’t had a Volt in our garage to test, most publications seem to place it around 8.5 seconds to 60.

Hybrid systems, batteries and plugs can’t change the fact that weight and fuel economy are mortal enemies. While the C-MAX wears a decidedly optimistic 47/47/47 MPG (city/highway/combined) badge, the Energi model drops that figure down to a more believable 44/41/43 MPG. On my commute the C-MAX averaged 41.5 MPG and the Energi averaged 40.7 MPG without charging the battery. On the same commute, a regular Prius scored 50 and the Prius Plug-in scored a slightly higher 52 (thanks to its ability to recapture more energy on my mountain commute.) Meanwhile the Volt delivered a somewhat unimpressive 34 MPG in the same test.

With a full battery on either end of my 60-mile one-way commute, the numbers jump to 72 MPG for the Prius, 60 for the Energi and 45 for the Volt. The observant will note that a regular Prius delivered 50 MPG. If saving money on gasoline is your goal, consider the payback time vs a standard Prius is going to be decades.

According to my calculations, if your commute is under 25 miles total, at $0.15/kWh, the Volt is cheaper to run, but only by a few cents. According to the EPA, 25 miles would cost you $1.31 in the Volt, $1.37 in the Ford and $1.47 in the Prius. If your trip goes beyond 30-35 miles, the Prius is cheaper to operate because of its gasoline-only MPGs. The more expensive the gasoline, the greater the difference between the Prius and Volt (and to a lesser extent the Energi) thanks to the Volt’s lower fuel economy and thirst for premium gasoline.

With a price range of $32,950-$37,685 (not including $795 destination or the current $3,750 cash on the hood deal), Ford obviously has a limited market in mind. Still, if you’re shopping for a Prius Plug-in ($32,000-$40,285) or a Volt ($39,995-$43,750) you either want the latest in technology or you’re willing to spend nearly $10,000 to use the HOV lanes solo. There are tax incentives available, but they depend on your tax situation and I’m not an IRS insider. Be sure to consult a tax guru before you bet on credits to balance your books.

While it is theoretically possible to save money vs the standard C-MAX, it will take an Eterniti, serious number crunching, and low electricity rates. For instance, on my commute it would take around 300,000 miles, or 11 years. Assuming the battery and car last that long. If your commute is the national average, you’ll have to leave the car to your heirs. Maybe they will realize a savings. Still, there is that HOV lane to consider. On my route the HOV stickers would cut my commute time by 40 minutes or 14 hours a month. How much is that worth to you? If $8,700 is your answer, then Ford’s C-Max Energi will do nicely. Personally, I’d skip the plug and get a Fusion Hybrid.

Ford provided the vehicle, one tank of gas and insurance for this review

Specifications as tested

0-30: 3.1 Seconds (non-plugin: 2.9)

0-60: 7.91 Seconds (non-plugin: 7.05)

1/4 Mile: 16.15 Seconds @ 87 MPH (non-plugin: 15.55 Seconds @ 92 MPH)

Average Fuel Economy: 52 MPG over 523 miles (non-plugin: 41.5 MPG over 625 miles)

 

2013 Ford C-MAX Energi Plug-In Hybrid, Exterior, Front 3/4, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford C-MAX Energi Plug-In Hybrid, Exterior, Front 3/4, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford C-MAX Energi Plug-In Hybrid, Exterior, Front, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford C-MAX Energi Plug-In Hybrid, Exterior, Grille, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford C-MAX Energi Plug-In Hybrid, Exterior, Energi badge, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford C-MAX Energi Plug-In Hybrid, Exterior, Wheel, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford C-MAX Energi Plug-In Hybrid, Exterior, Rear, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford C-MAX Energi Plug-In Hybrid, Exterior, Rear 3/4, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford C-MAX Energi Plug-In Hybrid, Exterior, Rear 3/4 View, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford C-MAX Energi Plug-In Hybrid, Exterior, Side, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford C-MAX Energi Plug-In Hybrid, Interior, Cargo Area, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford C-MAX Energi Plug-In Hybrid, Interior, Cargo Area, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford C-MAX Energi Plug-In Hybrid, Interior,  Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford C-MAX Energi Plug-In Hybrid, Interior, Cargo Area, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford C-MAX Energi Plug-In Hybrid, Interior, Cargo Area, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford C-MAX Energi Plug-In Hybrid, Interior, Rear Seats Folded Cargo Area, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford C-MAX Energi Plug-In Hybrid, Interior, Rear Cargo Area Seats Folded, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford C-MAX Energi Plug-In Hybrid, Interior, Rear Seats, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford C-MAX Energi Plug-In Hybrid, Interior, Rear Seats, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford C-MAX Energi Plug-In Hybrid, Charging Connector, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford C-MAX Energi Plug-In Hybrid-020 2013 Ford C-MAX Energi Plug-In Hybrid, Engine, 2.0L Atkinson Plug-In Hybrid, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford C-MAX Energi Plug-In Hybrid, Engine, 2.0L Atkinson Plug-In Hybrid, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford C-MAX Energi Plug-In Hybrid, Engine, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford C-MAX Energi Plug-In Hybrid, Interior, Shifter and HVAC Controls, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford C-MAX Energi Plug-In Hybrid, Interior, Infotainment, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford C-MAX Energi Plug-In Hybrid, Interior, Gauges, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford C-MAX Energi Plug-In Hybrid, Interior, Dashboard, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford C-MAX Energi Plug-In Hybrid, Interior, Driver's Side, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford C-MAX Energi Plug-In Hybrid, Interior, Dashboard, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford C-MAX Energi Plug-In Hybrid, Interior, Dashboard, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford C-MAX Energi Plug-In Hybrid, Interior, Seat Controls, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford C-MAX Energi Plug-In Hybrid, Interior, Steering Wheel, Picture Courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2013 Ford C-MAX Energi Plug-In Hybrid, Exterior, Charging Plug, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford C-MAX Energi Plug-In Hybrid, Exterior, Rear, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail

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New Improved 2013 Volt – Now Charges 30 Percent Slower (Push “Leaf” Button To Fix) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/12/new-improved-2013-volt-now-charges-30-percent-slower-push-leaf-button-to-fix/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/12/new-improved-2013-volt-now-charges-30-percent-slower-push-leaf-button-to-fix/#comments Tue, 04 Dec 2012 18:20:04 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=469104 In late 2011, photos of melted and damaged Volt charging cords appeared on the internet. GM initially blamed wiring problems in the electrical outlets, eventually, the company announced that they would replace all the 120V chargers in all 2011 and some 2012 models with a new unit. About 9,500 charging units were replaced. When the […]

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In late 2011, photos of melted and damaged Volt charging cords appeared on the internet. GM initially blamed wiring problems in the electrical outlets, eventually, the company announced that they would replace all the 120V chargers in all 2011 and some 2012 models with a new unit. About 9,500 charging units were replaced.

When the 2013 model came around, Volt owners were faced with a new and improved feature: Longer charge time. In self-help groups on the Internet, the culprit was quickly found:  GM had reduced the default circuit load of the charger from 12 Ampere to 8 Ampere. Then, a low intensity war on the message boards ensued, and is still rages on. Here the latest dispatches from the front:

Volt owners found out that there is a way to make the Volt charge at 12 Ampere and therefore faster. But that is buried a few levels deep in a maze of menus – and most annoyingly, it can’t be made sticky. Must wade through menus every time. Of course, the most practical solution would be to use the 240V charger on a 240 V circuit (something yours truly could install in a few hours, including a trip to the hardware store), but owners confess that they are too lazy/stingy to do that, and the complaints continue.

“Melissa” of  “Chevrolet Customer Svc” intervened. Chevrolet must have the matter outsourced, because Melissa identified herself as an “Associate of Morley Companies, Inc.” On its website, Morley introduces itself as a “group travel, business theater, interactive, research, performance improvement, exhibit, display and experiential marketing firm,” which more than establishes its credentials to handle the matter. Especially after its associates receive some remedial English lessons.

Melissa informed the frustrated Volt owners that it’s not a bug, it’s a feature:

As a safety feature the Volt will automatically default to the 8amps. This was designed by the engineers as a safeguard the Volt needs. This is to assist and remind owners that the Volt needs to be on a dedicated, grounded, oriented outlet on an individual circuit to be able to charge. This feature is to prevent the outlet getting “warm” and overheating.”

To change from 8A to 12A, says Melissa, is very simple. It also reminds the Volt owner that there is a competing product from Nissan:

“The 2013 owners only have to push the “Leaf” button, select the charging tab, then charge level, and then push the amps they would like to charge at. You can change this level while driving. “

Oops. Don’t let Ray LaHood read that last. No, you can’t make the 12A setting sticky, and don’t hold your breath that this will ever change:

This is the way the Volt was designed for the 2013, there will not be an option to retrofit, or change the charge cord charging design. We truly do value your feedback regarding this safety feature.”

Howls of protests ensued. “This is absolutely idiotic form a usability stand point.” You honestly want us to push FOUR times?

Yep, says Melissa. “I understand your frustration for the safety feature and we appreciate your feedback for the option.”

That exchange happened in early September. It did not appease the Volt owners, and the discussion is raging on, wisely sans Melissa. Tired of talking to themselves,  enraged 100 Volt owners  widened the conflict.  Complaints appeared in comment sections of Forbes.  Expect more elsewhere. TTAC just received a reader’s letter, complete with headline! (See above.)

BS comment: Of course, pushing buttons four times won’t make charging at 12A any safer, and it won’t help the outlet keep its cool. It simply gives GM opportunity to instruct the user each and every time of the potential hazards, and (hopefully) lets GM off the hook.  A standard three prong (with ground) U.S. outlet is good for 15 Amp, should be connected to a 15A wring with a 15A breaker, and therefore plenty for a 12A load. If something else is on the line, the breaker should blow. Note the shoulds.

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$10,000 Off a Volt, Haters Gonna Hate? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/09/10000-off-a-volt-haters-gonna-hate/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/09/10000-off-a-volt-haters-gonna-hate/#comments Mon, 24 Sep 2012 17:37:09 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=461375   The latest from USA Today suggests now is a good time to buy a Chevy Volt, if that’s what you really want.  I checked in with former(?) TTAC scribe Captain Mike Solo, currently helping someone lease a Volt, and he says about the same: lease for $270 a month, with $1500 down.  Which includes […]

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The latest from USA Today suggests now is a good time to buy a Chevy Volt, if that’s what you really want.  I checked in with former(?) TTAC scribe Captain Mike Solo, currently helping someone lease a Volt, and he says about the same: lease for $270 a month, with $1500 down.  Which includes the government tax credit built into the residual…probably. So what does this all mean?

So far this year, the Volt’s outsold half the cars currently on sale.  And while a $40,000 Chevy (that isn’t a Vette or a truck) is a hard sell, cash on the hood gets everyone hot and bothered. Especially truck buyers, regularly seeing discounts of $10,000 or more. Sales rise, then fall.  A dealership’s floorplan falls, then rises once again.  Automakers calm down, then heat things up. And now we know that it’s no different with the Volt. Surprised?

Unless you have Ferrari’s rabid customer loyalty, this is just the game in action. No matter the Volt’s cutting edge technology, no matter what was sold to us in Washington by people no longer in play, it all comes down to the Money, Honey.  And this incentive cycle is just business as usual, so you can decide if the Volt is a success…or a flop.

Off to you, Best and Brightest.

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The Washington Post Turns Against The Volt, And Bites It http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/09/the-washington-post-turns-against-the-volt-and-bites-it/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/09/the-washington-post-turns-against-the-volt-and-bites-it/#comments Thu, 13 Sep 2012 13:43:20 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=460244 Five years ago, Chris Matthews said on MSNBC: “Well, The Washington Post is not the liberal newspaper it was.” Today, the Post finally will be condemned as part of the massive right wing conspiracy. In a brutal op-ed, signed by the full WaPo Editorial Board, the paper kills and buries the Volt. Basically, says the WaPo, we have been […]

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Five years ago, Chris Matthews said on MSNBC: “Well, The Washington Post is not the liberal newspaper it was.” Today, the Post finally will be condemned as part of the massive right wing conspiracy. In a brutal op-ed, signed by the full WaPo Editorial Board, the paper kills and buries the Volt. Basically, says the WaPo, we have been fooled:

The Energy Department study assumed that General Motors would produce 120,000 plug-in hybrid Volts in 2012. GM never came close to that and recently suspended Volt production at its Hamtramck, Mich., plant, scene of a presidential photo-op. So far, GM has sold a little more than 21,000 Volts, even with the help of a $7,500 tax credit, recent dealer discounting and U.S. government purchases. When you factor in the $1.2billion cost of developing the Volt, GM loses tens of thousands of dollars on each model.”

The WaPo fully subscribes to the story that the Volt is a giant money sink. It also has read the excuses that say that the car is not supposed to make money, that it is a rolling science lab on which greater successes will be built. Says the Post:

“Some such losses are normal in the early phases of a product’s life cycle. Perhaps the knowledge and technological advances GM has reaped from developing the Volt will help the company over the long term. But this is cold comfort for the taxpayers who still own more than a quarter of the firm.

The Energy Department predicted that Nissan, recipient of a $1.5 billion government-guaranteed loan, would build 25,000 of its all-electric Leaf this year; that car has sold only 14,000 units in the United States.

As these companies flail, they are taking the much-ballyhooed U.S. advanced-battery industry down with them. A Chinese company had to buy out distressed A123, to which the Energy Department has committed $263 million in production aid and research money. Ener1, which ran through $55 million of a $118 million federal grant before going bankrupt, sold out to a Russian tycoon.”

If we still believe in the electric car, our savior, then we have been fooled, says the Post. It also says by whom:

“No matter how you slice it, the American taxpayer has gotten precious little for the administration’s investment in battery-powered vehicles, in terms of permanent jobs or lower carbon dioxide emissions. There is no market, or not much of one, for vehicles that are less convenient and cost thousands of dollars more than similar-sized gas-powered alternatives — but do not save enough fuel to compensate. The basic theory of the Obama push for electric vehicles — if you build them, customers will come — was a myth. And an expensive one, at that.”

A year ago, the Washington Post wrote:

“The Volt changes everything – the car itself, the way we think about and use automobiles, and attitudes about energy conservation and fuel alternatives.”

Today, the Volt changed minds again. Not in a good way.

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Volt High Tension: GM Says Reuters Wrong, Ignores Suggestions By TTAC Commentariat http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/09/volt-high-tension-gm-says-reuters-wrong-ignores-suggestions-by-ttac-commentariat/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/09/volt-high-tension-gm-says-reuters-wrong-ignores-suggestions-by-ttac-commentariat/#comments Tue, 11 Sep 2012 12:49:38 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=459868 “The estimate of the current loss per unit for each Volt sold is grossly wrong,” GM says as a retort to the Reuters story that GM loses around $49,000 on every Volt. GM says that “it allocates Volt development costs across lifetime volume, not across the current number of Volts sold.” TTAC commenters that rushed to […]

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“The estimate of the current loss per unit for each Volt sold is grossly wrong,” GM says as a retort to the Reuters story that GM loses around $49,000 on every Volt. GM says that “it allocates Volt development costs across lifetime volume, not across the current number of Volts sold.” TTAC commenters that rushed to the aid of the beleaguered company suggested the same. Oddly enough, GM passed on a much stronger argument that would have turned the Volt into a money machine. If not immediately, then much earlier than suggested by Reuters.

After the usual lame back and forth that in its first years, the Prius wasn’t a money machine either, long time commenter Pch101 came up with a hard-hitting argument that should fit right into GM’s creative accounting:

Most of the development of the Volt was paid for by a company that is now called Motors Liquidation. Motors Liquidation is a bankrupt entity that used to be called General Motors.

The new General Motors essentially got that R&D from Motors Liquidation for free. In terms of accounting, it would have acquired it at a steep discount through the bankruptcy sale, as the Volt was only one of many assets that would have been acquired through the court sale.”

As painful as it may be, GM should read TTAC more. Among the chaff of amateur spinmeistery, there are some masterful gems, such as this one. Instead, GM decided to write the full development and tooling costs off over the lifetime of the platform, even if it means many more years of non-profitability. Let’s hope that platform will live long. Says Reuters:

The average per-car costs for development and tooling will drop as sales volume rises. But GM will need to sell 120,000 Volts before the per-vehicle cost reaches $10,000 — and that may not occur during the projected five-year life cycle of the first-generation Volt.”

If that is true, then the Volt will need to stay on the government drip for many years until it can be made at a price that is competitive in the market. At $7,500 a pop, that intravenous infusion will cost the tax payer close to a billion dollars to prop up a car that can’t make it on its own in the market place.

The meek denial that ignored Pch101’s creative reasoning already had its Streisand effect.  Fox picked up the story, along with the denial, only to say that the consulting firm that did the analysis “stands behind the number,” adding that “it was calculated based on industry standards without any specific inside information about the Volt program.”

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Your Tax Dollars At Work: GM Loses Its Shirts On Every Volt http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/09/your-tax-dolars-at-work-gm-loses-its-shirts-on-every-volt/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/09/your-tax-dolars-at-work-gm-loses-its-shirts-on-every-volt/#comments Mon, 10 Sep 2012 12:38:33 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=459675 GM loses around $49,000 on each Volt it builds says Reuters. GM sold a record 2,831 Volts in August, but that may “have pushed that loss even higher. There are some Americans paying just $5,050 to drive around for two years in a vehicle that cost as much as $89,000 to produce,” says Reuters after […]

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GM loses around $49,000 on each Volt it builds says Reuters. GM sold a record 2,831 Volts in August, but that may “have pushed that loss even higher. There are some Americans paying just $5,050 to drive around for two years in a vehicle that cost as much as $89,000 to produce,” says Reuters after a deep data dive into the elusive profitability of GM’s green halo car.

Those August sales were goosed by a juicy lease deal at  “a low monthly payment of $279 a month for two years, with some high-volume dealers dropping the payment to $199 a month after receiving incentive money from GM, with down payments as low as $250. The company said about two-thirds of Volt customers in July and August leased their vehicles, compared with about 40 percent earlier this year. “

Those Hail Mary leases are guaranteed to come back and haunt  GM.  The $199 lease translates to a residual value of around $30,000 after two years. GM better starts saying several Hail Marys and a few Our Fathers. A new Volt costs $32,500 after tax credit. Good luck finding an off-lease buyer who pays $30,000 for a two year old car and no tax credit.

In a factbox, Reuters enumerates the estimated costs to build a Volt.

Fixed cost, Development: $18,650
Fixed cost, Tooling: $37,350
Standard Parts, Material and Labor: $12,000
Unique Parts, Material and Labor: $12,000
Total: $80,000

Fixed-cost figures are based on total Volt sales of 21,500 cars through August, and will drop in the future as sales and production volume increases.

“It’s true, we’re not making money yet” on the Volt, Doug Parks, GM’s vice president of global product programs told Reuters. The car “eventually will make money. As the volume comes up and we get into the Gen 2 car, we’re going to turn (the losses) around.”

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GM’s Alternate Reality: UK Calls Volt/Ampera Ad Misleading, Bans It http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/08/gms-alternate-reality-uk-calls-voltampera-ad-misleading-bans-it/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/08/gms-alternate-reality-uk-calls-voltampera-ad-misleading-bans-it/#comments Thu, 23 Aug 2012 11:03:21 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=457640   You can see this ad. Television viewers in the UK can’t.  The Chevrolet Volt  is sold in the UK as the Vauxhall Ampera, and its ad has been banned by the UK Advertising Standards Authority. It says the ad is misleading. The ad claims a 360-mile range. GM is a serial offender when it […]

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You can see this ad. Television viewers in the UK can’t.  The Chevrolet Volt  is sold in the UK as the Vauxhall Ampera, and its ad has been banned by the UK Advertising Standards Authority. It says the ad is misleading. The ad claims a 360-mile range. GM is a serial offender when it comes to alternate realities, and this ad is the latest installment.

Says the Daily Mail:

The real range of the electric batteries in the Vauxhall Ampera is a rather more modest 50 miles. And to go beyond that, it relies on help from a somewhat less green source – a petrol engine.”

The ad, created by long-time GM agency McCann Erickson, came complete with the usually hard to read and even harder to comprehend disclaimer:

“Comparison based on electric vehicles and extended range electric vehicles driven electrically at all times, even when an additional power source is generating electricity”.

The advertising standards bureau did not buy into it. Says the ruling:

“We considered that throughout the ad the emphasis was on the fact that the car was being driven electrically, and that most viewers would not understand that the car was in some circumstances being powered by electricity generated with a petrol engine. The ad promoted an innovative product which many viewers would not immediately understand and we therefore considered that it would need to explicitly state that the car had a petrol engine. Because it did not clearly explain how the vehicle worked in extended-range mode, we concluded that the ad was misleading.”

The ASA does not parse an ad through the eyes of a lawyer, or through the eyes of GM apologists and amateur spinmeisters. The ASA sees it through the eyes of the ad’s target, the average consumer. That consumer is being fooled. Using imagery of plugs and cables, and the slogan “Driving electricity further”, the ad pushes electric range, and that range simply isn’t 360 miles on pure electricity.

This isn’t the first time that GM got into hot water with its allegedly clever, but in truth ham-fisted public relations. Last March, the language police embedded in new and old media feigned outrage over a Chevy Volt ad that claims that the car can save “a crapload of money.”  TTAC was less upset about the robust language, but challenged the claim. Even after the $7,500 credit, the Volt is overpriced. When Tony Posawatz was still line director of the Volt, he told Bloomberg in an interview that there is no such thing as a crapload of savings:

“The Volt’s cost of ownership matches the average car when including the $7,500 U.S. tax incentive and gasoline fuel savings.”

That remark clashed with the advertising claims, and possibly ended Tony’s career. In June, Posawatz left GM into early retirement, only to land at Fisker as its new CEO.

In 2010, then CEO Ed Whitacre claimed in an ad that GM paid back its “loan, in full, with interest, years ahead of schedule.” Even the Detroit News, by some regarded as the in-house organ of GM, had issues with the ad and said it “glosses over the reality.” Congressman Darrell Issa said the ad brought GM “dangerously close to committing fraud.” The Competitive Enterprise Institute filed a deceptive advertising complaint with the FTC. GM stopped running the ad.

CEI also filed a Freedom of Information request with the Department of Treasury. The statutory period for a response to an FOI request is 20 days, Treasury took a year. After a review of the documents, the CEI says “that General Motors and the Obama administration coordinated their PR strategy regarding GM’s much criticized 2010 ad campaign, in which the car maker misleadingly claimed to have repaid all its government loans.”

In all three cases, the claims were technically true, but they created an untrue perception. The Vauxhall Ampera, a rebadged Chevrolet Volt that is sold in the rest of Europe as the Opel Ampera, technically has a 360 mile range on electricity, but only when the gasoline motor is running. The Volt technically saves a shitload of money, but only if you disregard the price of the car, and only if you don’t take it farther than the grocery store. GM technically repaid the $7 billion loan part of the government’s $50 billion investment, but forgets the $43 billion balance, and ignores that the equity part today translates into “an unrealized loss of $16.4 billion,” if Forbes is correct.

Perception is reality. These allegedly “clever” ads bank on the stupidity of the viewer. While technically true under a high powered magnifying glass, they attempt to create an alternate reality that is far from the truth. People don’t like it when they find out that they have been had.

As a former GM owner, I say: Don’t get smart with me, GM. Get real.

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Your Tax Dollars At Stake: Battery Maker A123 Running Out Of Runway http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/07/your-tax-dollars-at-stake-battery-maker-a123-running-out-of-runway/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/07/your-tax-dollars-at-stake-battery-maker-a123-running-out-of-runway/#comments Sat, 07 Jul 2012 14:03:22 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=451657   The irrational electrification exuberance  claims another victim: Battery maker A123 Systems Inc is running out of money. A lot of it is your money. Says Reuters: “The company, which received a $249 million grant from the Obama administration as part of a program to develop advanced lithium-ion batteries, said in documents filed with U.S. […]

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The irrational electrification exuberance  claims another victim: Battery maker A123 Systems Inc is running out of money. A lot of it is your money. Says Reuters:

The company, which received a $249 million grant from the Obama administration as part of a program to develop advanced lithium-ion batteries, said in documents filed with U.S. regulators that it “expects to have approximately four to five months of cash to support its ongoing operations” based on its recent monthly spending average.”

Reuters views A123′s issues as “a reminder of the struggles for a U.S. electric-vehicle industry still in its infancy and dealing with lower-than-projected demand.”

The wire service calls President Barack Obama’s goal of getting 1 million battery-powered vehicles on the road by 2015 “a target that is looking increasingly unrealistic.”

America’s best-selling plug-ins, the Volt, the plug-in Prius and the Nissan Leaf jointly sold 2,990 units in June. They were out-sold by a small sports car targeted at drifters, the Toyobaru hachi-roku, which sold 3,502 units in June.

 

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Geo Storm EV Mule, The Chevrolet Volt’s Baby Daddy? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/05/geo-storm-ev-mule-the-chevrolet-volts-baby-daddy/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/05/geo-storm-ev-mule-the-chevrolet-volts-baby-daddy/#comments Thu, 31 May 2012 15:23:12 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=447010 While on the Infiniti JX launch event, I met a gentleman who now works with Nissan. He had a number of interesting stories about his tenure at GM, and what it was like to work on the EV1 program, as well as the technology that he swears was the forerunner to the Chevrolet Volt. According […]

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While on the Infiniti JX launch event, I met a gentleman who now works with Nissan. He had a number of interesting stories about his tenure at GM, and what it was like to work on the EV1 program, as well as the technology that he swears was the forerunner to the Chevrolet Volt.

According to him, GM engineers in 1991 needed a way to keep the batteries in their GM Storm EV mules charged. A crude range extender was fashioned out of a Honda generator, which would kick in when the batteries dropped below a certain point.

The Storm mules were gutted and filled with batteries and a generator and driven around during development. He swears that, with the number of EV1 and Impact (the original GM EV) people left kicking around for the Volt’s development, the range extender idea must have lived on in someone’s mind for a very long time, until it came time to put it in operation.

I begged him to grant me an interview, or at least let me quote him, but he wouldn’t indulge me. I was left wondering about the early days of the program, until I stumbled upon this article in the January 1992 edition of Motor Trend. The big difference here is that GM has ditched the range extender and worked out a proper 220V charging system (apparently that was an obstacle in the early days).  Note that the EV1 charging paddle is absent here, and it seems to use a very-1990s flashing LED charge port, similar to the L.A. Gear running shoes that were found to have mercury in them.

Since there seems to be a fair amount of Storm love on TTAC these days, it’s worth recognizing the irony of a largely forgotten car paving the way for perhaps the biggest automotive lightning rod since the Edsel.

You can see the full-size scan in the gallery below

Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail stormmule ev1-paddle-2

 

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The Exorbitant Cost Of Savings: Don’t Buy A Volt If You Value Your Money http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/04/the-exorbitant-cost-of-savings-dont-buy-a-volt-if-you-value-your-money/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/04/the-exorbitant-cost-of-savings-dont-buy-a-volt-if-you-value-your-money/#comments Fri, 06 Apr 2012 10:33:38 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=438703 Two years after the Volkswagen Golf was launched, it received a fuel sipping diesel in 1976. I presented the launch campaign in Wolfsburg, and the ground shook. It wasn’t because of my campaign. It was because of the body stamping presses. The offices of the Zentrale Absatzförderung, VW’s advertising department, were two floors above. I […]

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Two years after the Volkswagen Golf was launched, it received a fuel sipping diesel in 1976. I presented the launch campaign in Wolfsburg, and the ground shook. It wasn’t because of my campaign. It was because of the body stamping presses. The offices of the Zentrale Absatzförderung, VW’s advertising department, were two floors above.

I presented a campaign that was all on savings. The Golf D had one of the, if not the best mileage of all compacts. Herr Plamböck, the gentleman who had to vet the campaigns before the big boss would see them, looked at my grand savings plan, and said: “Let’s have lunch.”

Over a Currywurst, Hartmut Plamböck said: “Bertel, did you check the added cost of that engine?” I forgot how much it was, but it was a lot. “You will have to drive 80,000 kilometers to get your money back!” Mr. Plamböck thundered. The plastic forks jumped as Plamböck pounded the table. He looked around, lowered his voice and added: “And then, the engine will fall out of the car.” At that time, Volkswagens had a bit of a corrosion problem.

I was reminded of that story when I came across a story in the New York Times that provides a sanity check on savings at all costs. Rarely does one recoup the added investment into fuel savings. Little has changed since my Wolfsburg Waterloo. Fuel savings come at a price, and you have to decide whether you pay at the pump or to the dealer. Paying at the pump makes more economic sense, but more often than not, emotions trump math.

One of the worst investments, says the New York Times story that uses data compiled by TrueCar, is the Chevrolet Volt. Says the Times:

“The Volt, which costs nearly $40,000 before a $7,500 federal tax credit, could take up to 27 years to pay off versus a Chevrolet Cruze, assuming it was regularly driven farther than its battery-only range allows. The payback time could drop to about eight years if gas cost $5 a gallon and the driver remained exclusively on battery power.”

Mind you, the 27 year payback time is based on the TrueCar calculated $31,767 price of the Volt. Without the generous government rebate, financed by your tax dollars, the Volt would still be upside down long after it landed in a museum. At full retail, it would take 45 years to get you your money back. Payback is a bitch.

Driven fully on battery power, the Volt would needlessly drag around its heavy range extender machinery, but at least it would compete with Nissan’s LEAF in the ROI race. The Leaf takes 8.7 years to recoup the investment.

According to the study, “eco” upgrades usually are not worth the money. A Ford Fiesta SFE saves you $23 a year at the pump and on average. With these meager savings, the Fiesta actually beats the Volt in the senseless savings discipline. It would take 26.8 years to get you your money back.

As long as fuel saving cars carry huge premiums, you need to pray for higher gas prices, and you need to pray a lot. A survey by Lundberg says that gas prices need to go to $12.50 a gallon for the Volt to break even. The Leaf would be competitive with gas at $8.53 a gallon.

Are there savings that make sense?

If you really want to reconcile eco and economics, the sixth generation descendant of the Golf Diesel, the Jetta TDI,  would recoup the added money before the warranty is up, says the Times. So do the Lincoln MKZ Hybrid and the Toyota Prius. Not only is their mileage much better than the comparison model, their price premium is so low that it can be easily recouped. As Toyota’s Satoshi Ogiso demonstrated a few months ago,  savings at no added costs are the true engineering achievement.

(Hat tip to my man in the mountains.)

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The Volt Is A Moonshot? I Get It, It’s THAT Moonshot http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/04/the-volt-is-a-moonshot-i-get-it-its-that-moonshot/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/04/the-volt-is-a-moonshot-i-get-it-its-that-moonshot/#comments Mon, 02 Apr 2012 19:12:31 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=437758 Since the early days of the Volt, the folks at GM loved to compare the car to putting a man on the moon. That analogy wasn’t without its problems. The moon program did cost more than three times its original budget of $7 billion, all it produced was a few rocks, and it ran out […]

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Since the early days of the Volt, the folks at GM loved to compare the car to putting a man on the moon. That analogy wasn’t without its problems. The moon program did cost more than three times its original budget of $7 billion, all it produced was a few rocks, and it ran out of money before it could get going in earnest. 40 years after Eugene Cernan and Apollo 17, the moon has remained untouched by human feet. But what the heck, GM loves the symbolism. To death.

GM likened the Volt to the moonshot in 2008.

GM likened the Volt to the moonshot in 2011.

They did it one more time in 2011.

A few days ago, the director of GM’s moon program, Bob Lutz, was at it again with his favorite moon analogy. Except that this time, Lutz asks readers to remember the “45th anniversary of the Apollo 1 disaster that killed three of our hero astronauts.”

I am old enough to remember that Chaffee, White and Grissom were killed by an electrical fire. Maybe that moon analogy wasn’t so good.

Or maybe it was.

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Motor Trend Fools Robots And Spiders, Misses Disturbing New Motor Trend http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/04/motor-trend-fools-robots-and-spiders-misses-disturbing-new-motor-trend/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/04/motor-trend-fools-robots-and-spiders-misses-disturbing-new-motor-trend/#comments Sun, 01 Apr 2012 14:53:02 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=437412 More and more of the daily news we consume is not written by people, but by robots and spiders. The people at Motor Trend will be painfully aware of that fact when they come back to work on Monday. Today, MT reports that “General Motors is investigating complaints that XM radios installed in Chevrolet Volts […]

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More and more of the daily news we consume is not written by people, but by robots and spiders. The people at Motor Trend will be painfully aware of that fact when they come back to work on Monday. Today, MT reports that “General Motors is investigating complaints that XM radios installed in Chevrolet Volts do not pick up the satellite radio service’s Fox station.”

Motor Trend goes on to say:

“The apparent defect was first revealed late Friday on the Fox News television broadcast, “Your World Cavuto.”

“Viewers of this network have called in to complain that Fox’s XM channel is not available on President Obama’s car, the Chevrolet Volt,” host Neil Cavuto asserted on his TV broadcast, which is simulcast on XM 114. “Does this sound to you like payback time to Barack Obama from Government Motors?”

“How dare Government Motors?” responded Ann Coulter, a guest on Cavuto’s show. “But I’m not the least bit surprised. This is a liberal car for left-wing liberal socialist Marxists.”

A read all the way to the end reveals that “a GM spokesman said Chevrolet engineers would continue to test Volts through the weekend to see whether they could pull in Fox XM and would issue a report by the end of the day today, April 1.” This, and careful consultation of the calendar, makes a halfway assertive human reader doubt that the article is real news.

The trouble is that a lot of the daily news is collected by robots. In the early hours of April 1, the alleged news item  already is  all over the Internet. Many publications that are proud of their editorial oversight carry the April fools joke as real news. The story is in AOL Money’s Daily Finance, and in the Businessinsider. Untouched by human hands (or aggregated by morons,) the story runs on Topix right underneath Jalopnik’s  “What April Fools Day Automotive Headline Do You Want To Read?”

Most lazywebs from Carnewsarchive to Car Newsticker run the piece and pay the price for automatically scraping automotive sites in the hope for Google dollars. Even AOL News has the story. It is only a matter of minutes before the story will be eternalized in “verifiability, not fact” Wikipedia.

The sad part is that Motortrend’s persiflage already is way behind the times. Other observers had noted a puzzling U-turn at Fox. Usually, the channel poured vitriol over the car. A month ago, Fox drove a Volt and ran out of juice in the Lincoln Tunnel.

Then suddenly, a few days ago, Fox loved the Volt. Fox lauded the Volt as a car that can “help win the war in terror.” Steve Doocy, drove a Volt and attested that the drive was “smooth as glass.” A few days earlier, Foxbusiness declared the Volt the best electric car on the market” and could find only one flaw: The price.

Speaking of price, some people point to the fact that GM had started running Volt ads on Fox.

Truth is funnier than April fools jokes.

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The Volt Saves A Crapload Of Money? GM Is Shitting You http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/03/the-volt-saves-a-crapload-of-money-gm-is-shitting-you/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/03/the-volt-saves-a-crapload-of-money-gm-is-shitting-you/#comments Mon, 26 Mar 2012 19:59:15 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=436563 New and old media feigned outrage about the crapload of money the Chevy Volt supposedly saves its drivers if the new testimonial ads are to be believed. Honestly, we don’t give a crap. GM’s agency Goodby, Silverstein & Partners probably told the client that in order to cut through the clutter, you need some shock […]

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New and old media feigned outrage about the crapload of money the Chevy Volt supposedly saves its drivers if the new testimonial ads are to be believed. Honestly, we don’t give a crap. GM’s agency Goodby, Silverstein & Partners probably told the client that in order to cut through the clutter, you need some shock value. When that didn’t work, the admen most likely put up a PowerPoint that showed that a YouTube video with “crapload” will receive 695.5 times the clicks of an ad that uses “a whole lot of money.” That would clinch it with Joe Ewanick, who wants to save a true crapload of money by increasing the efficiency of GM’s ad dollars.

No, being Thetruthaboutcars.com, we think the ad is shit, because the statement simply is not true.

We don’t want to bore you with cost of ownership calculations. They would most likely overtax mathematically challenged GM groupies anyway. The $40,000 Volt does not save you money. Not a crapload. Not even a little bit. Thanks to a generous $7,500 tax credit and gasoline savings,  when all is said and done, the Volt will cost you as much as an average car. Says Tony Posawatz, line director for the Chevy Volt. He told Bloomberg in an interview:

“The Volt’s cost of ownership matches the average car when including the $7,500 U.S. tax incentive and gasoline fuel savings.”

Not a word about a crapload of savings. That revolutionary car ends up costing you as much as an average car.  But only because each car costs the tax payer that crapload of money.

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Toyota Roasts GM: More Prius c Sold In Three Days Than Volts In A Month http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/03/toyota-roasts-gm-more-prius-c-sold-in-three-days-than-volts-in-a-month/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/03/toyota-roasts-gm-more-prius-c-sold-in-three-days-than-volts-in-a-month/#comments Fri, 16 Mar 2012 17:12:21 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=435265 Toyota is getting frisky. Per a press release, Toyota U.S.A. reports brisk sales of the game-changing Prius c compact hybrid. Then, TMS goes on to say that “In its first three days on the market, it sold 1,201 units, making it one Toyota’s fastest-selling vehicles and eclipsing Chevrolet Volt and Nissan Leaf sales for the […]

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Toyota is getting frisky. Per a press release, Toyota U.S.A. reports brisk sales of the game-changing Prius c compact hybrid. Then, TMS goes on to say that “In its first three days on the market, it sold 1,201 units, making it one Toyota’s fastest-selling vehicles and eclipsing Chevrolet Volt and Nissan Leaf sales for the entire month of February.”

This is highly unusual for the usually very careful and buttoned-up company. Even in private talks and after five Asahi Super Dry, you never hear anything negative about a competitor from a Toyota-san, or, for that matter, anything at all.

The comment that the Priuc c sold more cars in three days than the Volt in a month is most likely a subtle ribbing in the direction of Detroit. There, GM CEO Dan Akerson had claimed that “Toyota sold about the same amount of Prius in its first year as the Volt in its first year.”

The original Toyota Prius was launched in Japan in December 1997. In its first year, the Prius sold some 18,000 cars. The Chevrolet Volt was launched in the U.S. in December 2010. In its first year, the Chevrolet Volt had sold some 8,000 cars. That would be less than half of what the Prius sold in 1998.

After we had pointed out that small discrepancy, a vociferous posse of Akerson apologists appeared, claiming that their CEO had referred to the U.S. introduction of the Prius. Too bad that they had not checked those data either: In the U.S., the first recorded sales month of the Prius was July 2000. Sales Prius U.S. July 2000 through June 2001: 12,968, data according to Automotive News.

Any which way you spin it, Akerson was wrong. Not in the eyes of his trusted acolytes: Some claim to this day that 8,000 is more that 18,000 or 13,000. The new math must be contagious.

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Dan Akerson Says First Year Sales Of Volt As Good As Prius, Grows Long Nose http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/03/dan-akerson-says-first-year-sales-of-volt-as-good-as-prius-grows-long-nose/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/03/dan-akerson-says-first-year-sales-of-volt-as-good-as-prius-grows-long-nose/#comments Tue, 13 Mar 2012 18:19:56 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=434854 The repeated stoppages of the Volt production triggered rumors that GM might discontinue the Volt altogether. Dan Akerson himself had to come to the rescue of the embattled plug-in. Saying that “we are not backing away from this product,” Akerson promised more advertising and less volume. So far, so good. Then, Akerson did something really bad. […]

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The repeated stoppages of the Volt production triggered rumors that GM might discontinue the Volt altogether.

Dan Akerson himself had to come to the rescue of the embattled plug-in. Saying that “we are not backing away from this product,” Akerson promised more advertising and less volume. So far, so good.

Then, Akerson did something really bad. Surprisingly, Akerson used Toyota as a benchmark and reportedly said that “Toyota sold about the same amount of Prius in its first year as the Volt in its first year.”

Utter nonsense.

It gets worse.

In the first year, the Volt sold half of what the Prius had sold in the first year. And that in a market twice the size.

It gets worse.

In the first year, the Volt sold half of what the Prius had sold in the first year. And that at a time when gasoline did cost twice as much as when the Prius was launched.

If Akerson would know more about cars, then he would not have to tell lies. He also would know that Toyota had been terribly unhappy about the initial sales of the Prius. What should give Akerson further pause are rumors from Toyota that sales of the plug-in hybrid version of the Prius, launched in Japan in January, are not going well. There are no numbers available, but all I am hearing is that the Aqua/Prius C compact hybrid is selling like hotcakes, while the plug-in Prius is collecting dust. Again from what I am hearing, people balk at the price. The regular Prius in the G trim costs 2,520,000 yen ($30,000) in Japan. The G-trim Prius plug-in hybrid costs 3,400,000 yen ($41,000). All prices including tax.

People seem to shun the plug-in, and instead go for the Prius, or its smaller sibling the Prius c. That one costs 1,850,000 yen ($22,000) in the G trim. The Prius is Japan’s best-selling car, the Aqua / Prius C has become Japan’s third-best-selling car right out of the gate. Price is a big driver of the success of a car. Price is the biggest problem of the Volt. Even with a generous (and unsustainable) subsidy, it is way too expensive. The example of the Prius Plug-in Hybrid proves an old adage in the business: People may swear up and down that no price is too high when it comes to the environment. Once in the showroom, they buy the car that makes sense.

Oh, and back to Akerson. I know how to get him out of this. He should say he was misquoted. He should say he meant calendar year. Launched in December 1997, the Prius sold 323 in that month and year. Launched in December 2010, the Volt sold 326 in that month and year. I know, it’s a lame excuse, but it beats being called a liar.

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Blind Spot: The Twilight Of The Volt http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/03/blind-spot-the-twilight-of-the-volt/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/03/blind-spot-the-twilight-of-the-volt/#comments Mon, 05 Mar 2012 00:44:30 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=433724  “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 […]

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 “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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California Gets Greener Volt http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/02/california-gets-greener-volt/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/02/california-gets-greener-volt/#comments Fri, 24 Feb 2012 13:42:09 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=432597 The Chevrolet Volt has been lauded as America’s answer to global warming. But it isn’t green enough to get the coveted California Clean Air decal. Apart from the feel-good effect, that sticker comes with a $1,500 rebate, courtesy of the State of California, and the privilege of driving solo in the state’s carpool lanes. GM is […]

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The Chevrolet Volt has been lauded as America’s answer to global warming. But it isn’t green enough to get the coveted California Clean Air decal. Apart from the feel-good effect, that sticker comes with a $1,500 rebate, courtesy of the State of California, and the privilege of driving solo in the state’s carpool lanes. GM is doing something about that. 

Volts with a special Low Emissions Package began shipping from the General Motors Detroit-Hamtramck plant this week and should begin arriving at Chevrolet dealerships in California before the end of the month. The Low Emissions Package will be standard in California.

All other states receive the regular Volt with less green.

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Fox Tests Volt, Runs Out Of Juice In Lincoln Tunnel http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/02/fox-tests-volt-runs-out-of-juice-in-lincoln-tunnel/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/02/fox-tests-volt-runs-out-of-juice-in-lincoln-tunnel/#comments Mon, 06 Feb 2012 18:23:34 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=429739 GM noted that Fox has issues with the Volt. They give Eric Bolling a Chevy Volt for a week. And this is what GM receives in return. Ingrates.

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GM noted that Fox has issues with the Volt. They give Eric Bolling a Chevy Volt for a week. And this is what GM receives in return. Ingrates.

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Bob Lutz Pens Chevrolet Volt Defence In Forbes http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/01/bob-lutz-pens-chevrolet-volt-defence-in-forbes/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/01/bob-lutz-pens-chevrolet-volt-defence-in-forbes/#comments Tue, 31 Jan 2012 22:39:47 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=428860 Bob Lutz took Fox News and other media outlets to task in his latest blog for Forbes, titled “Chevy Volt and the Wrong-Headed Right”, with Lutz taking shots at Bill O’Reilly and Rush Limbaugh. Lutz’s article lists a number of facts regarding the crash tests and data on vehicle fires. But Lutz does claim that […]

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Bob Lutz took Fox News and other media outlets to task in his latest blog for Forbes, titled “Chevy Volt and the Wrong-Headed Right”, with Lutz taking shots at Bill O’Reilly and Rush Limbaugh.

Lutz’s article lists a number of facts regarding the crash tests and data on vehicle fires. But Lutz does claim that the Volt is

 “…the most technologically advanced car on the planet, was conceived by me and my team well before any federal bailout of GM…”

Whatever you think of the Volt, the damage done by the fire stories is undeniable. While charging a Volt in public this past December, a passerby made a remark warning me to steer clear because “those things catch fire”. The story has undoubtedly permeated the public conscience, regardless or whether it’s legitimate or just hype.

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