Volt Birth Watch 55: $45k? 20-Mile EV Range? Huh?

volt birth watch 55 45k 20 mile ev range huh

Tony Posawatz is the corporate QB looking to deliver GM’s Volt-shaped Hail Mary. In a pre-game chinwag with Reuters, the senior engineering executive sheds some light on GM’s playbook. Production will be ramped up slowly “to make sure everything [the battery pack] is bulletproof.” Meanwhile, GM will be lobbying utilities to offer rebates or cheaper off-rate charging rates, and other forms of tax relief. GM is also planning on selling used battery packs to utilities as power storage systems. Posawatz acknowledges that financial losses are inevitable: “to make this thing a sustainable business, we have to drive it to volume.” So, a low price then? “The nature of this technology is that it’s going to be expensive, and we will not underprice this vehicle.” Ah, BUT– GM is may build a 20-mile range version as “part of an effort to cut the cost of such vehicles by half or more.” Translation: the 40 mile-range Volt will be an expensive ($45k and up) low-volume “halo” vehicle for GM’s bragging rights. It will take several more years of cost (and range) cutting before something resembling an actual Prius competitor hits the streets. The loyal cheerleaders at Volt-nation are apoplectic, calling for Posawatz’s head. Their hopes for GM’s populist electric Model T are fading as fast as GM’s cash reserves.

Join the conversation
4 of 46 comments
  • Phil Ressler Phil Ressler on Jun 17, 2008
    Paul said: Your argument about the “intrinsically difficult (”Rube Goldberg”) engineering problem” and the “complicated packaging” of the parallel hybrid system is bunk.... and But the reality is that the “problems” were perfectly mastered by the two companies that took on the challenge (Toyota and Ford), and both came up with similarly highly efficient and functional systems. To call them “inelegant” is simply a slur; they are a brilliant solution to dramatically improving efficiency, they work beautifully, and have been shown to be highly reliable. “inelegant” indeed. Really, I'm not slurring anyone, least of all the engineers at Ford and Toyota who brought parallel hybrid vehicles to market. Engineers can be credited with elegantly implementing an inelegant architecture, and in this case I do compliment them. Yes, the systems are functional and the problems intrinsic to driving one set of wheels with two different drive systems are overcome. Two motors, one set of drive wheels, need to blend power delivery -- this is not elegant, even if an awkward architecture is elegantly implemented. The Prius certainly proves that there are no “packaging complications”; it’s a highly practical, roomy car for its size. Subjective. It's not roomy to me. It's OK for its size. It is a hatchback, so that adds practical value. Some people find the car sufficient in its packaging. It is roomier than a Mini, I'll grant you that. But there's more to packaging than the people space. I've driven the Prius. There's something wrong with it beyond its unsatisfying numbness. I've seen a rash of Prius roll-overs the past couple of years, one of which I came upon shortly after it happened. I talked to the driver, who said that one thing he didn't like about the Prius is that a driver goes from dynamic stability to losing control of the car more quickly than in anything he'd ever driven. I've also noticed Prius drivers appearing to lack confidence in the way they drive canyon roads. A few friends who own and drive the car do admit to feeling less sure of themselves in highly dynamic driving circumstances, but they claim not to care. What I want to see is how designers innovate packaging when the IC engine does not have to be located or positioned for transferring rotational energy to the wheels. Meanwhile, any improvements in ICE efficiency will also benefit the parallel hybrid. That is expected on the next gen Prius. Well, yes. But in the parallel hybrid, the ICE cannot be restricted to (and optimized for) running in its most efficient mode. It must be generalized for the full range of throttle operation. Keep in mind that GM has been saying that the Volt will get 50mpg in charge-sustaining mode (no proof yet, thought). The 2010 Prius will undoubtedly achieve that (EPA combined), and very possibly improve on it. Yup. Time will tell whether GM painted itself into a corner. But if they achieve 50mpg at the debut of a 1st generation instance of the car, vs. a 3rd /4th gen of a parallel hybrid, that will be encouraging for the bet GM placed. I'm open-minded too about which one wins the efficiency measure, but the serial hybrid scheme is intrinsically more attractive to me. I don't believe we will imminently run out of oil. I'm not concerned that liquid hydrocarbons for transportation will disappear anytime soon. But I would be happy to see more of the dollars we ship out for energy imports instead be circulating in our domestic economy, or that we had the money for other uses. I'm not irked with GM for ploughing R&D into the Volt. I'm unhappy that they can't put six-speed automatic transmissions mated to 4 cylinder engines in 2 or 3 million vehicles if buyers wanted them now. I'd like to see an across-the-board effort to slash mass from cars. Where's my 1800 lbs. car powered by an Ecotec 2.0L turbo four? Make that happen and proliferate the techniques throughout the line. Phil

  • Phil Ressler Phil Ressler on Jun 17, 2008
    The $40K market is still plenty fat with buyers of luxury cars. I don't see any $40K cars today that I consider luxury vehicles. It's now just a step-up category from mass market. Will a Chevrolet Volt be a luxury car? Unlikely, but it doesn't have to be if it's sufficiently differentiated. It simply has to be premium in ways that some portion of the market will accept as desirable. What that is may be different by 2010, relative to today. No need to go on an archaeological dig… look at the trouble with the two-modes and BAS system… total recall. Batteries. No different from the risk consumer electronics and computer makers have taken. GM's battery recall was prompt, anticipatory and not triggered by catastrophic failure. It won't be the last instance of battery recalls from a variety of vendors as partial and fully electric vehicles proliferate. Phil

  • KixStart KixStart on Jun 18, 2008

    Phil Ressler, on serial (Volt) vs. parallel hybrid technology (Toyota's HSD): "It’s fundamentally inelegant to have two drive technologies humping each other around; no more than a bridge." Serial hybrids are no better in that regard. Once you're out of your 40-mile EV-range in the Volt, you're carrying around a large, dead battery. When you're inside your 40-mile EV-range, you're carrying around a large, inert mass of engine (and a radiator, generator, fuel tank...). And that dead battery is an expensive component. If you're going to carry something useless around, make it a cheap something useless and save some money.

  • KixStart KixStart on Jun 18, 2008

    Phil Ressler: "Frankly, we don’t know today what a Volt will retail for when it’s launched." That was the 16th... Today, we do: $40K