By on May 4, 2009

Car and Driver recently got a test drive in a Cruze-bodied Chevy Volt mule, and wrote up the experience with the fawning credulousness of a buff book that desperately wants to be first in line for an equally subservient “exclusive first road test.” If such an event ever comes to pass, of course. But even amidst the regurgitated GM talking points, C&D manages to (gasp) raise a troubling question: if this vehicle is going to be road-ready in just over a year, why is The General limiting test drives to electric mode?

An answer (of sorts) is supplied by Volt line engineer Tony Posawatz. “The work being done by the development guys as we speak is to create a gentle feathering of engine rpm so you don’t even notice that the engine kicks in. And to try to operate at the right points and to transition the rpm points depending on the load you’re getting—to behave like someone would want it to behave. You may get into a position under an extreme grade or hill climb, where the engine rpm will be pretty loud—running pretty hard. At a certain point in time that rpm will be relatively unpleasant. This is the challenge of different road loads: how can we keep the NVH reasonable for a customer?”

How indeed?

Gm-volt.com‘s Lyle Dennis read the C&D writeup, and doesn’t like the nasty implication that somehow the Volt could be less than perfect. His antidote to C&D‘s skepticism-lite? Hearsay! “While I was at the Milford Proving Grounds,” writes Dennis, “I was told that many people who drive the car through the transition often don’t notice the engine going on and that it is not abrupt. Once running, RPMs are known to operate at several fixed points not matched to the accelerator and thus theoretically the engine could feel unnatural.”

But the fact remains: since the Volt’s “range-extending” ICE will send electric power directly to the wheels after battery depletion, overtaking and hill-climbing could get a little noisy (not to mention slow and possibly dangerous) with only a 1.4T engine running things. The fact that GM won’t let anyone drive the thing in “generator mode” speaks volumes.

Not that we’re making a big deal about it. After all, David Letterman has learned the price of Volt-bashing: a stern blogging-to from GM VP for Grumpy Outbursts, Maximum Bob Lutz. Lutz lays into Letterman’s “stupid human trick” at GM’s Fastlane blog, his first such post in ages.

“I don’t know if you happened to catch David Letterman Wednesday night. Frankly, I didn’t, nor did many of my colleagues at GM. But you can bet the clip of Dave interviewing Elon Musk of Tesla Motors has certainly made the rounds here, and has people up in arms, particularly the Chevrolet Volt team.

Mr. Letterman made some gratuitously derogatory remarks about the Volt’s range, calling it “insane” and “ridiculous,” and in general appeared woefully uninformed about the Volt. For one thing, he said its 40-mile range wouldn’t get him down the driveway to pick up the newspaper.

Now, if he is that uninformed, I must point out that it’s not his fault, it’s ours. We should do a better job of making sure that Dave and everyone else who is in position to comment on national TV about our products has the right information, whether they use that information or not. Perhaps if we’d hired Drew Barrymore to be the spokesperson for the vehicle we’d have commanded more of his attention. Regardless, we’d like to rectify the situation.”

Lutz’s solution? Get Letterman over to the Milford Proving Grounds And Re-Education Center for a test drive. Uh, Bob, they tried that already, and unless you’re part of the gm-volt.com varisty cheer squad that tends to raise more questions than it answers, the answer isn’t stunts aimed at getting people “the right” information. Transparency and honesty are the only things that will really answer the skeptics.

Get the latest TTAC e-Newsletter!

Recommended

28 Comments on “Volt Birth Watch 138: Watching the Defectives...”


  • avatar
    superbadd75

    Put the damn things on the road, even if they’re mules in Cruze clothing, and let people drive them. As they would in the real world. In battery mode, generator mode, whatever. Don’t hide them, PUT THEM ON THE STREETS. Honda has hydrogen fuel cell vehicles in the hands of customers right now. FUEL CELLS!!! GM can’t even get the Volt hammered out? An engine, a generator, and some batteries? I’m starting to seriously lose faith in this company’s ability to do anything right.

  • avatar
    Bridge2far

    I’m glad Bob Lutz stuck up for the Volt. Would you be happier if nobody cared? Oh, and David Letterman is a tool.

  • avatar
    CarPerson

    “Officer, I beive the engine RPMs may have been running at a rate not matched by my throttle position.”

    I need to remember that one.

  • avatar
    folkdancer

    I am looking forward to the next generation of electric motors, new batteries, biomass fuels, and maybe even hydrogen. I wanted the Volt to succeed.

    But I can’t help remembering the Vegas and Pintos. GM and Ford insulted those of us who wanted less expensive and more fuel efficient vehicles. GM and Ford’s attitude seemed to be – some of you fools want cheap cars, we will give you cheap cars and see how you like them.

    Of course this insult caused us to buy more Corollas and in my case stay with Toyota for decades.

    Could the Volt be another insult to us buyers?

  • avatar
    BMWnut

    Car and Driver angling for an “exclusive first road test” of the Chevy Volt. Yeah right. Who will be the first to hit the wall? The car manufacturer or the magazine? Both are in dire straits, but my money (Uncle Sam’s actually) is on the General. I don’t see Sheriff Obama riding to the rescue of an increasingly mediocre buff book…

  • avatar
    Paul Niedermeyer

    A big part of the whole Volt development issue is GM’s decision on trying to maximize early interest and exposure before the final development tweaks are complete. Did Toyota offer rides in Prius mules back in 1995 and 1996? Or for the second and third generation versions? No, they just waited until it was finished and production ready.

    It’s not surprising or unusual that they’re still tweaking the software; they have plenty of time for that before launch. But it creates this limbo of hype versus being unable to show/drive the final product.

  • avatar
    folkdancer

    A few more comments on the Volt and GM.

    As I mentioned previously on another blog the Volt should have been a Buick so it wouldn’t have been so price sensitive.

    In “Hot, Flat, and Crowded” Friedman many times brings up the idea that challenges represent opportunities. How many times have the Detroit automakers fought safety, pollution, and efficiency standards over the past 60 years? Many times. While they were fighting “opportunities” other makers were meeting these challenges.

    We can now clearly see how fighting challenges works out. The Detroit makers are going bankrupt and the Volt is an example of being too little and too late for our current challenges/opportunities.

  • avatar
    CarPerson

    The Chevrolet Volt’s range will be a distance not matched by owner’s expectations.

    The Chevrolet Volt’s battery life and charge time will be values not matched by owner’s expectations.

    The Chevrolet Volt’s functionalty as a family hauler are not matched to owner’s expectations.

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    But the fact remains: since the Volt’s “range-extending” ICE will send electric power directly to the wheels after battery depletion,

    Waitaminit.

    I thought the ICE was going to drive motor, not drive the wheels? Either has it’s advtanges and disadvantages, but I was pretty sure we were all clear on this a while back.

    …overtaking and hill-climbing could get a little noisy (not to mention slow and possibly dangerous) with only a 1.4T engine running things.

    Wimp. (g) I’ve driven both a CDI Smart and mid-eighties Toyota Van, niether of which could overtake a cyclist. Just because we have Toyota Camrys that could waste a number of older supercars doesn’t mean that 0-60 in more than 11 seconds is dangerous.

  • avatar
    cjdumm

    With respect to Mr. Niedermeyer, I’m not sure that General Motors has “plenty of time” for anything, especially this Volt/Apollo Project upon which they have seemingly staked their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor.

    GM had plenty of time 10 or 15 years ago, but five years ago they should have been scrambling, and right now it’s two minutes to midnight.

  • avatar
    Paul Niedermeyer

    cjdumm: With respect to Mr. Niedermeyer, I’m not sure that General Motors has “plenty of time”

    GM said from the beginning that the Volt would go into production in late 2010. So far that hasn’t changed.

  • avatar
    Redbarchetta

    psarhjinian It can get pretty dicey when getting on an interstate in the mountains with a short(like under 100 foot) onramp uphill and traffic moving at 60-70 mph. Including lightly loaded semis. There are planty of roads left like that here in the states with almost nothing for a merge lane.

    Regardless of that cars today meet a certain standard, it doesn’t make sense to set your benchmark to something from the 90’s.

  • avatar
    RedStapler

    To paraphrase Top Gun: Their Ego is writing checks their engineering can’t cash.

    Of course Max-Bob has already over promised and they are working frantically to not under deliver. This has high potential to become another Oldsmobile Diesel, Corvair or Fiero.

    GM has allowed perfection to become the mortal enemy of good enough.

    Here is a radically simple idea:

    Just drop the Engine entirely.

    Use the 800 lbs and $5k you just saved to add additional batteries for a range of 100 miles. At $30k with a $8-10k tax credit and solo car pool lane privileges in the social engineering jurisdictions it will sell.

  • avatar
    MrDot

    So we can infer that in generator mode, the Volt is unpleasantly slow and noisy as the engine runs flat-out to try to get some juice to the batteries? I don’t blame them for being cagey about this part of the Volt’s operation.

  • avatar

    To hire “Drew Barrymore to be the spokesperson for the vehicle” won’t help in that case either. Way too sharp knees.

  • avatar
    oldyak

    Since G.M.marketed the first Electric car of our time..lets chill out and see what happens.You may be surprised.
    Sometimes the glass is half full…not half empty.
    So quick we are to destroy,its so much easier.

  • avatar
    tedward

    RedStapler
    “Just drop the Engine entirely.”

    +1

    IMO step one of the GM electric program should be crushing or coopting Tesla and generating some trust in their battery/motor drivetrains. A range extender ICE is unnecessary when, to date, no other major brand is actually competing in pure electric land. Baby steps you idiots, especially when those baby steps can apparently be made profitably (factoring in PR gains).

  • avatar
    golf4me

    “Car and Driver recently got a test drive in a Cruze-bodied Chevy Volt mule, and wrote up the experience with the fawning credulousness of a buff book that desperately wants to be first in line for an equally subservient “exclusive first road test.” ”

    Sounds like how others write about Toyondas…

  • avatar

    My ’77 Toyota ran smooth with a 1.2 liter engine, so presumably a volt should do OK with a 1.4. So, the question of why they won’t let anyone drive it into generator mode is fascinatingly mysterious.

    But I don’t think it’s fair to criticize Lutz for criticizing Letterman. Letterman greatly deserves to be criticized for his ignorance on the Volt.

    NY POST: Ignorant Comic Murders General. Prez Sez, See? Words Matter

  • avatar
    bluecon

    With the Volt you have a generator, an ICE and electric motors with no mechanical interlock. The concept is foolish, like three steps back from the Prius. The Prius is generations ahead of this design. And GM now knows it. Toyota knew this was unworkable long ago.

    You just need to know one HP equals 746 watts of power. Then you will realize that with the present battery tech it is impossible to design a competitive car. Ferdinand Porsche learned the same thing in the early 1900’s and switched from electric to ICE. Nothing has changed.

    The market for electric cars should be a small simple car to move around the city. Can’t do it with the cost of safety.

    The forklifts in the auto plants are electric and were way back in the 70’s. A perfect use for electric since you just go get a charged battery when you need one and the battery provides the needed counterbalance weight.

  • avatar
    charly

    Renault made electric versions of their van IIRC so the Volt isn’t the first electric modern car. Beside the hydrogen Honda is electric too.

    Bluecon, i somehow doubt that the Tesla is a good car but i do think it shows your wrong.

  • avatar
    don1967

    This is what happens when you design a car for a 2007 gas price bubble/global warming hysteria, but instead find yourself selling pictures of it to politicians in 2009 in the desperate hope of existing for a few more months.

    This is just embarrassing for everyone.

  • avatar
    RogerB34

    “My ‘77 Toyota ran smooth with a 1.2 liter engine, so presumably a volt should do OK with a 1.4. So, the question of why they won’t let anyone drive it into generator mode is fascinatingly mysterious.”

    Because the series hybrid cannot match the parallel hybrid in efficiency. That’s the mystery given a Prius like CD and weight. If you believe in Obama, a done deal, otherwise not.

  • avatar
    seabrjim

    Why dont they ask Toyota how to fix the “transition’ problem? Then it might be ready before 2011.

  • avatar
    mcs

    How many “gotta have it” points did c&d give it? Then again, maybe this explains the Camaro review.

  • avatar
    rpn453

    You may get into a position under an extreme grade or hill climb, where the engine rpm will be pretty loud—running pretty hard. At a certain point in time that rpm will be relatively unpleasant. This is the challenge of different road loads: how can we keep the NVH reasonable for a customer?

    They could always use rubber engine mounts and a muffler. That’s how most cars keep the NVH at reasonable levels.

    How many “gotta have it” points did c&d give it?

    I laughed at that. C&D would seem so much more credible if they ditched the “gotta have it” thing.

  • avatar
    FloorIt

    “As I mentioned previously on another blog the Volt should have been a Buick so it wouldn’t have been so price sensitive.”
    I agree with that.
    I read someplace that decades ago Buick’s got the new stuff to field test on consumers – HEI ignition, turbo V6, electronic fuel injection, etc.

  • avatar
    kgurnsey

    The genset is used to sustain the charge of the battery at about 30%, give or take. That give or take is the buffer needed to supply power for acceleration, hill climbing, etc. When the genset kicks on, it delivers enough power to keep the battery at about 30% on average throughout the remainder of your drive.

    Which is why it’s called “charge sustaining mode”. I’m sure GM knows how to create a nicely feathered, low NVH, genset. The tweaking is likely just to get it right for the specific Volt application. The devil is in the details, and anyone who has worked on product design and development knows that it’s never just as simple as it looks on paper. This isn’t big news. I’m sure GM has lots of tweaking left to do on multilple systems.

    Bear in mind that, for GM, it needs to work seamlessly around the globe, in various extreme climates, under all driving conditions, all of which have an effect on performance. It’s not good enough for it just to work for you, it needs to work for everyone, everywhere.

    How long did Honda work on the FX Clarity behind the scenes before releasing itto the public? With the Volt, we are getting a reasonably good view of the design and development process, which may be foreign to most people, but is in fact very normal. This is how it happens people, it’s not a straight line from concept to finished product, there is always testing and tweaking, and things cropping up that are not expected.

    While seeing the development mules in action is cool, the proof (or lack thereof) will be in the finished product, not before.

Read all comments

Back to TopLeave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Recent Comments

  • Inside Looking Out: Better idea from San Francisco: make all renters full time employees of Hertz corp with health...
  • ect: I don’t believe I’ve ever seen a bankruptcy proceeding in which the shareholders weren’t wiped...
  • SPPPP: Actually, as I think about it, remember that any cigarette lighter connection is actually designed to start...
  • Fred: I doubt anyone in the USA is getting excited about this. If they are, the price will scare them away.
  • punkairwaves: At a pre-pandemic auto show I never gave a thought to the seats of any of the vehicles I sat in until I...

New Car Research

Get a Free Dealer Quote

Who We Are

  • Matthew Guy
  • Timothy Cain
  • Adam Tonge
  • Bozi Tatarevic
  • Chris Tonn
  • Corey Lewis
  • Mark Baruth
  • Ronnie Schreiber