By on December 3, 2009

We had been hearing for some time now that GM planned to roll out its Volt EV in limited numbers and select markets, and it comes as no surprise to hear that the first such select market will be California. The Golden State is a hotbed of support for electric vehicles and, not coincidentally, one of the more affluent car markets in the world. A number of firms, from Coda to Honda have selected California as a test-bed for their high-efficiency but not-yet-ready-for-prime-time products. In California, GM is partnering with three public utility companies, and will spend some $30m of DOE-administered stimulus money to slow-roll the Volt into reality. According to GM’s release:

As part of the research and demonstration program, Chevrolet will deliver more than 100 Volts to program participants to use in their fleets for two years. Chevrolet will also utilize OnStar telematics technology to collect vehicle performance data and driver feedback that will be reported to the DOE and used to improve customers’ experiences with the new technology.

So how many Volts will actually be for sale in California, outside of the publicly funded data-collection program? “In the first few months we will be producing 4000 to 5000 Volts,” Bob Lutz said yesterday. “In the first full year we will make eight to ten thousand… We are going to ramp it up slowly because it is all uncharted terrain for all of us once we start turning out (battery) packs in very high rates.” Another challenge presented by the ramp-up to planned production levels of 50k-60k units per year is developing competency at building electric motors, since the first generation’s motor comes from a supplier…. which helps explain the Volt’s estimated $40k price tag.

No doubt the earliest Volts will sell, as Californians tend to be highly risk-tolerant, especially when it comes to limited-volume tech toys. The real news here is that GM believes it needs two years of research post-launch to “improve customers’ experiences with the new technology.” The Volt’s extremely limited availability in 2010/2011 will help prop up the Volt’s obscene price point, but there’s also a real chance of bad PR coming out of customer experiences.

And the longer-term question is also unclear. Lutz believes the EV/Plug-In/EREV market will hit 250,000 to 300,000 units per year in five years, and according to, he says “they will mostly be our products.” Given the products on the horizon, it seems unlikely that demand for these cars (which seem to have a price floor at around $35k) will really move at those volumes, let alone that the Volt will dominate the segment… especially if Lutz is worried about battery production levels of 50-60k units per year.

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22 Comments on “Volt Birth Watch 175: California Dreaming...”

  • avatar

    Am I crazy, or is the left side brake light out at about 56 seconds in? If so, not the best sign.

  • avatar

    It’s just looks that way, but if you look closer it just becomes instantly dim.  The same thing happens on the passenger side at 2:11.  The LED output isn’t that bright on an angle.

  • avatar

    Actually, a limited launch is probably a good idea. If you look at what sort of problems BMW are having with the electric MINI and the related infrastructure problems, some caution may not such a bad idea.

  • avatar

    I think the EV-1 launched in CA too, or was it AZ?

  • avatar

    How does one get heat from this EV? Very necessary where I live….

  • avatar

    So, let’s see.  2010/11 for limited release. 2012 (uh-huh) for something resembling wide area drop.

    Meanwhile, the Prius/Fusion/Insight train has 3 more years of rolling along.

    At this point the Volt is mostly (if not all) about the illusion that GM has a ‘killer app just around the corner’ – coincidentally timed for the IPO.

  • avatar
    Rod Panhard

    “data and driver feedback that will be reported to the DOE and used to improve customers’ experiences”

    At least they’re clearly stating up front that “yes, we’ll be using our initial customers as beta testers.” Plus, in California, where the Prius is a status symbol, it’s a no-brainer that buyers will stand in line for this car.

  • avatar

    They had someone from the LA Times and the Huffiington Post, so they seem to be aiming at the right demographic for an EV.

    “Chevrolet will deliver more than 100 Volts to program participants to use in their fleets for two years.”  Is that considered undervoltage, or overvoltage? 

  • avatar
    Via Nocturna

    So, uh, what’s my incentive to buy this instead of a Prius?

  • avatar

    The thing about the Volt is that for most daily driving, it won’t use any gas at all. If you can get a plug where you work (110v, hardly a big deal), you’re even less likely to buy gas more than a couple times a month. And remember — the motor is NOT connected to the wheels but only to a generator, like on a locomotive. It’s not a hybrid; it’s a much more advanced idea.
    Sure it’s not a big meaty SUV or a hotshot Beemer, but most of the time all of us are sitting in traffic, moving slow, just trying to get from A to B, and wasting most of the capabilities of our vehicles. Most SUVs never actually go off-road. And for the fast-car set, we ain’t got no Autobahns here, so it’s kind of a waste (though certainly fun).
    So I think the Volt and it’s approach to cars is going to catch on as fast as they can roll it out, which I hope is fast.
    And if the Feds want to subsidize something, it should be Volt-ish cars. Because if we stop buying half our oil from those guys over in the sand, our money stays out of their pockets. I’d say that’s an important national objective.

    • 0 avatar

      I still keep asking what the advantages of this design over a parallel plug-in hybrid are, but no one seems to have a good answer.  I get the “for most driving you won’t need gas”, but then why lug around the IC, and just put in more batteries for a longer range.    Or just go to a parallel plug-in system.   A new Prius and the Hymotion plug-in conversion still price out cheaper than a Volt I believe.
      I’m probably the target market for one of these,  but too many things about it just don’t seem to make sense.

  • avatar

    So, what’s the steady-state MPG when running on the gas engine?

  • avatar

    Why do film production people add rotten music to their work? Why do they add any music? I want to hear or better yet hear silence when a car is running and I want to hear what people are saying.
    PR people and Ad people  – stop annoying us with music!

  • avatar
    Bubba Gump

    Put it this way. If Dan Neil likes it thats a huge statement because he hates us with an Absolute Passion!

    Also as far as moving them? Were going to see a second significant spike in oil prices next year you watch and see. Were going to suffer a secondary stock market downturn and a flight to commodities. You watch and see.

  • avatar

    Who, us? The b&b? TTAC? idgi.

  • avatar

    “You don’t have to change the way you drive, except that you have to plug it in every night.”
    And that will be a major problem for people who don’t want their cars to own them.

  • avatar
    Greg Locock

    “And that will be a major problem for people who don’t want their cars to own them.”

    Yes it is a dreadful imposition to expect someone to take 20 seconds to  plug their car in, in order to save $4 (random guess at the cost of fuel in 2012).  Oh well perhaps they could hire a valet to do it.

  • avatar

    Yeah, people that want a Volt won’t mind plugging it in.  In anticipation of an EV or plug in hybrid of some kind, I had the electrician add a 220 outlet to my garage when we had some recent remodelling work done.

  • avatar

    You know people don’t want to have to even get up to get in a car. They want their car to pick them up coddle them put a pacifier in their mouth and a rockabye lullabye to put them to sleep with cheese doodles and super slurps on hand at any time.  Anything less is utter FAIL…(insert sarcasm you know where if you haven’t already)

  • avatar
    Carlson Fan

    “Also as far as moving them? Were going to see a second significant spike in oil prices next year you watch and see. Were going to suffer a secondary stock market downturn and a flight to commodities. You watch and see.”

    We can only hope. The best thing that can happen to this country long term is for oil prices to go through the roof. The sooner we learn to run this country without importing fossil fuels the better.

    Love the Volt, it can’t get to the market  quick enough. Hopefully other car manufacturers are working on something similar. That will only help strengthen the pace that the technology improves.

  • avatar

    The application of the IC just being used to generate power to drive an alternator for the electric motor is simple.  To waste gasoline to charge your batteries when you can do it for one twentieth the cost when you charge by plug in makes no sense.

    Why folks want to complicate the power train by managing the IC, batteries and alternator to either charge the batteries power the car or not run at all is simply stupid. Unless your trying to justify buying Your Prius.

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