Chevy Volt Starts To Ship

Ronnie Schreiber
by Ronnie Schreiber
chevy volt starts to ship

This morning General Motors held a press conference at its Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly plant to announce that the Chevy Volt was in production, on sale, and will start shipping today. The Volt goes on sale in seven initial markets, with a national rollout in early 2011. Export sales will begin late next year.

While there were a number of journalists in attendance (including, significantly, a noticeable number from Japanese news outlets) and though there was some news to be made, this particular dog and pony show was more of a pep rally than anything else. Hundreds of assembly line workers from the plant attended the event and the speakers frequently praised them. When GM North America president Mark Reuss walked in before the event started, he made a point of congratulating each member of the GM management team that was in attendance. Ron King, UAW president, was busy so Gary Bernath stood in. He went out of his way to praise the locals at all the GM facilities involved in the Volt project, and he thanked Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm and other elected officials.

GM CEO Dan Akerson drove Volt VIN 00001 up onto the stage, got out and flashed a V sign with both hands, saying that it was V for Volt as well as for “victory.” Akerson referred to the difficult times that GM has faced since the Volt concept was introduced in 2007, and he praised the resilience of GM’s salaried and union employees. There was a whiff of somewhat premature triumphalism in the air, “American engineering is back”, Akerson said. Calling the Volt a “game changer” Akerson announced that Volt will be going into GM’s Heritage Center along with other “game changers in GM history.” He said that GM will be expanding their vehicle electrification program, and that GM’s ultimate grail will be hydrogen fuel cells to power the electric motors.

Akerson said that the most important ingredient in the Volt “is talent” and that with the help of tax breaks and other government subsidies GM will be hiring another 1,000 engineers and development personnel, in Michigan, to work on batteries, motors and power control.

When Gov. Granholm spoke, she was clearly emotional and I wasn’t the only person to notice that she was a bit teary eyed. A Democrat who is term limited and will leave office next month, this was one of Granholm’s last public appearances in office. The governor of course praised the UAW and the federal government. She invited businesses to come to Michigan, which she described as “the center of the electrification of the car,” citing the 17 battery companies and component suppliers already located in the state. Whether those facilities will ever employ 65,000 people as the governor predicted remains to be seen.

The mutual admiration society vibe continued as UAW executive Gary Bernath spoke. He praised Granholm’s “fabulous job”, alluded to the concessions that Local 22 made to bring Volt assembly to Detroit-Hamtramck, and insisted that “UAW workers can compete with anyone in the world”.

Tom Stephens, GM Vice Chairman, followed Bernath. Interestingly, though lately GM has been emphasizing its brands rather than the corporate umbrella, Stephens was the first speaker to actually use the word “Chevrolet”. He also used a phrase that I suspect will feature prominently in Volt advertising “range anxiety”. Speaking of advertising and marketing, prominently featured on the video screens was a logo that read VOLTAGE, with Volt and Age in different colors and a lightning bolt motif in the V and A. The Volt is being promoted with its own social networking site, I think we can safely predict that sometime in the next year or so we’ll be hearing ads telling us that we’re now in the age of the Chevy Volt.

Mark Reuss congratulated the Volt management and development team and said that the Volt demonstrates just what GM can achieve, that the company, the state of Michigan and the country are once again technological leaders. Reuss noted GM’s commitment to Michigan and mentioned that the company has recently invested over $700 million in eight Michigan facilities. He said that the company was devoted to “true technical excellence” and that with the Volt they have “created the new soul of this company and of Chevrolet as a brand.” Comparing the Volt to a “moonshot”, Reuss made the comparison even more obvious when he quoted Neil Armstrong, “the Eagle has landed.”

Volt VIN 0002 will be the first Volt available for retail sale but you won’t be able to buy it at a Chevy dealer. Simultaneously with the launch event, Volt #2 was going up for public auction on Reuss announced that 100% of the sale price will be donated to the Detroit Public Schools Foundation. While he was speaking, some of the GM execs already put in bids. At the time of this writing, the bidding on the $41K car has already reached $80,000. GM and the DPS are also organizing a number of student activities involving the Volt as a means of encouraging more students to study science and enter the 54th annual Science & Engineering Fair of Metropolitan Detroit. When that science fair was first organized in the 1950s the domestic automakers took an active role, sponsoring scholarships. That was when GM also ran the Fisher Craftsmen Guild to cultivate and identify students with a talent for design. Reuss said that by working with the DPS GM hopes to nurture the next generation of engineers.

The schedule for the event said that Volt #2 would be driven on stage carrying a “special guest”. Though some of the reporters joked that it might be Kid Rock, nobody was surprised when one Robert Lutz stepped out of the passenger side. Lutz joked about his upcoming book, supposedly titled, The Car Guys vs The Bean Counters, and described the Volt as an attempt to leapfrog “a famous environmentally sensitive car company” that at the time could do no wrong. He said that General Motors is still the depository of more intellectual property and engineering skill than “any other car company in the world” even though “reporters would swoon over the other company”. Lutz closed by saying that the Volt was the most exciting vehicle program he’s ever been involved with. After the press conference, when a Japanese reporter asked him what his favorite cars were, he said that was a hard question, that he was currently driving a ZR-1 Corvette, had a couple of Pontiac Solstices that he enjoyed, but that he’d be buying a Chevy Volt because “without a doubt it’s the highlight of my career”.

Dog and pony show and mutual admiration notwithstanding, the event was newsworthy even if the speeches were predictable. CNBC’s Phil Lebeau did a live remote interview from the event with Lutz. To his credit, Lebeau pressed Lutz on when, or whether, the Volt will turn a profit. Later I heard him ask another executive if the Volt was being sold “at cost”.

So despite all the glad handing and rah rah, as well as the Volt’s undisputed engineering success, there are still serious questions about the Volt program. Still, since there were plenty of people, including on this web site, that believed that a production Volt would never see the light of day, it’s hard not to wish the Volt team congratulations on a notable milestone.

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  • Lokki Lokki on Dec 01, 2010

    Congratulations to the GM team that made the Volt a reality. No matter what you want to say about the impracticality of the design or the value to the consumer, the fact that this car is shipping to customers is a helluva achievement. I've worked on projects like this (although nothing so spectacular) where there's no real sleep for 2 years, and the phrases "shut the project down", "don't let the price creep up", and "I don't care if it works or not, ship it" haunt what little sleep you get. Those nighmares seem ot have been avoided in the Volt, from what we know. The people who made this happen have my utmost respect, and I believe that a successful project like this does something important. It shows that GM can still do significant engineering, product development, and - it can get things done. Good Stuff.

  • Crabspirits Crabspirits on Dec 01, 2010

    After all the nitpicking and analyzing, the bottom line is this: New car buyers settle on the cars they buy for many reasons. A LOT of us buy a car because we just love the thing. That said, I think a lot of people will love this car.

  • Vap65689119 Nice car, I think I'd rather have an SC430
  • Theflyersfan They might not be convertible friendly, but if they work on getting the last of the winter crud off of the car during the first spring wash, it's worth its weight in gold. So many of the self-serve car washes seem to have some kind of mechanical problem with one of the nozzles, or out of some chemicals - want to do that at home.
  • Bill Wade It's worked perfectly for me. Google maps is quite good and music streaming is flawless.
  • TheEndlessEnigma How much is TTAC getting from the Amazon referral links? Once again, nice ads camouflaged as an article.
  • Prabirmehta Great review! Brought back memories of my 2005 Z4 - loved it! I recently drove the 2023 Z4 and it felt similar in many ways to my 2005 (despite the much nicer and updated interior). Now your review has me rethinking whether to buy another one? :)