Volt Birth Watch

TTAC Invited To Volt Launch
My time at TTAC has been full of surprises. Some days it seems that every hour holds a new, more gob-smacking shocker. But the surprise I received today, whe…
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Volt Gas Mileage Flap: GM PR Blames "Lazy Reporting"

Nature abhors a vacuum, and so does journalism. GM has been trumpeting the Volt’s 40 mile target AER (all electric range) since it was first announced on January 7, 2007. From that very day three years and eight months ago, journalists and enthusiasts have been asking The Big Volt Question: what is its fuel economy in CSM (charge sustaining mode)? There has never been an answer, except that at the 2007 announcement Bob Lutz “reasoned that…(after the battery was depleted) the engine sipping fuel at a rate of 50 m.p.g.” An early target or a Lutzian wild speculation that GM soon refused to verify or qualify. Ever.

Fast forward to August 24, 2010: gm-volt announces that an astute reader has made a screen capture of an Aol Volt test drive promo video, that indicated that the Volt traveled 16.1 miles after the battery depleted and used .59 gallons, equaling 27.3 mpg. Did anyone really think that was a truly representative fuel economy for the Volt, not knowing precisely the conditions under which it occurred? Note the word “Hints” prominently in TTAC’s story. So far, it’s been the only shred of evidence to The Big Volt Question. But rather than use this fantastic PR opportunity to state a target CSM mileage figure, which could only (presumably) look good compared to that 27 mpg number; GM’s Volt Communications person Phil Colley (pictured above) states it delicately:

Yours ( plugincars,com) and the other stories yesterday and today show a complete lack of understanding of the process and are quite frankly, lazy reporting.

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Volt Gen2 Range Extender: The Field Of Infinite Engine Possibilities

GM’s decision to use its off-the-shelf 1.4 L four as the range-extender power source was a compromise born of necessity. The originally conceived 1.0 L turbocharged three cylinder engine didn’t exist (in the US), and GM’s pre-bankruptcy budget was a little constrained to spend the bucks for the tooling. The 1.4, in a different state of tune, is shared with the Cruze, as is as much of the rest of the car as possible. GM has made it pretty clear that the gen1 Volt is a bundle of compromises, given the time, technology and budget constraints it faced. But the gen2 is apparently another story. In an echo of GM past, Volt Vehicle Director Tony Posowatz tells Automotive Engineering that the engine options are wide open; way way wide open:

“That may be a Stirling cycle engine, perhaps it’s a Wankel, a gas turbine, a small displacement motorcycle engine– you can extend the possibilities to a lot of different alternatives.”

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Quote Of The Day: Volt In Need Of A Jolt? Edition

Accelerating up the motorway slip road, the Ampera charges hard and deceptively quickly up to 50mph, but by then the single-speed electric motor’s flat torque curve has begun a nose dive and acceleration at high speeds is poor.

The 0-62mph time of 9 seconds and top speed of 100mph are an indication of this – most family hatchbacks with that sort of sprint capability will have a top speed of nearer 130mph

The Telegraph‘s Andrew English lays into the Chevy Volt/Opel Ampera’s high-speed acceleration, in an early test drive on European roads. Apparently an Opel engineer was embarassed enough by the performance to tell English that

We are considering driving the wheels directly from the petrol engine

Huh?

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Volt Birth Watch 185: EPA Still Not Buying 230 MPG Number

Production of Chevy Volt “integration models” began last week, as Hamtramck tools up for final production of GM’s wundercar, but GM still isn’t saying anything about the car’s two most important features: the pricetag and EPA rating. The General has hemmed and hawed on the Volt’s price over the last several years of hype, but it hasn’t ever been shy about touting an “expected” 230 MPG rating. Because apparently it’s the EPA’s job to clear up GM’s misleading marketing claims. So what is the deal with that 230 MPG number, anyway?

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Volt Birth Watch 184: Obama Administration To Buy First 100 Volts

Way back when the Chevy Volt was taking center stage in GM’s case for bailout (as in give us one, or you won’t get the Volt), the Obama Administration’s task force on autos was not amused. “While the Volt holds promise, it is currently projected to be much more expensive than its gasoline-fueled peers and will likely need substantial reductions in manufacturing cost in order to become commercially viable,” was just one of the knocks the pols gave the then-mule-stage Volt. And even though the Nissan Leaf has since proven that the Volt is also “much more expensive than its pure-electric peers” the White House’s official car guys have changed their tune.

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Volt Birth Watch 183: Why The Volt Really Doesn't Need A Bigger Tax Break

This week saw the Volt’s price point issues return to the public eye, as GM’s Chairman and CEO made it clear that he takes the government’s $7,500 tax credit for granted. But Whitacre’s dissembling revealed once again GM’s fundamental problem with the Volt: getting people past the sticker shock. Though GM’s short-term viability doesn’t hinge on the Volt selling like gangbusters, it’s clear that the Volt’s initial success or lack thereof will be a crucial factor in GM’s ability to hold a successful IPO and extricate itself from government ownership. Which, according to The Big Money‘s Matt DeBord, is one of the reasons the government should expand the Volt’s credit of $10k. Another reason: the Volt’s competition is too good!

with the base Prius selling for just over $20,000 and the base Honda Insight hybrid for under $20,000, the feds may have to start thinking about how to enable innovative electric and gas-electric plug-ins to survive. The EPA mandate to raise fleet fuel-economy standards to average of 35.5 mpg by 2016 looms, and a component of that target should be EVs and plug-ins. Otherwise, carmakers may abandon the tech, leaving it stillborn to cynically massage their fleet numbers by importing small cars from foreign operations to North America—cars they know Americans will only grudgingly purchase and that may force the government to chuck the 35.5 requirement.

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Volt Birth Watch 182: Whitacre Projects Volt Profit At "Low $30k" Price Point
Subtitle two: we don’t believe a word of it. The report comes from an exclusive interview of GM Chairman/CEO Ed Whitacre at the Volt fanboy site gm-vol…
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Volt Birth Watch 181: Lutz Finally Comes Clean On EV Range; His Volt Gets 28 Miles Instead Of 40 Miles

It had to happen eventually: Bob Lutz, the father of the Volt, admits his last but not least automotive child is not going to reliably meet his lofty expectations. ABC reports that in an interview at the NIAS, Lutz let the air out of the Volt’s 40 mile EV range that has been predicted to be as reliable as the sun rising on a new day, and perpetuated by GM even more religiously than the 230 mpg claim: Sounding as if he had just read our recent post on EV range, ABC quotes Mr. Volt:

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Volt Birth Watch 180: Leno Welcomes The Volt To The 21st Century

Getting a car like the Volt on Jay Leno’s Garage seems like a no-brainer. America’s patron celebrity of car obsession has the gearhead credentials to help explain the Volt’s positive attributes, and the enthusiasm to draw a very different crowd than the usual Volt fanboy sites. And yet from the first, the Volt’s visit to automotive Valhalla seems to have chief engineer Andrew Farah in permanent flinch mode. Leno is never overtly hostile (alá Letterman), but from his comparison of the Volt to a 1916 Owens Magnetic, to his assessment that the Volt is “not a tiny car,” you can’t help feeling that he thinks it’s all a bit of a joke. It’s a four-seater. Literally. They’re shooting for a 2,900 lb weight goal. Your mileage may vary. The hood is held up with a stick. What is the deal with that? Like any comedian, Leno’s only as good as his material. Luckily, the yawning chasm between the modest reality of the Volt and its relentless hype is fertile ground indeed.

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Volt Birth Watch 179: The Mystery Dance Number

Chrysler’s new advertisements may have been replaced by this video as the automotive marketing gaffe of the moment. When asked in a Fastlane webchat why GM had approved this questionable video, Sales and Marketing supremo Susan Docherty managed to come across as even more clueless and incompetent than she would have if she’d been prancing front and center:

I have to be honest I haven’t yet seen the Chevrolet Volt song and dance but it sounds like I need to spend some time tonight on the web viewing this. Thanks for the heads up. Do you have any suggestions for us?

Yeah, here are some suggestions: first off, it’s not the roaring twenties, Busby Berkeley. Kill the dance numbers. Suggestion number two: if you’re the head of sales and marketing, you should at least be aware of the existence of “promotional” materials like this. Third: if GM doesn’t take the Volt seriously, nobody will. Keep that in mind when approving marketing ideas.

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Volt Birth Watch 178: Splashdown
Volt Birth Watch 177: Can't We Spend $100m On Something?

“A Flush GM to Lavish Cash On New Vehicles,” goes the NY Times headline, forshadowing the kind of profligacy that only happens when you have $42.6 billion of taxpayer money burning a hole in the corporate pockets. From the next generation of truck and SUV platforms to the Cadillac Alpha (known in-house as “BMW Fighter”), that money is going towards products…. at least it is when it’s not going to faltering overseas operations. And in most cases that’s a good thing. For example, Mark Reuss explains “ with the BMW fighter, the steering in that vehicle is going to be absolutely critical. In the past we would have gone to the lowest cost source, but not anymore.” Well, good on ya, mate. When it comes to the Volt though, the money doesn’t seem like it’s being quite as well spent.

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Volt Birth Watch 176: Volt Jingle 2.0
Courtesy of GM-Volt.com, here’s GM’s first post-bankruptcy Volt jingle! And arguably a slight improvement over last May’s jingle. But if yo…
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Volt Birth Watch 175: California Dreaming

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.

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Volt Birth Watch 174: Enough With The Prius Comparisons!

As we saw in the last VBW, the Volt’s range-extender still needs some software work. But efforts to to keep the gas engine from acting like a thrashing, disembodied dervish will have to balance the desire for smooth operation and maximum efficiency. And it’s looking like efficiency in charge sustaining (CS) mode won’t match the hybrid standard-setters. Volt chief powertrain engineer Alex Cattelan breaks the news gently to the true believers at GM-volt.com

You’ve got to understand that all of the decisions that we’ve made around this product are made because its an EV. That is the first and foremost thing that it needs to be. So because it is an EV some of the decisions that we’ve made around engine operation will be different than what Toyota makes in its parallel hybrid. For them they are always operating in hybrid mode so they need to optimize everything for engine operation.

In our case we’re optimizing everything for EV operation and the secondary is certainly going to be better than conventional vehicles, but were not necessarily totally optimizing the system for charge sustaining mode because we don’t want to compromise electric vehicle mode.

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Volt Birth Watch 173: Generator Mode Revealed

The Chevrolet Volt can very nearly be boiled down to a single a function: range extension. The Volt’s gasoline range-extender is the car’s major technological advantage over other electric vehicles like Nissan’s Leaf, promising consumers freedom from the terror of range anxiety. But how does it actually work? TTAC’s Volt Birth Watch has long asked the question, and GM has assiduously prevented journalists from describing the Volt’s transition from initial EV range to “generator mode.” Until now. The NY Times‘ Lindsay Brooke recently took a pre-production Volt for a spin at the Milford Proving Grounds, and files this report on the generator mode experience:

It takes a few laps of Milford’s twisty, undulating 3.7-mile road course to deplete the remaining eight miles of battery charge. With the dashboard icon signaling my final mile of range, I point the Volt toward a hill and wait for the sound and feel of the generator engine’s four pistons to chime in.

But I completely miss it; the engine’s initial engagement is inaudible and seamless. I’m impressed. G.M. had not previously made test drives of the Volt in its extended-range mode available to reporters, but I can see that in this development car, at least, the engineers got it right.

Or did they?

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Volt Birth Watch 172: 3rd Generation Sustainability?
“In every deliberation, we must consider the impact on the seventh generation,” goes a famous line in the Great Law of the Iroquois, “even…
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Volt Birth Watch 171: Weber Bails

Frank Weber, the man in charge of GM’s electric vehicle line, will be leaving GM for a senior leadership at the soon-to-be-sold (or not?) Opel. Weber previously worked on Opel’s development of GM’s global mid-size (Epsilon II) vehicle line, before becoming the head of GM’s electric vehicle development program in March 2007. Weber is the second senior executive in GM’s global electric, hybrid and battery development organization to leave in a month, following Bob Kruse’s departure at the end of September. And as with Kruse’s exit, the sound bites coming out of GM seek to portray the loss as no big deal. “There is a huge difference in the Volt program from when I came here,” Weber tells Bloomberg. “The entire organization has inhaled what we do here.” In reality though, Weber’s defection makes the introduction of the Opel Ampera (as the Volt will be known in Europe) even more difficult than it was already shaping out to be.

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Volt Birth Watch 170: The Color Of Money

GM’s styling department was originally called “Art and Colour,” an indication of the importance The General has always placed on color. And since the Volt hype campaign is leaving no gimmick unturned, GM is offering fans an opportunity to name the greenish-silver color that debuted with the first production-look Volt. The prize? An early test-drive of a pre-production (of course) Volt. Since we’re sure to be barred from test-fleet Volts, why not submit a color name for a chance at what could be TTAC’s first road test of the automotive Hail Mary? Our choices: Silver Lining or Bailout Green. Yours?

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Volt Birth Watch 169: The Price Is Wrong

Having a hard time guessing the value of the Volt showcase? Join the club. Everyone knows what the Volt is by now, namely a four-seat, 230 mpg, extended-range electric sport sedan that’s currently under-budget. But what does that sell for? The closest thing to a consistent answer we’ve heard from GM on this point is zero profit at $40,000 a pop. Which is always quickly followed up with reminders that consumer tax credits will make the crucial difference in transaction prices. But what about those tax credits? EV World‘s Bill Moore relays the following message from an anonymous “former GM executive”

“Assume you will trade in your Prius when the Volt becomes available. The feds will probably put a $20,000 kickback on the price to move them. If they do not, Volt will not make it.”

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Volt Birth Watch 168: Shakedown Cruise, In More Ways Than One

I know these Volt Birth Watches are polarizing. So if you’re a Volt booster, look away now. ‘Cause I’m about to excoriate GM for attempting to keep the cloak of invisibility around its taxpayer-funded plug-in electric – gas hybrid Hail Mary Chevy Volt. Now I’m fully aware that any such criticism may spark (so to speak) charges of editorial hypocrisy. Although TTAC has no “party line” on any given subject, its main voices have consistently taken GM to task for boasting about the Volt—-when they should have just shut the f up, built the thing, tested it and THEN unleashed their PR campaign. This despite (or because of) the fact that the Volt eventually became GM’s poster child for its “Save Detroit, Save The Economy” campaign, that eventually led to the automaker’s nationalization (in case you’d forgotten). GM’s claims for the Volt’s completely untried technology—in terms of performance, reliability, price, profit, mpg (230 city!), this, that and the other thing—have done the company no favors, aside from the salutatory effect on environmentalists’ hope for change. But here’s the thing: GM crossed the e-Rubicon a long time ago. It’s time to tell its “investors” exactly what we’re paying for, or kill the goddamn thing and spend the money turning “May the Best Car Win” from a sad, pathetic, delusional joke to walking the talk. Ahem. Wired. Volt “shakedown cruise.” Irony? Absolutely. Insight (joke)? Nope. More GM lies and deception . . .

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Volt Birth Watch 167: The Midwife Bails

Bob Kruse, GM’s executive director of global vehicle engineering for hybrids, electric vehicles and batteries and the man in charge of the Volt’s battery development and integration, is leaving General Motors. The Detroit News reports Kruse is leaving to start an EV consulting firm, creatively named E V Consulting. “My departure from General Motors has nothing to do with my view of the future success for the Volt,” says Kruse. “I’ve left on very good terms. I have a lot of respect for the leadership of General Motors.” And then he goes and confuses everything by claiming, “I’m not going to lie. Are they happy about my departure? Probably not.” And GM’s response? “There’s no good time to lose good people, but that said, the Volt team goes way beyond one person.” Which, for comparison, is a more straightforward response than Tesla’s Elon Musk gave when his head of development and manufacturing suddenly ditched. But the real irony is that GM’s bailout, which at this point is a gamble that rides on the success or failure of the Volt, was the motivation for the Volt’s top midwife to ditch in the middle of its frenzied gestation.

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Volt Birth Watch 166: Diminished (Battery) Expectations
Ever since Bob Lutz walked down from Mt. Lithium with the Volt’s Ten Specifications, the most potentially expensive and critical one was that the batte…
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Volt Birth Watch 165: Audi Prez: Tesla Another "Car for Idiots" (If You Know What He Means)

“Audi of America President asserts that sustainable technologies, not ‘silver bullets,’ will drive automotive progress.” And there you have it: President Johan de Nysschen public clarification re: widely disseminated reports that he called the U.S. taxpayer-supported Hail Mary-shaped plug-in electric/gas hybrid Chevrolet Volt “a car for idiots.” [Press release after the jump.] Clearly, de Nysschen has only slightly modified his central contention; I guess he meant to say the Volt is built by idiots for intelligent people. And then the VW suit picked-up the phone to hash it out with Volt Kool-Aid purveyor Lyle Denis over at gm-volt.com. The Audi Prez tickled his tonsils with his other foot. “’I don’t think the Volt is a car for idiots,’ he said. He claimed the headline was a journalist’s misinterpretation, and that his point was that the Volt was ‘an idiotic business case,’ and not how he would refer to people. ‘We might as well have been taking about the Tesla,’ he said.” Oh, dear.

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Volt Birth Watch 164: Audi Prez Facebooks on the "Car for Idiots" Volt Diss

I tell my kids, if you’re going to apologize for something, never use the word “if.” I’m sorry if I offended you” is not an apology. Audi of America Prez Johann De Nysschen is not, by nature, a word-mincing machine. Only now he is, ish, via Audi’s Facebook page.

An online report today, subsequently picked up by various other forums, left an unflattering sense of my feelings toward electric vehicles and the people who support their development. Let me clearly state that, in my opinion, electric vehicles will be part of the future transportation of society – but only if we go about it the right way. In fact, Audi is working on electric vehicles. I do not specifically recall using the term “car for idiots” during my informal conversation with the writer. It was certainly not my intention to leave the impression that I’m opposed to electrical vehicles, and if I was unclear on either of those points then I need to eat crow.

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Volt Birth Watch 163: Sportier Than a GSXR

Audi of America’s Johann De Nysschen calls the Volt “a car for idiots,” in an MSN interview. “No one is going to pay a $15,000 premium for a car that competes with a (Toyota) Corolla,” he tells Lawrence Ullrich. “So there are not enough idiots who will buy it.” And you have to admit that the guy has a point. For all the Volt’s hype, GM has offered little in the way of an explanation of the Volt’s potential appeal to people who don’t merely “want to show what enlightened souls they are,” as De Nysschen puts it. But don’t worry, GM has a meme for that! Specifically, that deep down the Volt isn’t an overpriced hair shirt . . . it’s a performance car!

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Volt Birth Watch 162: Vauxhall Ampera Driven! Ish.
AutoExpress never met a car they didn’t like. Or, if they did, they kept that opinion to themselves. In keeping with the advertiser-pleasing house sty…
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Volt Birth Watch 161: Charge!

More details about the Volt’s charging system emerged at a GM FastLane livechat with charging equipment engineer Gery Kissel. Kissel reveals that the Volt will have 120V and 240V power chargers, but the 240V unit will be wall-mounted and hard-wired. Though the 240V charger will refill batteries much quicker (3.3 kW), it won’t be portable. Though the 120V will be able to plug into any outlet, it will charge more slowly (1.2 kW) and the cord will only be 20 feet long. Kissel said code required the cord to be under 25 feet or have some kind of management system to keep it off the ground. A retractable cord has been ruled out, and a decision hasn’t been made to allow the cord to lock to the vehicle while charging.

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Volt Birth Watch 160: Chevy Volt Now On Sale!
One of our Best and Brightest, Kixstart, sent us this heads-up: Jeff Belzer Chevrolet in the Twin Cities is running a newspaper ad today suggesting you &ldqu…
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Volt Birth Watch 159: MSM Double Negative on Volt's Chances of Success

The numbers for the Chevrolet plug-in hybrid electric Volt—running costs vs. the competition and the manufacturer’s margin—don’t add up. Never did. Right from its inception, GM was demurring on the timeline for the theoretical vehicle’s theoretical profitability. Early adopters, economy of scale, yada yada yada. Even after GM’s prearranged a $7500 tax credit with Uncle Sugar—an outrageous tilting of the playing field in the former bankrupt’s favor—the Volt remains a guaranteed, sure-fire money loser. Even if the price of gas soars, the Volt will not be an economic proposition. These facts have been largely lost on the mainstream media (MSM), whose myopia for all things green and beautiful has blinded them to the equations that will seal its fate. And even when they do crunch the numbers, they refuse to see the light. To wit CNNMoney. Make the jump to do the math. Otherwise, GM’s headlong rush down the obfuscation highway has a new champion: “So it’s not impossible that the Volt could become a sales success, even if the strict dollar analysis does not work out for it.”

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Volt Birth Watch 158: Volt a Four-Seater?

Autoblog—nope. Can’t do it. Not allowed. TTAC’s Best and Brightest have forbidden me from flaming AOL’s . . . uh . . . website. So I’ll just point out that the off-camera comments are largely supportive and wonder why AB’s crack team weren’t allowed behind the wheel of GM’s Hail Mary plug-in hybrid. I mean, there are plenty of prototypes plying the highway (at something less than 230 mpg, presumably). Oh, and as our ever-vigilant former Managing Editor Justin Berkowitz points out, who knew the Volt was not a quint-essential conveyance? [NB: Sarcasm Alert] Less prosaically, “That’s going to piss people off.”

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Volt Birth Watch 157: GM's SEC Filing, Form 8-K, August 7, 2009

GM’s SEC Filing, Form 8-K, August 7, 2009 is 3100 pages long. Full marks, then, to someone at Autocar [UK] for reading the document and winkling-out this bit about the Volt’s viability (there’s that word again). Props, also, to our Justin Berkowitz for finding the unidentified source of Autocar’s report and doing same. It should be noted that SEC filings, like all corporate disclaimers, are obliged to moot the gloomiest possible scenario (i.e., CYA). Even so, this is pretty sobering stuff, considering it was released four days before the 230 mpg hoopla.

We intend to invest significant capital resources to support our products and to develop new technology. In addition, we are committed to invest heavily in alternative fuel and advanced propulsion technologies between 2009 and 2012, largely to support our planned expansion of hybrid and electric vehicles, consistent with our announced objective of being recognized as the industry leader in fuel efficiency. Moreover, if our future operations do not provide us with the liquidity we anticipate, we may be forced to reduce, delay or cancel our planned investments in new technology.

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Volt Birth Watch 156: EPA Repudiates GM Volt's 230 Mpg Claim
“EPA has not tested a Chevy Volt and therefore cannot confirm the fuel economy values claimed by GM. EPA does applaud GM’s commitment to designin…
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Volt Birth Watch 155: The 230 MPG (Alleged) Game Changer

GM announced today that it expects the Volt to receive the first-ever triple-digit EPA rating (including 230 city MPG). GM’s John Lauckner goes into a little more detail at a Fastlane livechat:

Guest: Can you please explain the 230 mpg rating. I must say I balked at your gamble on EREV instead of full hybrid like toyota, but this validates your gamble.

Jon Lauckner: Yes, having a vehicle that achieves triple digit fuel economy is a game changer. The 230 mpg refers to the city fuel economy, but we also expect to have a triple digit combined fuel economy value. These preliminary numbers are based on Volt development testing with our pre-production vehicles and the draft federal fuel economy methodology developed by EPA for EREV vehicles like the Volt.

But, as usual, everything is not what it seems . . .

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Volt Birth Watch 153: GM Plays the Babe Card

How did we miss facesofgm.com? I mean, it’s not like they have four (five?) other websites offering the public a look down the nationalized rabbit hole. But now that we’ve found it, well, way-hey! Clearly, New GM is playing the babe card; all three “faces” are female. Mel Fox by name, Mel Fox by, uh, nature. Needless to say, “the world of Mel” has been carefully sanitized by GM’s spinmeisters. Not so much Mel’s personal blog: theworldofallthingsmel. Here we get the idea that maybe Volt battery engineer Mel’s got mixed feelings about GM. “so i find myself asking… what can i do about this? [the root of the problems that we face in our nation is the mindset of humans, and the way people in power work to manipulate others, and the way that those being manipulated enable themselves to be manipulated again and again] the other question i ask is, how much of my career needs to involve invoking change vs. believing that what i’m working on is “good?” my point here is that perhaps it’s via the time donated to affiliations and public offerings that real change can be fostered as i don’t see too much within corporate america that truly facilitates change (fundamental change, that is).” On the other hand, Mel’s met the enemy and it is us!

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Volt Birth Watch 152: Born To Lose

Automotive News [sub] dug deep for its latest piece on the Volt project, a sprawling opus which fills in a number of the missing pieces in TTAC’s own Volt Birth Watch. From the birth of the concept (“I was getting so pissed off about reading about how the wonderful, far-sighted Toyota is the only one who understands technology”) to its design (“Within 15 minutes, [John Lauckner] had the vehicle basically laid out”) GM’s Bob Lutz takes us inside GM’s moonshot. So what’s the view like from that tin can now, Major Bob?

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Volt Birth Watch 151: 30mpg+ During ICE Operation

Jon Lauckner, New GM’s Vice President of Global Program Management, picked up the FastLane webchat-a-phone and confirmed that he can’t confirm a final price for its tire-squawking (true story!) Hail Mary hybrid. This despite the fact that the Volt—or at least a small squad of hand-built prototypes—is due at the Chevy showroom—or at least down at the steps of Congress for the next ’round of bailout hearings—by the end of 2010. “Hi Dan,” Lauckner says, greeting the e-interrogator daring GM to whip out its sticker. “We typically do not lock in on pricing until about 3-6 months prior to start of production. The reason is primarily so we have an opportunity to take a look at the market, competitors and other factors. So stay tuned.” So to speak, ’cause that issue ain’t sorted out neither . . .

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Volt Birth Watch 150: GM "Dedicated Hybrid" To Undercut Volt?
Volt Birth Watch 150: GM "Dedicated Hybrid" To Undercut Volt?
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Volt Birth Watch 149: Jean Jennings Loves Her Some Volt

In fact, Jean Jennings loves her some, well, anything—as long as the company providing the four-wheeled thing butters her bread either directly or indirectly (via advertising). Way back in March 2008, TTAC took the president and editor-in-chief of Automobile magazine to task for pimping for Jeep. Now, even as Old GM becomes Old GM II (a.k.a. New GM), the bankrupt automaker’s turning to Jean for a spirited defense of their beleaguered plug-in Hail Mary. This, remember, is the car the pre-C11 GM Presidential Task Force on Automobiles dismissed as . . . well, shall we recap? “GM is at least one generation behind Toyota on advanced, “green” powertrain development. In an attempt to leapfrog Toyota, GM has devoted significant resources to the Chevy Volt. While the Volt holds promise, it is currently projected to be much more expensive than its gasoline-fueled peers and will likely need substantial reductions in manufacturing cost in order to become commercially viable.” Anyway, misery loves company. Automobile magazine’s owner, Source Interlink, recently emerged from bankruptcy. Despite the objection of the IRS. See what paying Bill Clinton $15.4 million in do-nothing consulting fees can do for you?

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Volt Birth Watch 148: The End of the Beginning?

Ahead of schedule and under budget? Maybe this one will come down to door closing sounds. So why the flashback to the concept bait-and-switch? If the Volt’s butterfly-into-larvae morph doesn’t remind folks of the Old, Bad GM, what will? Ask Farah for yourself at his Live Chat Confessional, 4 pm Eastern, at Fastlane.

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Volt Birth Watch 147: Heavy Lifting

As a presidential candidate, Barack Obama made a campaign promise to have one million plug-in hybrids on America’s roads by 2015. That’s an ambitious plan, considering we didn’t hit the million hybrid milestone until eight years after the Prius was introduced. Back in April, GM’s Volt Man Tony Posawatz admitted to MSNBC that “it certainly is a difficult challenge to achieve that goal.” He went on to say that GM would have “tens of thousands” of Volts on the road by 2015. But, “it’s not readily obvious, based on the product plans that have been communicated, that the 2015 objective aligns with what is currently on the books,” he said. Would someone please tell Tony who pays the bills? Anyway, the tune has changed. “I can tell you we can definitely do the heavy lifting part of that,” GM’s Brita Gross tells Automotive News [sub]. “We definitely will lift up our end of that.” But how?

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Volt Birth Watch 146: How We'll Make Money on the Volt

Yes, it’s triple VBW day at TTAC, thanks to Beth Lowery, GM Vice President, Environment, Energy & Safety Policy. Over at the Fastlane blog, Lowery is proving that the more things change at GM, the more things don’t change. She’s still talking about perception gaps. And here’s the spin re: the Volt’s financial sustainability. [BTW: Whatever happened to GMNext?]

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Volt Birth Watch 145: Another Meaningless Test Drive

The Chevrolet Volt’s engineering team has given journos seat time in development mules. While this proves that the Volt exists, no car hack has been allowed to put the most important metrics to the test: range and recharge times. In fact, the makers of GM’s plug-in hybrid Hail Mary haven’t allowed a single scribe to drive the car in “range-extended mode.” For the euphemistically averse, that’s the bit where the Volt switches from battery operation to gasoline-powered battery operation. Writing in the Irish Times, automotive correspondent Chelsea Sexton (I’m female!) tried to rectify this sin of omission. She encountered little of CEO Fritz Henderson’s stack-o-bibles promise of transparency. In fact, this is genuinely funny stuff, in a “there goes a billion dollars of my tax money despite the PTFOA’s pre-C11 assertion that the Volt is a waste of money” kinda way.

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Volt Birth Watch 143: Did He Just Say "Under Budget"?

In an interview with gm-volt.com, The General’s global product honcho, John Lauckner, reveals the impossible: the Volt is somehow under-budget. According to Lauckner, “. . . were [sic] very pleased that were [sic] on time on target and under budget.” After all, “you can’t ask for more than that when your running a program the size of the Volt and with the amount of technology that we’re [See? It’s not that hard] designing developing and implementing largely on the fly.” Yes, but what does “under budget” mean when you’re talking about a $40K bailout-baby green halo car?

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Volt Birth Watch 142: Ask A Cheerleader
Because people with pom-poms always have great insights. Scott Burgess of the Detroit News and Mark Phelan of the Detroit Free Press have driven the Cruze-ba…
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Volt Birth Watch 141: Toyota Laughs at the Volt, Indirectly

Bloomberg is all over Bill Reinert’s presentation to a National Academy of Sciences panel today in Washington. And why not? Toyota’s US national manager for advanced technology says plug-in hybrid vehicles are a non-starter. “Toyota estimates sales of hybrids that can be recharged at household outlets may be 50,000 units a year at most and could be as few as 3,500.” Not expressed: those kind of numbers wouldn’t even pay the HVAC bill for the building where Chevy engineers are busy trying to cobble together the new plug-in electric/gas hybrid Volt. Reinert’s not dancing on the Volt’s grave, but that’s only because it’s not dead. Yet. But the signs—admittedly as provided by the vehicle’s competitors—are not good.

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Volt Birth Watch 140: Aesthetic Holdups

The Freeps Mark Phelan has a new paean to the Chevy Volt mule’s electric grunt, saying the Cruze bodied tech-tester has “immediate torque for acceleration most sporty small cars would envy.” As GM prepares to build the first run of Volt-bodied test mules starting in mid-June, it’s bumping up the media presence of its last best hope by offering flacks like Phelan another test drive. And this time around the Volt’s “sporty acceleration” tops the talking points. “The test vehicle ran with smooth, quiet power,” reports Phelan, “but driving it felt reassuringly like getting behind the wheel of any new car.” Which conveniently is “a key goal for the Volt program,” according to GM EV Maestro Frank Weber. Another “key goal?” Making it look good enough to draw interest at its $35K price point.

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Volt Birth Watch 139: Niche

Recent reports that GM won’t even let the fanboys drive their Volt mules in the all-important range-extending “generator mode” were troubling enough, but recent chatter from inside GM suggests that maybe Chevy should have simply designed the Volt as an electric-only vehicle. “It’s best utilized in urban vehicles,” GM Product chief Tom Stephens explains to Automotive News [sub]. “We have to consider what is the usage of the person buying the vehicle. For a commuter who drives 40 miles a day and takes it shopping on weekend, it’s the perfect application.” Yes, and a Hummer is the perfect vehicle for those who want to practice counterinsurgency tactics on the weekends, but the market doesn’t necessarily reflect that, does it? No, it’s image über alles at GM. Is it any surprise then to learn (via GM-volt.com) that the Volt was originally imagined by Bob Lutz as an EV-only city car?

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Volt Birth Watch 138: Watching the Defectives

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?

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Volt Birth Watch 137: CNN Shills for Chevy

Even as it heads for Chapter 11, GM isn’t giving up its plug-in hybrid Hail Mary electric – gas Chevrolet Volt without a fight. (If at all.) Turning its back on their number one fanboy, Dr. Lyle Dennis, GM PR, has blessed CNNMoney Senior Shill—I mean auto writer Peter Valdez-Depena with a drive in their Volt test mule. The bottom line: it moves. As for everything else—range, recharge time, “charge sustaining mode,” etc.—all we get is regurgitated prevarication and promises. Or, more musically, smoke gets in your mirrors. “The guts of the car were about 80% those of the final Chevy Volt, according to Vehicle Line Executive Frank Weber.” Did Depena even look under the hood? I would imagine not, as he took everything he was told on faith and neglected to mention the fact that “old” GM will never build this machine. So, children, what did we learn today?

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Volt Birth Watch 135: Cruising Down Denial

Look, I hate to be the one to tell you, but the Chevrolet Volt is dead. Now that The Presidential Task Force on Automobiles (PTFOA) has slammed the electric/gas Hail Mary as a pie-in-the-sky PR-driven panacea, it time to throw in the towel. I know: “While the Volt holds promise, it is currently projected to be much more expensive than its gasoline-fueled peers and will likely need substantial reductions in manufacturing cost in order to become commercially viable.” This little ditty gives Volt boosters something to cling to and argue about (Toyota didn’t make money on the Prius for three hundred years!). Surprisingly enough, it appears that the PTFOA’s Mr. Rattner has set aside green dreams for a little something called business. So just let it go, Automotive News Europe [sub].

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Volt Birth Watch 134: Lutz: "Common Sense and Intelligence Will Prevail"
In their recent Determination of Viability Summary, The Presidential Task Force on Automobiles (PTFOA) dissed, dissected and dismissed GM’s last next b…
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Volt Birth Watch 133: No Confidence

Chevy’s Volt “will likely be too expensive to be commercially successful in the short-term,” reveals the PTFOA in what amounted to stunning news for Volt boosters and no one else. Wasn’t the Volt supposed to justify the whole bailout in the first place? The DetN‘s Scott Burgess takes the “yeah, but” tack, spinning expensive impracticality into farsighted vision. With a little help from his friends, of course. “In hybrid technology, it’s hard to argue that we’re not behind,” GM’s Rob Peterson tells Burgess. “But we believe we have a better solution.” And what of that $40K price tag that the government says will require “substantial reductions in manufacturing cost in order to become commercially viable?” “It’s a transformational technology,” says Peterson. “That’s part of the reason the cost is so expensive. But we believe if you start in the right direction, as the supply base matures, the volumes of the vehicle increases and the costs will go down.” If. As. Will. As in “we hope.” Meanwhile, someone has to pick up the bill and worry about the viability of a firm that is staking everything on an unprofitable-at-$40K moon shot. Needless to say that someone ain’t Bob Lutz . . . .

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Volt Birth Watch 132: GM's Lauckner Thinks People Will Have Trouble Understanding That Electric Cars Require Actual, You Know, Electricity

As the National Enquirer used to say, Lyle Dennis and GM are closerthanthis. On his gm-volt.com website, the doctor turned propagandist reports on a conversation with Jon Lauckner, VP Global Product Development (a.k.a. “Mr Volt”). Much like GM PR, Dennis has made the psychological leap from proof of concept (for Chevy’s plug-in electric/gas hybrid) to real world logistics—without actually completing the first step. Down the rabbit hole we go, with gm-volt.com’ s “GM Close to Launch Plan for the Chevy Volt.” Oh, before I share the spin, I’d like to point out that GM was really close to being close to having a launch plan for the Volt long before they were close to having a launch plan for the Volt. Right. So. Lauckner.

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Volt Birth Watch 131: June 1st Birthday! OK, November. 2010

GM-volt.com‘s Lyle Dennis has pinged me with his story on the Chevrolet plug-in electric/gas hybrid Volt’s development timeline. So, we learn that . . .

Andrew Farah, the Volt’s lead engineer actually has a countdown clock in his office revealing that 63 days from today, assembly of the first true Volt will start. All the parts will be lined up at the low volume assembly facility and will begin to come together that day. Andrew notes the first one will take longer to produce, but for all intents and purposes will come to life on June 1st. They will then be built at a rate of roughly 10 per week until a total fleet of over 80 is completed.

“All intents and purposes” is like “Not to insult you, but . . . ” In other words, wiggle room. Anyway, let’s follow this through.

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Volt Birth Watch 130: GM Promises Volt by November 2010

Hats off to GM Spinmeister-in-Chief Steve Harris. The guy’s got his finger on the pulse, at a time when the last thing GM can afford (never mind the U.S. taxpayer) is bad PR. And so, the ailing American automaker launched a major “the Volt is real” offensive, in the face of rumors (need I mention any names?) that the bailout-critical green car program is in chaos. (Cart and pony pics in gallery below.) The Detroit News reports that “Volt is on Track.” The words “GM Says” are conspicuous by their absence. But I e-quibble, ’cause I share Lyle Dennis’ willingness to accept Volt engineers’ “infinite confidence” that they can make Chevy’s plug-in gas/electric Hail Mary work. And here’s the news: like Tesla, GM’s already hard at work on Volt 2.0.



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General Volt Bailout Motors Death Watch

I was wondering how to report this aerial photograph of two members of the bailout bestowing Presidential Task Force on Autos (PTFOA) returning one of Chevy’s plug-in electric/gas hybrid Volt mules to the paddock. I stumbled upon this description of the death of a black hole at WonderQuest.co. Seemed appropriate.

According to Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle, our space vacuum teems with invisible particles that flash into and out of existence like virtual fireflies.

Suppose a pair of particle-antiparticles pops into being, conveniently enough, within effective range of the black hole’s gravity.

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Volt Birth Watch 129: Extended Range Explained. Or Not.

C. Douglas Weir wrote GM about the Chevy plug-in electric – gas hybrid Volt’s extended range feature. GM wrote back. First, Doug…

My confusion is the issue of what, exactly, happens as the range is exhausted for battery-only propulsion. I keep seeing the phrase: “a small engine-generator creates additional electricity to extend the range of the Volt several hundred additional miles” or something to that effect.

So, what exactly does this mean? Is the performance of this small engine-generator adequate for cruising down interstate highways and up long steep grades? Does the Volt become underpowered with this out-of-battery charge scenario? Say you were driving a couple hundred miles to the mother-in-law’s and you own a Volt and a G-6. Would the Volt be left at home because it would be unpleasant to drive in extended range mode? Or would it drive just fine on the small motor-generator with performance similar to a standard small four cylinder midsize car?

Also, the wording implies that the drive train would remain electric, with the motor-generator producing enough current to power the electric motor(s) through or around the battery stack. So is it correct that there is no direct drive from the engine to the wheels…rather it is a serial hybrid like a diesel locomotive when the battery is exhausted?

I hope you can clear this up for me. Any added information would be much appreciated.

Answer after the jump.

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Volt Birth Watch 128: "Our Car is Already Outdated"

I’m paraphrasing of course, in the grand TTAC style. But what are we to make of GM’s pre-bailout beg-a-thon announcement that Chevy’s electric/gas plug-in hybrid Volt will be easier to upgrade than a “conventional” car? Automotive News reckons Frank Weber’s assertion means “GM eyes fast gains with future Volt models.” But then we’re Garth to their Michael, and they still illustrate their Volt stories with the slammed concept car. Oh, hell, you be the judge. “This is almost like getting software updates into your car,” asserts the Volt’s global vehicle line executive. “This is not a mechanical world. So, even within a vehicle lifecycle you will see updates that are very significant.” How vague is that? Predictably so, given “GM expects to begin production of the Volt in 2010. The company has not said when it expects to roll out the second generation of the vehicle, but plans to focus on cutting the size and cost of the battery are a top priority. GM has not said how long it will take to produce an offshoot of the Volt.” Nor how much it will cost, if it really will go 40 miles on battery power alone, how long it will take to recharge, etc. But we do know one VERY important fact: GM will not make money on the Volt v1. AN programs the reminder . . .

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  • Redapple2 Another bad idea from the EVIL gm Vampire.
  • Daniel J Alabama is a right to work state so I'd be interested in how this plays out. If a plant in Alabama unionized, there are many workers who's still oppose joining and can work.
  • ToolGuy This guest was pretty interesting.
  • NJRide So this is an average age of car to be junked now and of course this is a lower end (and now semi-orphaned) product. But street examples seem to still be worth 2500? So are cars getting junked only coming in because of a traumatic repair? If not it seems a lot of cars being junked that would still possibly worth more than scrap.Also Murilee I remember your Taurus article way back what is the king of the junkyard in 2024?
  • AMcA I applaud Toyota for getting away from the TRD performance name. TuRD. This is another great example of "if they'd just thought to preview the name with a 13 year old boy."