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Volt No Salvation, Warns GM


Chevrolet Volt Concept

Chevrolet Volt Concept

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Don't count on the Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid to deliver significant corporate fuel economy gains, General Motors is warning federal regulators.

Though the automaker claims Volt will be able to run up to 40 miles on battery power, then get as much as 150 mpg when its gasoline engine kicks in, GM argues that it will sell so few of the PHEVS, at least initially, to move the needle much in terms of its overall fleet mileage.

GM is walking a convoluted path in preparing the world for the Chevy sedan. On one hand, it is promoting Volt as a potentially revolutionary breakthrough in high-mileage technology and is making a high-visibility PR campaign, hoping to gain some ground on the widely acknowledged leader in green automotive technology, Toyota.

But by emphasizing Volt's fuel efficiency, GM risks having regulators increase upcoming Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards. Congress instructed the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration - which oversees the mpg rules, as well as automotive safety - to target a 35-mpg minimum. But the agency would be allowed to increase that number if it believed the necessary technology is available.

By some estimates, GM alone will have to spend over $17 billion to meet the minimum increase, and each mpg over that could add billions more to the bill.

At least initially, GM is expected to produce relatively few plug-in hybrids, or PHEVs. Calculated in with the millions more vehicles it produces each year, the impact, averaged out, would likely be minor.

"For the purposes of the NHTSA rulemaking, GM's game-changing EREV (short for extended-range electric vehicle, GM's alternative to plug-in hybrid) technology should be treated as a low-volume application during the time period under consideration," the automaker said in a government filing. "We strongly discourage NHTSA from applying either PHEV or EREV technology in any significant volume in" calculating potential fuel economy increases.

Is GM talking out of both sides of its corporate mouth?
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Comments (13)
  1. Come on GM, get the Volt into gear and onto showrooms. with over 500 engineers working on the car, you should have it available within six months, at most. quit delaying and talking. just get it done and delivered. You should also be building a much smaller version of the Volt, See Aptera Plug-In Hybrid. a General Motors Version of this would sell like ice water on a hot summer day. If you build it, everyone will buy one. Everyone I know would buy one. even my grandparents and teen brothers and sisters. Everyone would like a car that gets well over 100 miles per gallon, and gives them the choice to plug-into electricity at home. The 110volt outlet, not some crazy charger that cost several thousand dollars. everyone sleeps at night to recharge their bodies. The Plug-In EV, will also recharge. At night. When electricity demand is low, and power plants have excess power. The time is now. But talk talk talk is not filling the order. The nearest car to an Electric Vehicle is the Prius, and those are back-ordered six months as of 7-11-2008. Toyota can't even make the Prius fast enough for the consumer. The Demand is obvious, And unmet. We need some new automakers to step up and give American Drivers More choices, more Automotive Choices. And fuel/energy choices for those new technology cars. And I'm not talking about Hydrogen Fuel Cell Vehicles and the distant future. I'm talking about an unmet demand consumers have- Now.
     
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  2. "But the agency would be allowed to increase that number if it believed the necessary technology is available."
    Seems like this "bill" is working counter to it's intent in reality.
     
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  3. GM is grieving over the demise of the beloved SUV. They are in the first stage of grief, denial. They belive the hybrid is a passing phase and the good ol' days of big gas guzzlers will be back again soon. Somebody has to tell them, "It's over." That somebody probably will be Toyota and Honda. Lack of vision at the corporate level is driving Ford and GM to Chapter 11. I say the sooner the better. This is evolution and GM is T-Rex. Five dollar a gallon gas is the asteroid heading right for them.
     
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  4. Joe
    I can't agree more with you more! GM needs to get the lead out of their butts. Better sooner for them than later. They will sell like there is no tomorrow and I would hope and I mean hope that they get it right. GM isn't in the best financial position and the future of the corporation depends on this car and others like it. If they do it right the sky is the limit. I would rather not think about what would happen if they do it wrong. Anyone remember OMC?
     
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  5. Congress and the NHTSA are killing the automotive industry. They are demanding that they spend money they don't have, to sell cars theat will not make them that money back. Yes fuel mileage needs to improve, but they need to be more realistic about their demands and the pressure they put on the automotive companies. I still will never drive a hybrid because I feel way to passionate about how my car drives and how it sounds. I don't care how expensive gas gets.
     
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  6. I don't see how GM is talking out of both sides of its mouth. That seems like a glib way of looking at it. They don't know if the Volt will be a success, if it will be profitable, etc. There are all sorts of unknowns. Obviously GM is behind the Volt, but they'd be stupid to just assume it will be a huge smash and solve everyone's problems.
    I'd agree with the other "bob". It sounds like that wording in the bill serves to stifle automakers from taking chances and experimenting. If they show some technology exists, however commercially unreasonable or unsuccessful it becomes, they risk being held to making it work.
    To Joseph, so they have 500 engineers on it. Therefore it should take 6 months tops? Do you have experience in auto manufacture that you are drawing on when making that statement? I don't, but I know enough to know that you can't get a baby in 4.5 months simply by having two women work on it...
     
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  7. GM and the whole Volt project reminds me a lot of software developers who sell "Vaporware".
    The Batteries may or may not one day magically appear but GM talks as though they're sitting on the shelves right now.
    Has anybody actually seen the 3cylinder engine that they are claiming to put into it?
    I would suggest that we take the advice my father used to say about the many "fuel saving" gadgets you could supposedly purchase that would also increase power, make the engine last longer and (who know), probably cure cancer and instill world peace. (or was that whirled peas?) His sage advise: "Don't hold your breath"
     
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  8. Tote,
    After covering this business for 30 years, I also tend to be quite skeptical, but my writing about Volt, if it shows any degree of optimism, is informed by the research I have done so far. And to that degree, I'm actually cautiously optimistic. First, I applaud GM's decision to work with two very good battery suppliers, and one, as I noted in my story, behind the scenes on the Volt project, two months ago, is already in production -- albeit on a smaller scale. They're providing very solid and reliable and surprisingly safe LIon batteries for use in Black & Decker power tools. To be clear, there's a huge difference between portable drills and auto applications, but everyone I query, in and out of the auto industry, say they're impressed with the technology GM is going with. Actually, technologies, as they're wisely playing two very different chemistries off one another.
    Toyota's PHEV problems stemmed from its partnering with a major battery/electronics vendor that stuck with promising but ultimately unsafe cobalt-doped lithium-ion chemistry.
    (Oh, and as background, there are something like 15 different and distinct LIon chemistries, ie cobalt, ferris-iron, titanium, etc. Some are robust but have low power density; others store lots of power, but can't take it on or give it up quickly; and cobalt is one of several versions that are extremely sensitive to even nano-level manufacturing problems. This can lead to overheating and fires, which the FAA acknowledged, early this year, with a not-well-followed memo supposedly limiting the number of LIon batteries you're allowed to carry on a commercial aircraft.)
    As to the 3-cylinder engine, I noted in one of that series of reports that GM very well may move away from the I-3 to another powertrain. I'm betting they go with a downsized I-4 tuned to run at a relatively stable speed, as that would be best for 1) generating a steady level of current; and 2) running in a narrow RPM band minimizes emissions and maximizes fuel efficiency. That's one reason that some of the experts (outside GM, I should stress) I've long followed have favored series v parallel hybrids.
    Incidentally, I must add that the decision to go series is, to my eyes, a real plus for Volt/GM eFlex v Toyota's own PHEV, which primarily adds more (LIon) batteries to the existing hybrid, then tweaks its electronics. Yes, time-tested, by now, but not any real breakthrough.
    Hokay, long rant...but I am fairly confident, if cautious, that GM will get there. Frankly, their corporate reputation is on the line. If they deliver another Fiero, Aztek, or any of the "vaporcars" they'd promised and failed to deliver over the years, I think GM will be drawn and quartered. Twenty years ago, they could afford to screw something like this up. Not any more.
    Paul E.
     
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  9. There is a high number of car owners who live in apartments and condos (like myself) that couldn't use (plug in) a plug in hybrid.
    And how exactly will the electric company pursuade owners to charge their cars during off-peak hours? I imagine most will want to charge their vehicle right away, so it's ready to drive anytime.
     
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  10. To all those wondering why GM has't put out the Volt yet, here's your answer:
    Toyota is in the financial position to be able to lose money on EVERY Prius sold. They do, and that's a fact. They know that the more they make, the more they'll learn, and eventually they will make money on hybrids. GM is not in that position. When they come out with the Volt, it will be after they have done enough engineering to make it profitably very early on. That's the challenge, and that's what takes time. Hell, they could of just made copies of their prototype and sold them at 3million a piece and been out with it months ago, right? I'm a mechanical engineer, I went to GMI, and this is just what GM needs to do so they can actually make money on this car.
     
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  11. Not sure what it will take to get the US Automakers off their collective butts and get on with it. I remember when the consumer finally had enough with the CRAP that was coming out of Detroit and the import invasion began.
    With a 6 month back order on the Prius, you'd think somebody in the big American automaker group would have a clue! I say bring on the imports! If the USA Automakers are too lame to make even one competitor available to the consumer then screw 'em. I'm ordering a Prius today! Thats one more sale you've lost!
     
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  12. Thats great that a car can get that kind of mpg. But, how much power will it draw to charge the battery over night? And, how long will teh battery last before it needs to be replaced? And speaking of replacement, how much will that cost along with the recovery cost of the old battery? This might end up being a really expensive car to own in the end.
     
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  13. So why can't GM make a car with the same range as the Tesla roadster? Their electric roadster gets 220 miles per charge (see www.teslamotors.com). It's selling now, albeit in limited numbers. And they're coming out with a sedan which is claimed to cost in the $60K range, with similar mileage range. I just found this site, so I don't know if you've discussed that car here, but I'm guessing you have. If Tesla Motors can develop a car with that kind of range, why not GM or Ford? I think I know, but what are your ideas?
     
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