PLUG OK license plate
Big Day for GM Chevy Volt and Plug-In Cars
Sep 17, 2008 (From the CalCars-News archive)
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On September 16, 2008, the world's drivers, the media, the industry watchers all definitively recognized that plug-in cars are coming. While we've often urged even greater speed on a large company that's already trying very hard, today we're simply enthusiastic fans. In making the Chevy Volt the cornerstone of its GMNext Centennial event and its second century, GM has challenged every carmaker to respond and made the case for a national commitment to incentivize the electrification of transportation.

Below we include information about the Volt from GM followed by two important stories in the Wall Street Journal and excerpts from the daily press coverage we found most interesting and informative. We'll follow up with a second posting from some of the weeklies and perhaps blogs.


VOLT PRESS RELEASE EXCERPTS at http://www.gmnext.com/­uploads/­assets/­Chevrolet_Volt_Final_08.pdf . It's interesting to see how PHEV advocates' sometimes-complex ways of describing cost benefits have been well distilled by a multi-billion dollar company's marketing team. And we noticed for the first time a caution: The Chevrolet Volt is expected to be built at GM's Detroit-Hamtramck manufacturing facility, subject to GM successfully negotiating satisfactory government incentives.

"Revealing the production version of the Chevy Volt is a great way to open our second century," said Rick Wagoner, GM Chairman and CEO. ""The Volt is symbolic of GM's strong commitment to the future just the kind of technology innovation that our industry needs to respond to today's and tomorrow's energy and environmental challenges."

The Volt uses electricity to move the wheels at all times and speeds. For trips up to 40 miles, the Volt is powered only by electricity stored in its 16-kWh, lithium-ion battery. When the battery's energy is depleted, a gasoline/E85-powered engine generator seamlessly provides electricity to power the Volt's electric drive unit while simultaneously sustaining the charge of the battery. This mode of operation extends the range of the Volt for several hundred additional miles, until the vehicle's battery can be charged. Unlike a conventional battery-electric vehicle, the Volt eliminates "range anxiety," giving the confidence and peace of mind that the driver will not be stranded by a depleted battery.

The Chevrolet Volt can be plugged either into a standard household 120v outlet or use 240v for charging. The vehicle's intelligent charging technology enables the Volt's battery to be charged in less than three hours on a 240v outlet or about eight hours on a 120v outlet. Charge times are reduced if the battery has not been fully depleted. At a cost of about 80 cents per day (10 cents per kWh) for a full charge that will deliver up to 40 miles of electric driving, GM estimates that the Volt will be less expensive to recharge than purchasing a cup of your favorite coffee. Charging the Volt about once daily will consume less electric energy annually than the average home's refrigerator and freezer units.

GM estimates that the Volt will cost about two cents per mile to drive while under battery power compared to 12 cents per mile using gasoline priced at $3.60 per gallon. For an average driver who drives 40 miles per day (or 15,000 miles per year), this amounts to a cost savings of $1,500 annually. Using peak electric rates, GM estimates that an electrically driven mile in a Chevy Volt will be about one-sixth of the cost of a conventional gasoline-powered vehicle. The cost savings are even greater when charging during off-peak hours, when electric rates are cheaper.

The Chevrolet Volt is expected to be built at GM's Detroit-Hamtramck manufacturing facility, subject to GM successfully negotiating satisfactory government incentives. Production is scheduled to begin late 2010 for models in the United States. Pricing has not been announced.


THE LAUNCH EVENT: Watch the broadcast and see other events at http://www.gmnext.com . At the Live Chat session with JON LAUCKNER VP, Global Program Management, I learned something, when I posted a question about why the Volt was now described as having a 40 electric (charge- depleting) range and a total 400 mile-range, which would mean 360 miles at 30MPG in a 12-gallon tank. He said the designers had downsized the gasoline capacity, and although I have not found an official spec, it appears now to be around 8 gallons, which would mean 45MPG as an HEV.

From the famously direct BOB LUTZ, Vice Chairman, Global Product Development, we heard:

  • The Volt technology is being developed for General Motors vehicles! We are not buying any technology from another manufacturer.
  • We have a proprietary transmission, details of which are top secret, but we've incorporated some things that nobody else has ever thought of.
  • [In response to why not move faster] Thanks for the encouragement but this is all-new technology in an all-new vehicle and we just plain need the time. We're not going to take unnecessary risks.
  • In response to "Can a vehicle like the Corvette survive in today's green, fuel, efficient environment? Lutz characteristically said, Just because more people become vegetarians doesn't mean the grocery store closes down the meat counter.


NEWS COVERAGE: THE DAY BEFORE:

WALL STREET JOURNAL:
GM Looks for Buzz With Its Electric Volt; Auto Maker Hopes High-Mileage Car Will Repair Image,"
Sept. 15, 2008 By John D. Stoll
http://online.wsj.com/­article/­SB122143673862434189.html

Detroit -- General Motors Corp. on Tuesday plans to officially unveil its most important model in decades -- and possibly the key to its survival. The Chevrolet Volt is a battery-powered compact car scheduled to hit the market by the end of 2010. It is designed to give GM the kind of highly fuel-efficient vehicle it needs to compete in an era of near $4-a-gallon gasoline. But the car also has another, more-strategic purpose: to change minds. GM is hoping the Volt will be such a technological leap forward that the many consumers who have turned their backs on Detroit will give the company and its cars a fresh look. The auto maker also hopes the Volt will become its signature product, supplanting the big sport-utility vehicles like the Hummer and Chevrolet Suburban that now define its image.

If the Volt fails to work as GM has promised or its launch runs into significant delays, the company could lose credibility with some of its newly won fans, says Elizabeth Lowery, GM's vice president for environmental and energy issues. "We have to deliver," she adds. The vehicle is "very important to our entire strategy."

Along with its domestic rivals and U.S. suppliers, GM also is lobbying Congress to approve low-cost loans to the industry. The company says it would use such a loan to fund the retooling of a Hamtramck, Mich., assembly plant to give it capacity to build 60,000 Volts annually. Some of its suppliers are already making plans to furnish parts for more than 100,000 annually.

The company also is scrambling to develop long-lasting batteries. At GM's development center in Warren, Mich., engineers have set up test benches with battery packs charging and discharging continuously to see if they can last 10 years or 150,000 miles. Those tests won't be complete, however, until March 2010, just seven months before the Volt is supposed to be ready.


CONTRASTING EXPECTATIONS, SAME DAY, SAME PAPER:
John White, senior editor, writes a full-page story in a special WSJ Energy Reportnalysis, "Why the Gasoline Engine Isn't Going Away Any Time Soon; Blame it on technology, cost -- and the American way of life" http://online.wsj.com/­article/­SB122123930467228645.html?mod=googlenews_wsj . White's perspective exemplifies the view of a person who has recognized the move toward electrification of transportation, but who doesn't yet appreciate the impact that of the end of "business as usual" because of energy dependence and climate change, and therefore thinks things will move as slowly as they always have. The article is accompanied by a table, "The Road Ahead," comparing the pros/cons/vehicles/availability of hybrids/mild hybrids/PHEVs/flex-fuel vehicles/fuel cell vehicles/electric car/clean diesel -- it could have been useful, but alas it's often inaccurate or outdated.

An automotive revolution is coming -- but it's traveling in the slow lane. High oil prices have accomplished what years of pleas from environmentalists and energy-security hawks could not: forcing the world's major auto makers to refocus their engineers and their capital on devising mass-market alternatives to century-old petroleum-fueled engine technology. With all the glitzy ads, media chatter and Internet buzz about plug-in hybrids that draw power from the electric grid or cars fueled with hydrogen, it's easy to get lulled into thinking that gasoline stations soon will be as rare as drive-in theaters. The idea that auto makers can quickly execute a revolutionary transition from oil to electricity is now a touchstone for both major presidential candidates.

That's the dream. Now the reality: This revolution will take years to pull off -- and that's assuming it isn't derailed by a return to cheap oil. Anyone who goes to sleep today and wakes up in five years will find that most cars for sale in the U.S. will still run on regular gas -- with a few more than today taking diesel fuel. That will likely be the case even if the latter-day Rip Van Winkle sleeps until 2020.

SUMMARY: Here's a quick spin past the article's subheads: In "Free to Drive," he says, Technological change is best done incrementally. In "Integral to Modern Life," he says, we'll also have to use mass transit more, use smarter urban design, and respond to consumers' desires for mobility and freedom. In "Desire Isn't Enough," he says there's plenty of innovation left in internal combustion technology. In "Cheaper Than Water," he say gasoline is still a bargain. Seeing hydrogen and natural gas as unlikely, he does acknowledge, "Among auto-industry executives, the bet now is that the leading alternative to gasoline will be electricity." and batteries are still costly.

When White gets to "The Costs Add Up," he gets pretty enthusiastic, "A world full of electricity-driven cars would require different refueling infrastructure but the good news is that it's already largely in place, reflecting a century of investment in the electric grid. The refueling station is any electric outlet. The key will be to control recharging so it primarily happens when the grid isn't already stressed, but controllers should be able to steer recharging to off-peak hours, likely backed by discount rates for electricity. Big utilities in the two most populous states, California and Texas, are adding millions of smart meters capable of verifying that recharging happens primarily in periods when other electricity use is slack. Studies show the U.S. could easily accommodate tens of millions of plug-in cars with no additional power plants. Three big utilities in California are planning to install smart meters capable of managing off-peak recharging. The estimated cost: $5 billion over the next five years.

Finally, in "Remembering the Past," he says "This idea [Manhattan Project/Apollo Project] lives today in General Motors Corp.'s crash program to bring out the Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid by 2010 -- even though the company acknowledges the battery technology required to power the car isn't ready. Even if GM succeeds in meeting its deadline for launching the Volt, the Volt won't be a big seller for years, especially if estimates that the car will be priced at $40,000 or more prove true. Moon-shot efforts like the Volt get attention, but the most effective ways to use less energy may have less to do with changing technology than with changing habits. A 20-mile commute in an electric car may not burn gasoline, but it could well burn coal -- the fuel used to fire electric power plants in much of the U.S. The greener alternative would be to not make the drive at all, and fire up a laptop and a broadband connection instead.


NEWS COVERAGE: LAUNCH DAY (HEAVILY CUT EXCERPTS)

VOLT WATCH: GM SAYS 2011 PLUG-IN HYBRID COULD LOSE MONEY (FROM AUTOMOTIVE NEWS)
Sept. 16 by Andrew Strieber:
The development of the 2011 Chevy Volt has been extremely impressive -- after a massive investment, GM is managing to bring the revolutionary car from far-fetched concept to production-ready game changer in just a few years. And while many competitors doubted it would be built at all, today the automaker is already showing off a final design even though the car won't hit showrooms until late 2010....Since its introduction, speculation on the Volt's MSRP has ranged from an original target of $30,000 to nearly $48,000 without any government tax breaks. Presently the consensus seems to be around $40,000, though this could still change down the line. However GM COO Fritz Henderson believes that even with $10k more than anticipated, this won't be enough to help the car turn a profit, saying "most of our Gen-one technologies, I don't know that I've ever seen a situation where we make money, particularly when you load all the costs in." Considering that Volt development has been far costlier than your average car, it would be a surprise if the plug-in hybrid bucked that trend. Yet contrary Henderson's opinion, GM vice chairman (and unofficial Volt ambassador) Bob Lutz still holds out hope the first-generation plug-in hybrid will be profitable. http://wot.motortrend.com/­6283327/­auto-news/­volt-watch-gm-says-2011-plug-in-hybrid-could-lose-money/­index.html

GM REVEALS CHEVROLET VOLT, NEW DETAILS
DETROIT FREE PRESS by Jewl Gopwani
Standard features in the Volt will include a touch screen to display vehicle information, and Bluetooth capability for cell phones and music streaming. Drivers will be able to configure the instrument display, which will be shown on a LCD screen, GM said in a statement this morning. The vehicle will be able to seat four, and have a top speed of 100 miles per hour. The vehicle will also include touch-screen climate and infotainment controls, and an optional navigation system with an onboard hard drive for maps and music storage. After Lutz rolled out the Volt, Wagoner said: "GM's second century starts now." http://www.freep.com/­apps/­pbcs.dll/­article?AID=/­20080916/­BUSINESS01/­80916036&imw=Y

TOUGH TO SWALLOW THE NEW, PILL-SHAPED CHEVY VOLT
HUFFINGTON POST by David Burdick: Though the photos had been leaked before, GM just officially sent out, far and wide, new images of the much-hyped Chevy Volt. The electric car, on which much of GM's future is pinned, was originally shown off with an aggressive, race-car looking design...In any case, the old Volt design was something like this...Ooh. Very slick, right? American. You could buy that thing in a mid-life crisis, if you had to....The new design, unveiled this week, is rounder, as if to protect a five-year-old from hurting himself while playing with it. It probably helps with aerodynamics but the net result, I'm sure, will be lost when no new consumers buy it. [Followed by lively exchanges among readers on the question of Looks versus Benefits.] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/­dave-burdick/­tough-to-swallow-the-new_b_126828.html

CHEVY VOLT, HONDA INSIGHT OR TOYOTA PRIUS, JALOPNIK:
a similar debate over looks and value.
http://jalopnik.com/­5050542/­chevy-volt-honda-insight-or-toyota-prius

GM RELEASES 2011 CHEVY VOLT PHOTOS & SPECIFICATIONS! (TONS OF PHOTOS)
AT TREEHUGGER, [best set of photos]
http://www.treehugger.com/­files/­2008/­09/­gm-volt-electric-plug-in-hybrid-car-photos-specifications.php

GM'S NEXT CENTURY RIDING ON MORE THAN CHEVY VOLT
ASSOCIATED PRESS by Tom Krisher:
[this story begins with the loan package -- we're wondering when the other automakers besides GM/Ford/Chrysler will start to complain....] On its 100th anniversary, General Motors workers cheered as the company revealed the electric-powered car intended to make GM a vehicle technology leader. But after all the hoopla surrounding the Chevrolet Volt, executives also say a government loan package and access to credit are important parts of GM's next century. Chairman and CEO Rick Wagoner, speaking to reporters at Tuesday's centennial celebration inside GM's world headquarters, said the recent turmoil in the financial markets should not affect the loan package now before Congress. The $25 billion in loans were approved last year as part of an energy bill and should now be funded to help the industry build next-generation automobiles and meet government fuel economy standards, Wagoner said. "Really a relatively small fraction of the investment the industry will have to make to achieve these improvements was to be provided for by direct loans," Wagoner said. "We're just asking that those loans now be funded and that the rules and procedures to be able to draw against those loans be finalized promptly."... Lutz told reporters that GM will be able to develop products like the Volt even if it doesn't get the government loans, but the company would prefer to have the financing as it faces a difficult balancing act between spending to meet government regulations and developing new products. "Obviously it's clear that government loans would take a lot of the stress off," he said.

The Volt even converted one of GM's biggest critics, director Chris Paine, whose 2006 documentary film "Who Killed the Electric Car?" accused GM of conspiring with the oil industry and the U.S. government to cancel its 1990s EV1 electric vehicle. Paine, invited by GM to attend the centennial, took part in a panel discussion about the future of transportation. GM paid his expenses, he told reporters. "My film wasn't supposed to be a grudge match with GM," he said. "It was about why we weren't able to begin to transition to a new automotive generation 10 years ago when we could have." Paine said he still believes GM was wrong in killing the EV1, and he concedes that taking part in the centennial could give the appearance that he's part of the GM public relations machine. But he was intrigued by the Volt and a resurgence in electric car interest. "The corporation isn't always wrong. If they're doing this and it's more than press, then I want to be here to cover it," said Paine, who is making a new documentary about the "revenge" of the electric car. http://ap.google.com/­article/­ALeqM5iP4u5H9zy-lvMr4n7TThdeF-043gD9381S280

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