Tuesday marks General Motors’ 100-year anniversary as a car maker. This auspicious date is being noted all over the automotive world and is even making its presence felt in “civilian” publications like the New York Times. A lot of the press is not just about where GM has been — Caddys with fins, inventing the Corvette etc. — but where will GM be in the future, because this 100 year mark comes at a troubling time for The General. Global warming, having to play second fiddle to Toyota and the imminent death of the SUV are signs that all bode ill for the once mighty “Standard of The World.”
What does the future hold for General Motors? Many, both within and outside the company are pinning their hopes on Chevy’s Volt for pointing the company in the right direction, if not being an outright savior.
So, with that in mind, here’s what I think are the five make-or-brake details for Chevy’s Volt.
1. It has to work like a “real” car.
No ifs, ands or buts, the Volt has to work the way your average American, circa 2008, expects a car to work. It has got to start, drive, stay parked for days on end then start without hesitation. In short, it’s got to work like a car. Luckily, since the Volt is a hybrid, and since Toyota has already done the proof of concept with its Prius, this shouldn’t be that big of a deal to accomplish. The Volt is not some over-glorified golf cart like a lot of pure electric “cars,” but the buying public will be paying attention. There can be no slip-ups. The Volt must work “right” from day one, or there will be hell to pay.
2. It has to cost what a real car costs.
First, GM said $30,000, and now it’s $40,000 — and by the time you walk out the door of the Chevy dealership, plan on it being somewhere in the mid-40s (tax, license, mark up and all that). That’s fine for the early adopters and people with something to prove. That’s the way The Market works for almost anything, but eventually GM will have to sell the Volt (or something with the Volt’s powertrain) for something close to what the average car costs. It has to “mainstream” the Volt and make buying one no bigger of a leap of faith or pocketbook than deciding on a Toyota Camry.
3. Value, value, value — trade in, that is
This better not be a flash in the pan. The Volt is going to have to sell reasonably well, and when the time comes for proud Volt owners to get rid of their once-sparkling techno-wonders, they better retain a lot of the value that GM is demanding for them. Look at what the trade-in value for a GMC Envoy is these days. That cannot happen for the Volt. Volt owners can’t be left hanging out to dry or it will sour them and, by extension, everyone that hears about them getting a not-so-good-deal when trade-in time comes. GM must make the Volt work, in a financial sense, for customers.
4. Sell it on the world market.
The Volt can’t just be an American thing, it’s got to be a world thing. Sure, the good ol’ U.S. of A. is the largest car market in the world, but for the Volt to be a success, GM is going to have to sell the thing worldwide. Or more precisely, it’s going to have to sell the meat and bones of the Volt, its plug in hybrid drivetrain, on the world market. Luckily, GM is ideally positioned to do this. With various subsidiary divisions scattered across the globe, GM could, with little effort, put the Volt drivetrain in Opel sedans sold in Germany, into small trucks in Brazil and so on. Not only would this amortize costs, but “new” markets for better vehicles makes it more of a win-win for everybody.
5. Race it.
GM is going to have to make a performance variant of the Volt, and then go racing with it. I know this is hard for a lot of green-geeks to understand, but it’s based on a really simple truth: Racing improves the breed. You don’t think efficiency and gas mileage count in the racing world? How many races can you win sitting in the pits, putting gas in a car? That’s right, zero.
If GM wants to show that the Volt is a real car, that works even under the harshest of conditions, they should race it. GM could make a one-make racing series, where it’s 20 Volts out there racing against one another, or, if they really want to get noticed, throw the Volt into the lions’ den and send it out to race against other “normal” cars. If the Volt could start competing against, and beating, other smallish sedans on a race course, you bet people would notice. As the saying goes, Win on Sunday, sell on Monday.
If not, GM can get used to second place.
Images courtesy of GM.