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GM Nears Moment of Truth for Chevy Volt as Green Halo

chevy-volt-productionThe burden loaded onto General Motors’ (s GM) extended-range electric Chevy Volt has been heavy since before the “New GM” — the company that emerged this summer after the federally managed bailout and bankruptcy process — was even born. In the financial viability plans that GM submitted to Congress in pursuit of federal aid, the company used the Volt to bolster its credentials as an innovative, green-minded company.

So will the Volt help boost GM’s image in high-growth market segments where according to a Reuters interview Chevrolet VP Brent Dewar says it’s currently lagging when it comes to young and environmentalist car buyers? That’s the kind of green halo effect GM hopes to see when the car launches in 2011, and the company now has a series of key benchmarks along the way to commercial production now coming in rapid fire: the 74th and final pre-production version of the sedan was just completed on Friday, GM and union officials plan to announce plans for Volt manufacturing in Flint, Mich. on Tuesday, and Volt vehicle line engineer director Tony Posawatz told the GM-Volt blog this week production of some 3,000 “validation” models will begin by March 2010.

GM is off to a somewhat rocky start this month, fielding reactions to a 90-day post-bailout progress report it delivered last week and a statement that it could build up to 2.8 million vehicles in North America in 2010 (around a million more than it plans to make in 2009. Several critics on Monday said, in so many words, that the company was showing “a little bit of shades of the old GM” by announcing overly optimistic production schedules. (One notable exception: Evan Newmark at the WSJ Deal Journal argued GM CEO Fritz Henderson should get a Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts toward “putting an executive team in place, overhauling GM’s culture and making cars that Americans actually want to buy.”)

We noted nearly a year ago that it would be very interesting to see how GM’s commitment to the Volt would look in coming months, given the company’s history with the EV1 and the expectation that the Volt, projected to cost more than $1 billion to develop, would not be profitable for the first few years.

Well the company has maintained high expectations for the Volt through the course of its bailout pitch, restructuring and executive-level shakeups. In fact the company is banking on new models under the Chevrolet nameplate (including the Volt, the 40 MPG Cruze compact and the automaker’s first minicar, the Spark) to help boost sales now that the company is ditching its Hummer, Subaru, Pontiac and Saturn brands. But in the two areas where Dewar tells Auto Observer he sees the highest growth potential — the youth and environmental segments — he says Chevrolet, at this point, is “not making the grade.”

Making big promises about new technology means running the risk of disappointing or disillusioning customers with a product that might have some real potential — but for GM, especially if it’s going to win over young people concerned about the environmental impact of driving, it’s better than risking a starring role in a remake of “Who Killed the Electric Car?” This time around, GM seems like it’s sticking to its guns.

18 Responses to “GM Nears Moment of Truth for Chevy Volt as Green Halo”

  1. As one of those “young environmentalist” consumers my whole life, I agree that nothing GM has ever made had any interest to me. (EV1 excepted.) I would basically have to defend my purchase of any GM car to friends and family, who all drive European and Japanese. For the first time I’d be happy to do that with the Volt, though. (Although I wish it had more European styling.)

    The only other brands I would’ve been interested in from GM are ironically the Subaru, Saturn, Opel and Saab! Oh well. I always thought Subaru should’ve been the first one out with an AWD hybrid, for all those enviros who drive them to the mountains despite their mediocre MPG.

    • I would have a lot more confidence in Obama if he had forced GM to resume production of the Saturn (for years, they’ve been rebranded German Opel imports — a stupid idea). Killing Saturn means that the OLD GM has snowed and deceived the new Board of Directors, and that the “team” of Fritz and Bob is as inept (or worse) than the former “team” of Rick and Bob. How about getting that guy OUT of the business?? Aren’t three failures (Chrysler, Exide and GM) enough, for pete’s sake??

  2. There is no way they pull the plug on this one (pun intended). It is only a matter of whether there is demand for 3000, 10000 or 100000 a year. They will be the only series hybrid on the market within reach to a “mass market.”

    It depends mostly on how they price the car, which of course relates to short term profitability. My guess is that they price it aggressively to drive volume and improve their manufacturing economics.

    • Let’s hope so; it’s after all just a 40-mile-range EV. Even GM can do that. But they are using the WRONG BATTERY; the 400 lb. Lithium battery uses 16 kWh but only yields 8 kWh of useful power.

      In the Toyota RAV4-EV, the battery pack weighs 900 lbs. and powers the RAV4-EV over 100 miles; so 400 lbs. would be equivalent to 12 kWh of USEABLE energy, not 8 kWh!!

      The same battery (now of course a smaller battery wears out sooner, so ceteris parabus) if it were NiMH would yield a range of 60 miles!

      And we can take our 30 kWh Toyota RAV4-EV pack from 100% to 0%, we don’t have to screw around with using only half the pack, nor with “cooling systems” to avoid Lithium fires.

      So ironically, the MORE EXPENSIVE and SHORT-LIVED Lithium is HEAVIER, in practice, than NiMH!!

      You won’t see many $40,000 VOLT with a $30,000 battery pack…and, Lithium is just discarded, it doesn’t recycle like lead or NiMH. GM will lose money on each one, even if they bring a few copies out. Once again, there will be a waiting list, and you will have to apply to get one, just another scam-job.

  3. We all hope GM is honest, this time; but back in 1992-1994, GM pretended to be honestly trying to “bring the EV1 to market” while instead, it was sabotaging it…buying up and sequestering the superior NiMH batteries, and releasing it (Nov. 1996) with failure-prone GM-Delco batteries that kept the range as low as 40 miles and often just plain shorted out.

    So it looks like the same old stuff, different day; GM will release a few over-priced VOLT-hoaxes with the WRONG BATTERY, still suppressing superior NiMH or lead-acid batteries.

    • This is ridiculous! GM did spend about $1 billion in 1990s dollars to make the EV-1 and were only able to sell, or rather, Lease about 800 cars. EV-1 did exactly what GM said it would do. It went between 60 and 90 miles on a charge. Conspiracy theorists like yourself forget that Gasoline was $1.50 a gallon and the public was buying SUVs and Pick-up Trucks like crazy and avoided the 2 seater EV-1 and all other electric vehicles of the time like the plague. Even the best batteries were not as good as the Lithium Ion batteries of today. That’s why GM as well as Ford and Toyota abandoned All Electrics back then.

      Now GM has developed the Volt, an “Extended Range Electric Vehicle”. It is an electric car that completely eliminates the Range Anxiety of a pure electric car. For longer trips the 1.4L gasoline engine will kick in to provide electricity for more than 300 miles. 70% of Americans drive less than the 40 miles a day. This is Volt’s electric only range so if all of your trips during the week or the month or the entire year are less than that between charges, then you can actually drive Gasoline Free. THIS IS NO HOAX!

      I refer you to;

      This site is not run by General Motors. It is run by People interested in Driving a real world electric car. as of today, 50,450 people have signed up on the Volt interest list. there are also Photos of Volt and Future derivatives like the Opel Ampera and the Cadillac Converj as well as hundreds of articles about the development of Volt and detailed Technical analysis of the Voltechnology.

      Time will ultimately tell if volt is a success or not but you should read this before judging Volt’s merits. This is a reality and Pre-production starts in March 2010

      • LOL! Study before you write this stuff. GM received the EV1 prototype “impact” for a budget of $3 million in 1989; Roger B. Smith committed to it at the L.A. Auto Show and then on Earth Day in April; by August, he was FIRED or LET GO as CEO.

        GM then spent MILLIONS trying to kill the EV1! GM “consultants” and “experts” appeared, year after year, claiming that it was impossible; GM spent millions creating barriers and problems for the EV1 (for example, buying control of NiMH and then suppressing it!!).

        GM might have spent $1 billion, but it sure wasn’t on the EV1!! It was on KILLING the EV1.

  4. Jennings

    A small update for you. GM has already invested well over a billion dollars to develop the Volt. And with the recent equinox and terrain vehicles coming on the market at mpg significanly higher than competitors from toyota, honda and ford as well as the upcoming Cruze you mention in this article as well as a commitment to make over half its production facilities worldwide land-fill free by the end of next year and the use of solar and wind power to power some of its plants from california to maryland its getting hard to make the case that GM is the automaker lagging in environmental efforts. Gosh, even the hot selling camaro “muscle car” gets almost 30 mpg.