Busy Weeks for GM's On-Schedule Volt
- There's lots of recent news for GM -- and it's essentially all good.
When the company announced the Volt in January 2007, it said it
expected to have the car in mass production by fall 2010. Since then,
it has been remarkably open in showing the development process. And
in the face of skepticism from many directions, the Volt team still
expects to meet that original schedule -- now pegged as November
2010. Below are the latest previews, media reports, production plans,
and a review of battery cost controversies.
(Shortly after it goes out on email, this posting will also be
viewable at http://www.calcars.org/news-archive.html -- there you can
add CalCars-News to your RSS feed.)
VOLT TEAM SHOWS WORK IN PROGRESS: The old GM would never have wheeled
out a car for media ride-and-drives with a disclaimer about the car's
rough spots, accompanied by engineering team assurances that it could
fix them before launch. Usually-cynical, seasoned auto reviewers
responded well to this "warts and all" approach. Before driving the
Volt, Edmunds Green Car Advisor John O'Dell called it "the most
publicly visible new car development project in the history of
. After, he said "it was a thrill to drive a vehicle loaded with
potentially game-changing technology," and concluded, "Verdict: a
solid car with loads of promise from a technology that undoubtedly
will help bring clean electric driving into the mainstream"
. See Edmunds' simple technical summary and pointers to other reports
Prize-winning LA Times columnist Dan Neil (who back in 2005 in LAT
Magazine cover story "Running on Empty," wrote the first test-drive
review of a Prius conversion) poetically said, "even in this rough
prototype, the Volt vibe is spacious, comfortable and lively. The
whole car seems lit from within by the ambitions of its builders."
Lindsay Brooke in the NY Times heard Vehicle Line Director Tony
Posawatz describe how they have nine months to fine-tune the software
to smooth out intermittent engine revving when recharging a low
. And Volt engineers let the Detroit Free Press's Mark Phelan tag
along as they identified and solved problems within 24 hours
GM ANNOUNCES INITIAL VOLT PRODUCTION VOLUMES: GM Vice President Bob
Lutz at the LA Auto Show said production levels would be 4-5,000 in
opening months with a first-year total of 8-10,000, followed by a
ramp-up to 50-60,000/year
. (We hope the response will be so great that GM will raise
production levels steadily!)
BOARD TRIES TO "MAKE THEM AN OFFER THEY CAN'T REFUSE:" Detroit turns
out not to be Godfather country: engineers know that sometimes more
people or resources slows things down. The NY Times cited anonymous
reports that GM's Board of Directors asked if $100 million would
enable the Volt team to get the car out the door before November
2010. The response from Jon Lauckner, Global Product Planning VP:
early in the program, the timing had been advanced; at this point,
more money wouldn't move up the timetable, but could get more
vehicles to consumers to test drive before high-volume manufacturing
begins http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/08/business/08auto.html .
CALIFORNIA WILL GET FIRST VOLTS: At the LA Auto Show, Bob Lutz said
that the first production Volts will come to California in late 2010
. Outgoing Chevy chief Brent Dewar said, "It is natural that
California is the lead market for Volt. Not only is it the largest
automotive market, Californians are known to be leaders in adopting
groundbreaking new technologies." Though CalCars is globally-focused,
we're still home-town boosters. And we agree that the receptivity and
feedback from savvy business, technical and EV audiences will be very
helpful -- so we agree this is a wise strategy! Announcements of
other states will follow
MICHIGAN GETS $700M IN VOLT-RELATED INVESTMENTS: GM announced it will
invest $336M in the Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly Center for the Volt.
Edmunds reports the source of components: tooling from Grand Blanc,
lithium-ion batteries from GM's Brownstown Township battery pack
manufacturing facility, camshafts and connecting rods from Bay City,
and stampings and the Volt's 1.4-liter engine-generator from Flint
OPEL AMPERA, EUROPEAN VOLT, ALSO ON TRACK: The left-hand drive diesel
vehicle will reach the market in late 2011; right-hand drive
Vauxhalls for Britain will follow in 2012
GM BATTERY COSTS REBUT DOWNBEAT ASSUMPTIONS: The latest flawed study
of PHEVs, this time from the U.S. National Research Council, projects
a PHEV-40 battery pack costing $14,000, resulting in the vehicle
costing $18,000 more than its equivalent non-hybrid. The report says
if battery technology changes incrementally, this cost will decline
only one-third by 2020; even if there are some "battery
breakthroughs," they won't show up in vehicles until 2030. See a
http://www.greencarcongress.com/2009/12/nrc-phev-20091215.html and a
summary at http://www.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=12826 .
When asked about battery cost for its 40-mile pack, GM hasn't been
specific but has said it's well below these estimates, and heading
much lower in its second generation in a few years. And of course, GM
and other carmakers are getting advanced battery designs that didn't
exist a few years ago into production volumes for cars in years, not decades.
CALCARS' RON GREMBAN EXPLAINS BATTERY PRICING: Plug-in vehicle
battery prices are often quoted out of context. Even if accurate,
such figures can be a factor of 2-3 off from actual battery pack
costs to manufacturers, thereby mis-stating the economic viability of
plug-in technology. It's most useful to focus cost of complete
battery packs in high volumes, calculated per "useful-pack-kWh
kilowatt-hour" (capacity actually used by the vehicle). For example,
the cells in the Volt's pack have a nameplate total capacity of 16
kWh, but to ensure long battery life, the Volt actually uses only 8
kWh. Pack costs per nameplate capacity may run 3-4x the cost of
individual cells, though over time this should decline to as little
as 1.5x. Retail costs for small quantities of cells developed
specifically for cars can't be used for calculations -- they will
cost far more than the wholesale rates to carmakers.
The NRC report's figure of $14,000 for a Volt-like 8 useful-kWh pack
yields $1,750 per useful-pack-kWh. GM's costs are closer to
$1,000/useful-kWh for the first-generation Volt, and we've seen
industry figures closer to $600/useful-pack-kWh for production packs
for delivery in the next few years. The NRC report also says we can
expect minimal cost declines from technology improvements and
economies of scale because Li-ion batteries are already produced in
great quantities for consumer products. But these are very different
cells and packs. Those required for plug-in vehicles are just
beginning production, with significant efficiency improvements
already appearing, along with better-than-expected battery life.
Consumer cells are currently selling in quantity for $150-250/kWh.
Calculations with best assumptions1.5x $150 or conservative 4x $250
translate into $225-$1,000/useful-pack-kWh -- a far cry from the
paper's $1,750/useful-pack-kWh estimates!
VOLT RESEARCH PROJECT: Following the launch, a $30M US Department of
Energy real-world demonstration project will bring hundreds of Volts
to Pacific Gas and Electric, Southern California Edison and
Sacramento Municipal Utility District and some of their customers.
The Electric Power Research Institute and seven other utilities will
also be involved. GM's Tony Posawatz discusses that project and the
development benefits resulting from all Volts being able to send
performance data back to the company through GM's unique OnStar
telematic system at
MARKETING STRIDES AND MIS-STEPS: See and join GM's social media
efforts at http://www.chevroletvoltage.com/ ,
http://www.facebook.com/Chevrolet , http://www.twitter.com/Chevrolet
, and the Q&As at
Recently, the company slipped up with a retro "song-and-dance"
presented hourly at the LA Auto Show that was widely ridiculed for
not matching up to the Volt's messaging. (In GM's defense, the song
was originally aimed at middle-schoolers.) Catch up on that at
http://www.gm-volt.com or Youtube.
GM WORKS WITH NATIONAL FEDERATION OF THE BLIND FOR EV SOUNDS: Though
the dangers of too-quiet electric vehicles has been overblown (see
CalCars-News Oct 17), it's still real, and there are easy solutions.
The company plans to work for universal standards as well: see a GM
posting and two-minute video demo at
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Felix Kramer fkramer@...
Founder California Cars Initiative
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