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Busy Weeks for GM's On-Schedule Volt

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  • Felix Kramer
    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
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 18, 2009
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      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
      automobile development"
      http://blogs.edmunds.com/greencaradvisor/2009/11/start-getting-amped---our-chevy-volt-behind-the-wheel-report-is-on-its-way.html
      . 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"
      http://blogs.edmunds.com/greencaradvisor/2009/11/2011-chevrolet-volt-test-drive-informative-but-far-too-short.html
      . See Edmunds' simple technical summary and pointers to other reports
      at
      http://blogs.edmunds.com/greencaradvisor/2009/11/chevy-volt-technical-updates-from-chief-engineer-andrew-farah.html
      .

      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
      battery
      http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/22/automobiles/autoreviews/22-chevy-volt.html
      . And Volt engineers let the Detroit Free Press's Mark Phelan tag
      along as they identified and solved problems within 24 hours
      http://www.freep.com/article/20091119/COL14/911190474/1322/ .

      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
      http://gm-volt.com/2009/12/03/bob-lutz-announces-chevy-volt-production-volume-plan/
      . (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
      http://media.gm.com/content/media/us/en/news/news_detail.html/content/Pages/news/us/en/2009/Dec/1202_GM_Volt_Sales
      . 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
      http://gm-volt.com/2009/12/02/california-will-be-first-state-to-get-the-chevy-volt/
      .

      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
      http://blogs.edmunds.com/greencaradvisor/2009/12/gm-to-invest-336-million-in-detroit-hamtramck-plant-to-build-chevrolet-volt-er-ev.html
      .

      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
      http://blogs.edmunds.com/greencaradvisor/2009/12/opel-ampera---europes-chevy-volt---is-on-track-for-2011-production-gm-exec-says.html
      .

      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
      report at
      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
      http://gm-volt.com/2009/12/11/gm-no-volts-to-consumers-prior-to-november-2010-doe-grant-is-to-study-500-to-5000-consumer-driven-volts/
      .

      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
      http://www.chevrolet.com/pages/open/default/future/volt.do .
      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
      http://chevroletvoltage.com/index.php/Blog/stop-look-listen.html .


      -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- --
      Felix Kramer fkramer@...
      Founder California Cars Initiative
      http://www.calcars.org
      http://www.calcars.org/news-archive.html
      -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- --
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