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GM: 2010 Volt? Cadillac PHEV; Electricity/Electronics; Larry Burns; New Blog

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  • Felix Kramer
    GM s statements and presentations in the past week have made for some provocative and at times confusing reading. Here s a round-up. WILL VOLT BE READY IN
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 9, 2008
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      GM's statements and presentations in the past
      week have made for some provocative and at times
      confusing reading. Here's a round-up.

      WILL VOLT BE READY IN 2010?
      For months GM has been saying its goal was to
      mass-produce the Chevy Volt in late 2010. It's
      common sense to recognize that a date three years
      away is merely a stake in the ground.

      Last week, CEO Rick Wagoner set off what we see
      as something of a tempest in a teapot when he
      told journalists and bloggers, as Detroit News
      http://www.detnews.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20080104/AUTO01/801040361
      reported,
      But he cautioned that the timeline isn't a sure
      thing as the automaker works to develop the
      technology required to produce a battery-powered
      car for the masses. "We continue to put massive
      resources into production as soon as possible,"
      Wagoner said, responding in writing during an
      online chat session to kick off the automaker's
      100th anniversary. "2010 would be great, but (we)
      can't guarantee that at this time. We'll keep you
      posted regularly on our progress."

      Then others at GM scrambled to respond: Rob
      Peterson, Manager of Chevy Volt/E-Flex
      Communications, told a blogger, http://www.groovygreen.com/groove/?p=2405
      Mr. Wagoner's response while phrased differently
      than our previous responses, is consistent with
      what we have said all along, "we continue to work
      aggressively toward our 2010 internal target, but
      that date is dependent on the availability of
      battery technology that meets our safety,
      performance and durability requirements."

      AutoObserver's Michelle Krebs said "Chevy Volt
      Developer: Don't Overanalyze CEO's Tempering
      Remark"
      http://www.autoobserver.com/2008/01/chevy-volt-deve.html
      and included a statement that rumors about
      battery problems are "laughably unfounded:"
      Here at the Consumer Electronics Show for a
      firsthand look at how the personal electronics
      and automotive worlds are converging, Jon
      Lauckner, vice president, global program
      management and the ranking engineer overseeing
      development of a production version of the Volt's
      E-Flex powertrain architecture, says not to read
      too much into last week's comment by Wagoner,
      which some translated as a reality check on the
      aggressive development timeline for the Volt --
      and perhaps on Lutz's always-optimistic accounts
      of the Volt's progress. Lauckner says doubters
      and critics got "overfocused" on Wagoner's
      remark, and that it's Wagoner's job to deal out
      reality checks. "He's just being cautious,"
      insists Lauckner of Wagoner's "no guarantee"
      comment regarding the potential for the Volt reaching showrooms in 2010.

      Lauckner also says Internet grist that GM has run
      into problems with the prototype lithium-ion
      batteries -- now being testing under limited
      conditions -- are laughably unfounded. "I can't
      tell you how far off the mark that rumor is,"
      says Lauckner, adding that he hopes GM might
      begin testing Volt prototypes outside the
      confines of a proving-grounds environment
      sometime in 2009. Moreover, Lauckner assures Auto
      Observer the Volt will be engaging to drive -- a
      personality trait in short supply with most current hybrid vehicles.

      A Reuters report
      http://www.guardian.co.uk/feedarticle?id=7209896 confirmed these statements,
      For suppliers, GM's push to develop lithium-ion
      batteries is expected to open the door to a new
      market valued in billions of dollars over the
      next few years. A subsidiary of Korea's LG Chem
      Ltd., one of two company's vying for the Volt
      battery contract, delivered the first battery
      packs to GM researchers late last year. On a
      separate competitive track, a division of German
      auto parts supplier Continental AG is working to
      integrate batteries for GM's Volt that would be
      supplied by privately held Massachusetts-based
      A123 Systems. The Continental-A123 group will
      supply the first battery packs to GM for testing
      later this month, Denise Gray, GM's director of
      hybrid engineering told Reuters. GM's initial
      tests of the battery packs supplied by LG Chem
      subsidiary Compact Power had been positive in
      tests designed to simulate real driving
      conditions, Gray said. "They're performing within
      the forecast parameter, and that's pretty good," she said.

      And GM Vice Chairman Bob Lutz clarified in a
      Fastlane Blog posting
      http://fastlane.gmblogs.com/archives/2008/01/happy_birthday.html
      This program remains a top commitment to the
      company, and we are holding tight to our 2010
      deadline. And while 2007 was a big year for the
      Volt, we expect 2008 to be even bigger. As each
      day passes, our confidence and understanding of
      the battery technology necessary for the Volt to
      go into production grows. The results from our
      first two months of testing -- some of which has
      been fairly extreme -- have been very
      encouraging. Soon these batteries will move from
      the lab to engineering mule vehicles for dynamic
      testing. There's no way we can predict how these
      batteries will perform over 10 years based on
      only two months of testing, but I can assure you,
      there will be a point in time when we have the
      full confidence that our solution will reach this
      goal. When this happens, you'll be the first to know.


      OUR VIEW: We see these hedges and clarifications
      as indications that though GM has denied that
      battery development and confidence in their
      extended life will determine the late 2010
      deadline, in fact, that is the key critical path.
      And we continue to believe that if GM wanted to
      get cars on the road sooner, it could do so with
      a smaller lithium-ion pack and a battery warranty
      or with nickel-metal hydride batteries with a
      lower electric-only range. (For all GM's
      insistence on 40 miles for the Volt, the Saturn
      Vue PHEV in 2009 will have 10, and the Cadillac
      Provoq concept car described below will have 20.)
      All that said, none of these back-and-forth
      exchanges will impede GM from showcasing the Volt
      at events and in its ads for as long as it takes before it's produced.


      ELECTRICITY AND ELECTRONICS

      GM CEO Rick Wagoner appeared as a keynote speaker
      at the huge Consumer Electronics Show in Las
      Vegas. Catering to his audience, he and other GM
      executives proceeded to mix up into one brew
      "electricity" and "electronics" -- two related
      but still distinct technologies. Substituting
      cleaner, cheaper, domestic electricity for liquid
      fuels is what plug-in cars are about. Of course,
      PHEVs and EVs use advanced electronic controls.
      But that's not the same thing as using
      electronics to make any cars smarter, more
      convenient and safer (which of course bring many
      benefits, and can probably be best implemented in
      electrically-powered vehicles). That said, we're
      not unhappy about the technology mixture, since
      GM's evangelizing will reinforce the arguments
      for plug-in cars. (GM's motivations also have to
      do with its probable technical advantage over
      Toyota in some electronics technologies, notably
      OnStar, which is a gateway to many services.)
      Here are examples of how it played out:


      MSNBC reported
      http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/22560306 Wagoner
      promoted the safety and convenience features that
      are previewed by recent "driverless vehicles,"
      saying, "Our intent is to bring you the future of
      transportation." "We'll do this by working more
      closely than ever with the consumer electronics
      industry, using electronics to reinvent the automobile."
      [Wagoner drove onstage in a Volt, and then
      introduced the Provoq, a PHEV Cadillac E-Flex
      concept car with a motor for front wheels and
      rear hub wheel motors, a smaller battery
      providing a 20-mile electric range and a 280-mile
      hydrogen fuel cell range extender], saying, "We
      really see electronics playing a huge role as we
      endeavor to reduce our reliance on foreign oil,"
      he said, citing GM's experience with the OnStar
      navigation system, which it introduced 10 years
      ago. OnStar "taught us that the electronics
      industry has some lessons for the automotive industry," he said.

      Previewing Wagoner's appearance, the Wall Street
      Journal in "Could GM's Salvation Be Stuff of
      Science Fiction?"
      http://online.wsj.com/article/SB119948828539568677.html
      quoted others at GM making similar statements and
      put them in the context of GM's competitive position with Toyota:
      "We see vehicles going from being largely
      mechanical to becoming more and more electronic,"
      Larry Burns, chief technologist at GM and a
      confidant of Mr. Wagoner's, said in an interview
      last week. "We can think of no auto maker that is
      better positioned to fully leverage this trend
      than us." Pushing the technological envelope is a
      key element of Mr. Wagoner's strategy for turning
      GM around and positioning the company to compete
      with Toyota Motor Corp. in the long term. He is
      convinced being the first with game-changing
      innovations is the solution to one of GM's
      fundamental problems -- its battered image. Like
      its crosstown rivals Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler
      LLC, General Motors has struggled to make money
      and regain market share in North America in part
      because many consumers who were burned by GM's
      quality problems -- largely now a thing of the
      past -- still view the company as plodding and
      slow, and flatly refuse to drive GM vehicles. Mr.
      Wagoner declined to be interviewed for this
      article but Mark LaNeve, GM's U.S. sales and
      marketing chief, said last week that GM believes
      it must challenge Toyota on technology leadership
      in order to reverse the negative perception of GM
      and to win back customers who have defected to
      foreign makes. "Toyota right now clearly has a
      leadership position on reputation, financial
      results, many other measures," Mr. LaNeve said.
      "That's the position we need to attain."


      GM'S NEW FUTURETECH BLOG

      GM has launched http://www.gmnext.com including a
      blog at http://blog.gmnext.com/ to highlight
      next-generation technologies and environment
      discussion -- separate from its popular FastLane
      blog http://fastlane.gmblogs.com/ founded by
      Lutz. Greenbiz.com
      http://www.greenbiz.com/news/news_third.cfm?NewsID=36476
      quotes Rick Wagoner saying, "We're starting our
      second century at a time of fundamental change in the
      auto industry. We'll use GMnext to introduce
      some of our ideas for addressing critical issues
      concerning energy, the environment and
      globalization. In the process, we also hope to
      spark a broader, global discussion on these important topics."


      LARRY BURNS INTERVIEW

      Here's Earth2Tech's CES interview
      http://earth2tech.com/2008/01/08/can-tech-help-cars-save-the-world-a-conversation-with-dr-lawrence-d-burns-of-gm/
      with a key executive at GM, Larry Burns, who
      until recently was primarily involved with fuel
      cells but now is largely focusing on PHEVs.
      You'll find many controversial comments in this
      interview, about GM's EV-1, the diverging fates
      of oil and car companies and an effort to blame
      consumers for Detroit's decades-long promotion of heavy muscle cars.

      On the eve of General Motors Chairman and CEO
      Rick Wagoner's keynote address at CES, we got a
      chance to talk about the car company's plans for
      green vehicle technology with Lawrence D. Burns,
      VP of R&D for GM's research and development center.

      Burns has worked with GM since 1969 and been in
      his current role for a decade. On the CES show
      floor Burns was flanked on one side by some of
      the 100 road-certified fuel-cell cars in GM's
      Project Driveway, and on the other by the
      driverless Boss car that recently won the DARPA
      challenge (and which GM is showing off at CES.)

      GM is eager to show that U.S. automakers aren't
      behind their overseas counterparts when it comes
      to technology, though Burns admitted mistakes
      when it comes to GM's early electric car, the
      EV-1. "We had an EV-1 --still the most
      energy-efficient car ever…We should have gone on
      from the EV-1 and we would have had a 10-year lead on the market," he said.

      There was that misstep, and the following
      competition -- GM is actively avoiding the term
      "hybrid," and Burns admitted that "Toyota owns
      the hybrid label." Instead, GM calls its cars
      "electric vehicles," and considers the onboard
      (gas-powered) powerplant a "range extender." The
      company is coming back with a holistic strategy
      for greener cars that relies heavily on that electric technology.

      But not just in the fuel system. Burns was quick
      to point out that much of the potential for fuel
      efficiency comes from other areas. One of these
      is safer driving. "The most significant fuel
      economy is cars that don't crash," said Burns. He
      guessed that a 4,000-pound car could weigh as
      little as 1,500 pounds if it wasn't for safety
      concerns, and still have the same carrying
      capacity. So a car that can, through technology,
      avoid accidents might weigh significantly less in the future.

      Technology can also help by changing the way we
      drive. For example, one of the main causes of
      highway congestion is the effect that stop-and-go
      driving has on traffic jams, which was analyzed
      in a December of 2007 study by University of
      Exeter mathematicians. Dr Gábor Orosz of the
      University of Exeter told science site
      physorg.com that "a slight braking from a driver
      who has identified a problem early will allow the
      traffic flow to remain smooth. Heavier braking,
      usually caused by a driver reacting late to a
      problem, can affect traffic flow for many miles."

      Burns estimated that if only 20 percent of the
      cars on a highway had adaptive cruise control,
      that would smooth out this sort of congestion.
      And less congestion means less idling and less
      variance in driving speed. Indeed, according to
      GM, an internal study of various drivers using
      the same vehicle, GM employees varied their fuel
      efficiency from 13 MPG to 22 MPG depending on
      routes, speeds, and other factors. For example,
      one of GM's V8 engines can use only half its
      eight cylinders when driving at 65 MPH; but all eight kick in at 75 MPH.

      Decoupling the driving system from the fuel
      system is another big win. In a true hybrid car,
      the engine runs at varied speeds because it is
      directly moving the car. But GM is calling its
      cars "electric vehicles," not hybrids,
      considering the onboard (gas-powered) powerplant a "range extender."

      When the gas engine is separate from the
      electrical drivetrain, two good things happen.
      First, the efficiency of the engine is far
      greater (because it can be optimized to run at a
      constant speed) while the car's power is
      consistent throughout its speed range (because
      there's no need for transmission.) And second,
      it's easier to switch fuel sources.

      "We need to move to other fuel sources," he said.
      "The power grid has surplus power that equals 40%
      of the miles driven in the US." In addition to
      plug-in vehicles, there are also hydrogen fuel
      cells and cellulosic ethanol, for which Burns has high hopes.

      When it comes to automakers' relationships to oil
      companies, Burns is fairly clear. "Do you think
      it makes us happy to scratch out a minimal profit
      while the oil companies get to make large
      profits?" he laughed. "If there's a conspiracy
      going on, we're getting the bad end of it."

      When Wagoner gives his speech at CES today, he'll
      highlight the technology that can make Detroit
      green. We'll need all the efficiency we can get.
      The US Department of Energy estimates that the
      economy will grow at a rate of 3-4 percent a
      year, with energy demand growing at 2 percent a
      year. In 25 years' time, that compounds to 70% more energy needed.

      Burns believes we can get there, but that no one
      technology will solve the problem. Instead, it
      will be a blend of the technologies GM is showing
      at CES: Better power systems, the use of
      alternate fuels, safer cars that weigh less, and
      improving the way people drive. "Maybe 40% of
      that can come from ethanol," he estimates.

      Burns said that the biggest misconception people
      have about car companies is "that [the companies]
      don't want to make cars any more efficient, even
      though we've increased efficiency 110% since the
      1970's. But consumers chose to put that
      efficiency into more power and more acceleration. "

      Many of the technologies GM is showing can
      improve the efficiency of cars dramatically. But
      it's going to take a change in consumer mindsets
      for that efficiency to take the form of reduced
      emissions and fuel consumption, rather than
      bigger, faster motors. "Now that oil is $100 a
      barrel," concluded Burns, "consumers will have to
      make new choices about that efficiency." Sure, along with the car companies.

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