by Jack Rosebro
|Dr. Lyle Dennis (right), the creator of gm-volt.com, speaks with enthusiasts before kicking off Volt Nation.|
At the New York International Auto Show yesterday, blogger Lyle Dennis, creator of a popular enthusiast website devoted to the upcoming Chevrolet Volt (www.gm-volt.com), hosted a town hall-style meeting with General Motors personnel to discuss progress on the transformation of the Volt from concept car to production vehicle.
About 200 fans of the Volt from around the country attended Volt Nation, peppering engineers and executives with questions about the vehicle for several hours. Green Car Congress attended the event as a guest of General Motors.
I wanted to be able to connect GM to the public. I think we’ve demonstrated to GM just how much we want this car.—Lyle Dennis
Dennis noted that his website now gets more than 100,000 visits per month, and that traffic is also high on GM’s own webpages devoted to the Volt.
Among those taking questions from the audience was Frank Weber, Global Vehicle Chief Engineer for the E-Flex Systems. The Volt is the first in a long line of extended range electric vehicles (E-REV) envisioned by GM, and referred to as E-Flex.
Weber solidified the company’s commitment to the Volt project, explaining “With new technology, there are always risks. But the more we look at our data, the more we think this technology will fundamentally change oil consumption.”
The Volt is more than a car program. It is a symbol of cultural change within an organization. It is not risk-free.—Frank Weber
Weber confirmed that GM has taken delivery of ten prototype battery packs, which will be installed into mules—generic vehicles used to test powertrain components—and that the target performance for the vehicle included a 0-60 mph time of nine seconds. Asked about the possibility of multiple variants of the Volt, including performance models, Weber said “we are looking at a number of scenarios; in time, we will have a better answer.”
GM Vice Chairman Bob Lutz, who oversees the Volt project, likened the significance of GM’s “ecological flagship” to the Model T, noting that Henry Ford’s breakthrough vehicle was “the last American vehicle exported to all parts of the globe,” and that General Motors intends to make the Volt—or its E-Flex underpinnings—a global seller, as well.
This thing could turn out to be half a million [units sold globally] or more.—Bob Lutz
Asked about the viability of the project, Lutz conceded that “it will be years before we make a dime”, yet emphasized that the vehicle will go forward, and will not lose money.
There is zero probability that this car will not happen at all.—Bob Lutz
Lutz was noticeably bullish on lithium-ion battery cells, taking particular note of the development of silicon nanowires at Stanford University (earlier post), yet ruled out the use of oxide chemistries due to concerns over thermal runaway. “About every month, someone comes to us with a new [lithium-ion] chemistry,” he explained.
However, Lutz noted, nascent Li-ion chemistries usually take about “3 to 5 years” to mature. General Motors is working with two supplier teams, A123Systems/Continental, and Compact Power/LG Chem, that are providing development battery packs to the Volt project. (Earlier post.)
In response to questions about the platform’s charging architecture, Weber explained that the Volt will feature smart charging, which will accept either 110V or 220V sources at multiple current levels. He would neither confirm nor rule out vehicle-to-grid (V2G) capabilities, but did allow that GM was talking to utility companies.
|GM’s Lutz: The Planet Will Save Itself|
|During a question-and-answer session for online media outlets at the New York Auto Show, GM Vice Chairman Bob Lutz expanded on previous comments about climate change.|
|“There was a meeting in New York a few weeks ago,” Lutz said, “of over seven hundred leading climatologists and astrophysicists, who reject the concept that carbon dioxide is warming the planet. And that is just the tip of the iceberg. The planet is going to save itself.”|
|On 2-4 March, the Heartland Institute convened the 2008 International Conference on Climate Change in New York. The self-described “gathering of skeptics” was billed as “devoted to answering questions overlooked by the [United Nations] Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.” In opening remarks to the conference, Joseph Bast, president of the Institute, stated that “more than two hundred scientists and other experts on climate change" were among the conference’s 500 or more attendees.|
|The Heartland Institute advocates free-market solutions to environmental issues such as climate change, air quality, toxic chemicals, and second-hand smoke. According to the Institute’s website, Thomas F. (Tom) Walton, Director of Economic Policy Analysis for GM, is a board member. In recent weeks, GM CEO Rick Wagoner has distanced comments made by Lutz on climate change from the company’s official position. |
In an earlier interview, John Lauckner explained the rationale behind the advancement of the Volt:
Some people say the issue is climate change. Others say it is fuel prices. Still others say that it is sustainability, or energy security. The common denominator with all of these issues is oil. If we stay focused on removing oil as a central tenet, we remove all of these questions.—John Lauckner
Lauckner noted that government incentives at both the consumer and the manufacturer level would help keep the price of the Volt competitive, and that the company was not yet ready to quote an initial rate of production for the vehicle, explaining that “we have to see the real demand.” One key to the success of the Volt, Lauckner said, would be a shift in consumer thinking “from MSRP (retail price) to running costs.”
“In the next few days”, revealed Weber, “we will be signing off on the final production design of the Volt. It is the highest priority project that this company has.”