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“Volt Nation” Town Hall Meeting Held At NY Auto Show

by Jack Rosebro

Lyle
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.
—Jack Rosebro

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.

Comments

eric

Bob Lutz must be a fool to be duped by the paid shills at the Heartland Institute. how such a high-level executive on such a crucial environmental project can have such gormless views on AGW boggles the mind.

John Taylor

Bob Lutz is an obstacle to progress. It is mostly because of GM that North America does not have efficient, pollution free electric tram buses in every city. It was GM who bought into transit systems and got rid of them.

Bob isn't worried about climate change, just how his company can retain control of people's thinking.

The "Volt" is as aerodynamically efficient as a brick. With Lutz running development, it is a looser.

GM could produce a great electric car, they did it with the EV1, but do not wish to be the leaders in the technology, only to jump on the bandwagon when others bring this new technology of BEV to market.

Rafael Seidl

IMHO, those who wish to foster E-REV technology would do well do focus on quotes from the likes of Frank Weber. By contrast, Bob Lutz has made a number statements not immediately related to E-Flex that actually reduce his personal credibility, which reflects poorly on the E-Flex team and GM as a whole.

John Lauckner elegantly refocused the conversation on product development, but then asserted that GM cannot set a price or production volume until it sees real demand. This is a technology push effort, so GM has to generate that demand by setting realistic expectations on performance, range and total cost of ownership - which he knows full well includes financing, depreciation *and* operating costs.

If consumers are to be persuaded, this data then has to be compared and contrasted with the numbers for comparable conventional vehicles. The best approach might be to provide a web-based TCO calculator into which consumers can plug their ZIP code, annual mileage, typical daily mileage, financing mode (cash/loan/lease) and resale time horizon. Users should also be able to select from three scenarios for future fuel and electricity prices (these need to include inflation).

Finally, users should be asked to estimate the dollar value of the increased energy independence and environmental protection that E-Flex delivers and, what fraction of that ought to be underwritten by society by way of tax credits for early adopters (e.g. first 100,000 units sold no later than 3 years after market introduction)

The evaluation should document any assumptions made by GM, break down results by line item and, provide some footnotes to help interpret them.

@ John Taylor -

afaik, the Volt product will look nothing like the concept. GM has already acknowledged its aerodynamics are unacceptable and hinted that something like the Malibu platform will be used instead. Personally, I suspect that something substantially smaller and lighter would deliver better all-electric range and/or TCO, especially if used primarily for commuting. However, perhaps to avoid the perception of a niche technology, GM appears set on a general-purpose vehicle that can seat four (American) adults and offers significant trunk space.

Damon

More than once I've heard something like "aerodynamic as a brick," which unnecessarily and incorrectly attacks bricks' ability to glide through the air. Bricks really aren't all that bad if traveling lengthwise. A better, though unwieldy, analogy would be "aerodynamic as a plate traveling perpendicular to the eating surface." In subsonic flow the most efficient shape is a teardrop, with the hemisphere forward. Drag is a function of both shape and frontal area so most sports cars, though sleek looking, are not very aerodynamic shapes, but present small frontal areas (and high power) that allow high speed.

Herm

CO2 causing global warming is a religion, some believe, some dont.. engineers usually want hard proof

i am glad tha GM is serious about this. It would appear they are making a genuine effort to address the issues and bring something to market. The free press and good will alone is worth the effort. wait till they start testing this. it will continue to generate alot of press. I think consumers would respond postively to a clean and concise advertising campaing that gives them some credit for having a brain. i.e. addressing the issues of TCO.

too bad lutz is a klutz.

regardelss of what kLutz and the heartland group and other skeptics think, the reality is that alot of people DO believe in global climate change and ARE trying to reduce thier CO2 footprint. that means there is a market opportunity to serve this population segment with appropriate products. it just so happens that this "new" market segment is a pretty big piece of the population, if not yet a majority.

So regardless of what kLutz and other skeptics might think, it would be foolish for a major company (or any company) to ignore the "clean and green" market segment opportunity. unfortunatley for the auto industry, they can't green thier image with a simple advertising campaign (BP tried and boy do they look stupid). Since cars can only really reduce the CO2 footprint by switching at least pratially to electrification, they need to spend real time and money on innovation and development.

so in spite of kLutz, i think GM is showing they get it.
if they can deliver most of what they are trying to achieve with e Volt, I personally think it will be a big success. Look at the Prius, why should GM be any less successful (ok, ok, assuming GM can again build good looking and high quality cars).

Jerry

I want to believe what GM is saying but first someone will have to explain why they took the EV1 off the market and destroyed the car.

Jesse 67

I think you all need to read this again.

"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

thats the best quote I've heard in a while. Who cares what your reason is, GW, sustainability, low resource footprint, etc etc. Cars like the volt and the subsiquent paridime shift in what powers the average joe's daily comute are good for all of them! If you generate your own power, a car like this can allow you to be almost entirely independant. Not too bad coming from a big company that most would belive is out to squeeze every last dollar from middle class north america. I hope this works out for everyone. Remember being green isn't just about global warming or CO2.

tstreet

Here in highly coal dependent Colorado, the reduction of greenhouse gases will be minimal with an electric car. I am still skeptical of the economics of the car given the high initial costs and replacement costs of batteries. Even if these problems are solved, any positive impact will be negated by growth in population worldwide and growth in vehicle miles traveled.

Regardless of what technology is introduced, people need to be live in an environment where they can get out of their cars and peform their daily business, shopping, and recreation in doing so.

Yeh, at least maybe we can get off oil a bit. But that doesn't really deal with the big picture.

Schmeltz

Jesse 67:
Thanks for your comment...It was welcome in this otherwise sullen crowd this morning.

tthoms

I'm a little shocked at the vitreol toward Lutz and GM in some of these postings. The Volt could be a huge step in oil reduction and environmental responsibility. So what if he doesn't buy into man-made climate change? I'm a bit of a skeptic myself. The issue is that their technology holds promise, more than some that receive praise on this board.

The cynic in me views a lot of the comments here to be about power. Not energy power, but political power. Those who do not wish to conform to and obey whatever "utopian dream" is held must be punished, I guess.

Jon

Jerry
While your at it ask Toyota and Ford why they crushed theirs. Then ask Dodge, Nissan, Mitsubishi, Mazda, BMW, Mercedes Benz, Subaru, Honda, and any others I left out why they never made a decent EV. I would bet every one of them will give you the same answer. At the time there was no money in it.
If you can stop being a sheep for a few minutes you will see that all of these companies want to make money (as do their investors). If they can find a way to return a profit on an EV or Hybrid you can be sure they will exploit it for all its worth.

Schmeltz

TThoms:
Don't be shocked at the above posts---they're pretty mild actually compared to some of the stuff that gets flung around here. The hot buttons at this site seem to be:

1. GM
2. Bob Lutz
3. The Volt
4. The EV-1
5. Fuel Cells, in particular, GM fuel cells, (if Toyota or Honda do them, that's ok).

Mention any one of those and you get a whole boat load of hatred and loathe here. It gets to be downright laughable at times.

Rafael Seidl

@ Schmeltz -

I for one am not opposed to the E-Flex effort, even if objectively, more fuel could be saved with less sexy technology that gets applied in high unit volume (cp. BMW EfficientDynamics, VW BlueMotion, Saturn GreenLine etc.) But sexy gets a lot of attention and generates consumer goodwill toward GM as a company, which they understandably care more about than CAFE - at least in the short term.

Bob Lutz has been instrumental in getting GM to commit massive resources to the development of E-Flex. The problems occur when he speaks his personal mind with apparent disregard for how that reflects on his employer.


Schmeltz

Hi Rafeal:
I guess I am able to take Bob Lutz's personal feelings regarding Global Warming with stride, because in the big picture, the comment was immaterial. GM is making huge endeavors to provide more and more fuel efficient vehicles, so whether he's on board with Global Warming or not, he and his Company are headed to the same destination. Therefore, what's all of the fuss about? It seems to me many are too thin skinned, and just want to scream and cry to everyone who will listen everytime their toes have been stepped on. Any time GM or Bob Lutz is mentioned here, all the people with an axe to grind come out in droves. Here we have a positive article about a convention put on by an EV enthusiast. Do you see any postive comments about it? Anybody rooting for GM for pushing hard to make an EV for the masses? Mostly what I see are the usual criticisms. Sad.

xgalile0

These people are "comunistas". Anything that the US does, they dont like period. The USA will win at the end. :)

@ anon:

"people DO believe in global climate change and ARE trying to reduce thier CO2 footprint."

Are we trying to reduce our CO2 foot print?? Our carbon footprint?? Our CO, SO2, carcinogenic, toxins footprint? The trouble is CO2 is not a pollutant and never will be. Using less energy, taking public transportation, eating less meat, using less toxic chemicals are all steps taken by people who take responsibility for creating a better world. CO2 has nothing to do with engendering civic responsibility or healthy living - encouraging self-care and compassion for other people does.

DS

Turbo Charged, Nitro Fuel Injected.......BS

pauln

The real problem is that the Volt is GM's hail-Mary pass. They lack the popular efficient vehicles that sell in masses and make a profit. The Chevy Aveo is 30% less efficient than a comperable Toyota Yaris (EPA City cycle). Does GM really think that Yaris ($12-14k) buyers are going to switch to a $40+k Volt?? And GM admits it wont make a dime on the Volt for years. GM may not be in business long enough to see this through, if they don't fix their unprofitable NA auto business.

Rafael: The Volt will be on GM's delta platform, whic underpins their compacts (Cobalt, Astra). The confusion about the Malibu is that the teaser image of the finalized Volt has a "Malibu-like" front end.

Damon: Cars are typically rectangular; and a brick is as un-aerodynamic as you can make that shape. It's the starting point, and can only get better from there. Plate-shapes don't make practical vehicles.

MarkBC

Why is it that Phoenix cars can sell a BEV for $55K, lionev sells one for $35K, and ACPropulsion can sell one for $70K, and presumably still do this for a profit, yet GM with all its economies of scale can't get the price of the Volt below $40K? That's the bizarre mathematics that don't make sense and inflames people concerned about GW. Can someone explain this to me?

Patrick

Where does it list the price as $40,000?

Looks like GM would target a PRIUS buyer with the Volt long before they would target a Yaris buyer. Who the heck actually thinks this is targeted at a Yaris buyer? What a load of...

Does Pauln really think a Yaris buyer would switch to a Prius (with a nearly 100% higher price)? It seems like Toyota did not share your same concerns or think that the market would like segmentation as you seem to believe...otherwise they would have had concerns of cannibalizing sales of one to prop up the other...it might be okay to move people up a price class, but if they were truly competitors people would go for the lower cost Yaris over the Prius hands down, every time given similar quality, reliability and safety.

Neil

This (Volt) is a great project and its introduction marked the point at which I stopped vilifying GM and started wishing them (and this project in particular) all the best of luck. As great as all the little companies (Tesla etc...) efforts have been, this move by GM represents the one of the first great modern day EV efforts by a major car company. The EV1 was unfortunately ahead of its time.

pauln

Patrick: Lutz has said the Volt will be "nearer to $40k", and who knows what the standard package includes? You totally missed my point about the Aveo and Yaris. What I was saying is that GM hasn't figured out how to make competitive small cars, especially without selling them at a loss. Yaris may well trade up to a Prius at some point, given its affordability ($21k). But I doubt you'll see Aveo (or Yaris) buyers considering trading up to a $40k Volt. Get it? The Volt is too expensive for it to become a mass-market vehicle. Prius sales doubled after Toyota dropped the average transaction price by a couple of thousand.

Donal

MarkBC: AFAIK, the Phoenix is not really available yet. LionEV only does conversions of Fords, and I've read some questionable things about them. AC Propulsion also only does conversions. Other than NEVs, I can't think of any four wheel OEM EV that is actually for sale yet. If I had to buy one now, I'd get a Twike.

Volt seems to be a decent concept from a company that doesn't really want to build it.

As far as aerodynamic bricks, GCC had a great article a few years back on a concept car based on the boxfish.

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