Speaking of the Chevy Volt, Wired magazine visited the Volt factory last November and provided an extensive set of images. Now that the Volt is in full-scale production, plans to significantly ramp up production over the rest of the year are in place, and price gouging has begun (always a sign of market health, even if we do despise the dealers practising it), it’s time to look more closely at what some are referring to as a “moon shot”. And we agree with that tag: while the Volt is not an enthusiast machine by any stretch, this type of technology advancement is crucial to the future of the hobby.
Read the article here: http://www.wired.com/autopia/2010/11/peek-inside-the-chevrolet-volt-factory/
Pohanka Chevrolet in Chantilly, Virginia. In our humble opinion, we consumers should vote against this practice with our wallets. Meaning we should go elsewhere for your car and truck purchases.
An early Volt enthusiast has gone to extraordinary lengths to research the Volt, starting 4 years ago, then win a contest from Wired magazine where he got to travel to Detroit to try an engineering prototype and meet the engineers, then finally order and take possession of his own Volt.
Patrick Wang took delivery of Volt #10 on December 20, 2010. He is the first Volt owner in the San Francisco Bay area.
Read more about Patrick and his experiences on his well-written blog: http://www.mychevroletvolt.com
Patrick also has the 240-volt charger, and has researched optimal charging periods and calculated costs. This is an area that Volt owners will need to understand to maximize the financial model of Volt ownership. This, and getting all possible Federal and state rebates and tax credits, makes the purchase price viable. This is new technology, and the price will start to come down as it becomes mainstream, but for now it is critical to take every advantage.
Patrick’s site also has an owners forum, and the stories and conversations there are encouraging. With the exception of news of dealers who are adding a “premium” to the cost of Volts ($3-10k). In our own opinion, don’t go to these dealers for any new car – avoid those dirty opportunists at all costs and exercise your right to shop elsewhere!
The Volt is not a “Driving Enthusiast” type car… but as we’ve said before, we need to stay on top of this very important technology because a pure electric with or without a hybrid engine will be the basis for a mainstream enthusiasts car at some point in the next ten years (and, in purely electric form, already is in the ground-breaking but pricey Tesla). The Volt has 270 foot-pounds of torque and like all electrics it is 100% available at 1 RPM and up. This provides remarkably smooth acceleration. No wonder that Bob Lutz wanted to offer a sport suspension on the Volt (but was shot down).
We haven’t had much to say on this topic since the Volt is hardly a “driving” enthusiast car. But you do have to watch this car very closely – this type of powertrain is the future and the instant-on high torque of purely electric powertrains should be of great interest to us. We’ve already seen the success of the all-electric and very desirable Tesla, and we’ll soon see gas/electric hybrid performance cars such as a 370Z and hopefully a Supra – each with 3.5 liter engines and electric assist on the order of 70-90 extra horsepower. So we can’t ignore this technology – we need to watch it closely.
Which is exactly what we have been doing with GM. GM is breaking new ground with it’s advance publicity for the Volt. Very smart. While GM barely issues press releases on other topics anymore (just compare the number of GM press releases versus those from Ford – Ford has them out-paced by far), what GM is releasing is very heavily biased to the Volt. Why is this, and why is GM saying so comparatively little about everything else they are doing? IT’s partiallyk finances, but it’s also because the Volt is an entirely new technology, and consumers need reassurance and education.
Here is the latest Volt video released by GM. Certainly GM would do thorough testing on any new platform, but this one is different and as we see by the dozens of videos that GM has released, the testing is far more extensive here. As it has to be – GM can’t afford a disaster and the potential for a game-changing win here is enormous.
It’s going to be an interesting year as this car fully rolls out and gets in the hands of the press and potential buyers.
On the marketing and selling side of the discussion, there has been a lot of discussion on the topic of what the Volt actually competes with. Customers look at this from the perspective of size, technology, and competitive position against other green cars in the market. But looking at all the data, we don’t believe that there is a direct competitor – the Volt is the first resident of an entirely new and unique space.
The Volt is not a direct competitor to the Prius or Insight – both are smaller (unless the buyer wants to move up in size) and use entirely different technology. The Volt is larger all around.
Then there is styling. The Volt is just a step above conventional and off-the-shelf “Chevy” styling, right down to the two-tier grill and bow-tie. But Toyota purposefully designed the Prius with strangeunusual styling. Toyota says that Prius owners like the styling because it makes the statement that they are different and/or unique. To restyle the Prius conventionally would be to erase it’s aura.
The Nissan Leaf takes a bizarre turn to styling, and in our humble opinion it will turn off most people. The words “ugly” and “dumpy” comes to mind form our first look at the front end.
The Insight and Fusion Hybrid are conventional in styling and use totally different technology from the Volt (and each other). The Insight (and CR-Z) run exclusively on their gas engines and use the electric motor only for assistance in acceleration – they are incapable of shutting off their gas engine and working solely on their electric engine. Therefore, their economy is lower than the Prius and considerably lower than the Volt. The Insight has not been well-received, with complaints centering around seating comfort and ride.
The Fusion is an excellent car with any of it’s 4 different engines, and the Hybrid is particularly well done. Again, the hybrid driveline is entirely different from the Volt. It can run exclusively on electricity up to 35 or 40 miles per hour, and can then fall back on it’s gasoline engine for faster speeds and charging purposes. Given it’s size, it may end up as the main competition to the Volt if only size and range is considered, and it’s certainly a much more viable car to the real-world (that is, “2010 buyers” because the technology is advancing rapidly) majority of “green” buyers. However, this is not what GM is looking to attract with the Volt – buyers have to be willing – in fact adamant about it – to tackle the comparatively radical new technology. Note that Ford is preparing what they refer to as a “next-gen” hybrid system for the Fusion replacement, and a battery-only Focus is about a year to a year and a half away.
Inevitably that tiny tiny tiny tiny corner of the “green” market that insists upon diesel has to be mentioned here. We believe that this is a different market entirely, consisting of left-oriented people who think they are saving significant energy and when cornered fall back on their dream of burning french fry oil. But oil is still oil, and despite some recent innovations is still dirty to burn. We don’t see much here that is viable in the long term, and we are certainly not interested in filling a urea tank in the middle of a drive.
The Volt has it’s size working for it, it’s technology (and lots of gadgets including smart-phone access that will appeal), and unprecedented access to the development process from GM’s marketing push. GM knows that as first-to-market in this new segment, it has to break new ground in “preparing” the target market for it. GM is on to something new here, and if they stay on this path we predict they will sell the planned first year production.
Andrew Farah, GM’s Volt Chief Engineer, shows off the first Volt prototype to be built with the final bodywork and chassis. Note that the Volt program is ahead of schedule, which will allow more time for refining the engineering and software.
There is no doubt that alternative powerplants are a fact of life for our future. This is a good thing and alternative propulsion technologies don’t necessarily mean that it’s “1984″ for driving enthusiasts, but we do need to get smart about them so that we can be better prepared to exploit them for our purposes. The first alternative powerplant cars have had nothing to offer driving enthusiasts – the Prius, for example, has terrible handling dynamics. But, like any new technology, things will change.
Port fuel injection is one technology that was not initially welcomed by enthusiasts – it was complicated, costly, and more involved to repair. Despite this poor initial reception, everybody had to admit that emissions and drivability improved significantly and the performance potential of the engine improved. We’re going thru this same thing now with Direct Injection. Aftermarket direct injectors are currently not at all widely available – but there will be.
The future of electric cars, whether hybrid or full-time electric, holds a lot of promise for driving enthusiasts. Electric engines make their full torque at 1 RPM and up – and they can easily make several hundred lb-ft of torque. That’s a lot of power and it’s continuous across the entire rev band. Imagine the potential for acceleration from any speed.
Just look at the Tesla for an example: 248 HP and 211 lb ft of torque in a lightweight 2690 pound sportscar. 0-60 in 3.9 seconds. 14,000 rpm redline. The power and weight alone are exotic enough to get sports car enthusiasts excited. And this in a first-generation electric car (with 2nd-gen electronics), from a brand new company, using an existing chassis. Now imagine what could happen with a larger development budget and a dedicated chassis.
This is interesting - we have been tracking several “green” developments on this site and in this blog with a special interest in future performance applications of electrically-powered cars (remember that an electric motor makes tremendous torque – and delivers all of it instantaneously).
The future is electric and hydrogen… probably in that order. And the sooner we get a performance variation of these vehicles the sooner the general population of driving enthusiasts will embrace this powerful technology.