It doesn't seem fair that GM, while struggling to get the car on its feet, should now have to deal with the task of revamping the Volt's reputation. When Design News spoke to battery experts at MIT and the University of California-Berkeley in November, they strongly believed that GM engineers were properly managing lithium-ion's temperature risks.
Moreover, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) had this to say about the Volt in January, at the conclusion of its fire investigations. "NHTSA does not believe that Chevy Volts or other electric vehicles pose a greater risk of fire than gasoline-power vehicles." So safety shouldn't be an issue.
But GM execs are apparently starting to wonder about the Volt's future. "I think it will be May or June before we know whether this thing has legs," Girsky has been quoted as saying about the Volt in numerous publications.
While we wait to find out if the Volt "has legs," GM is still facing the cost issue. By putting an expensive 16kWh battery onboard, the giant automaker hasn't left itself a lot of wiggle room to bring the price down. GM could accept that fact and direct its marketing toward those buyers who have that "untraditional sense of luxury," but it's not known how big that market would be for the four-seat Volt.
If that doesn't work, GM will have to convince middle-class buyers in a slow economy to buy a $40,000 Volt instead of a gasoline-burning Chevy Cruze that costs half as much.
That could be a tall order.
For a closer look at the Chevy Volt, go to the Drive for Innovation site and follow the cross-country journey of EE Life editorial director, Brian Fuller. In the trip sponsored by Avnet Express, Fuller is taking the fire-engine-red Volt to innovation hubs across America, interviewing engineers, entrepreneurs, innovators, and students as he blogs his way across the country.
"See if the Volt has legs"??? Is that suppose to portend an early demise for the Volt? Talk about a ding in GM's reputation. Why not get that engineering team back on the design and figure out a way to make the batteries smaller and take cost off the BOM?
I know automotive development cycles are far longer than other products, but isn't agile and iterative engineering what it's all about, especially when you're talking about new technology like EV vehicles. Obviously, you need to strike a balance so you don't have the market sit and wait until you finally get it right. Maybe there's some sort of rebate or upgrade plan for brave early adopters. But it is far too soon to give up on the Volt, PR problem or not.
Am I the only person left who still uses a spreadsheet these days? Take a 2012 Volt w/ leather, and Bose. Skip the chrome rims and Nav for now. Take a comparable 2012 Prius (i.e. leather, stereo upgrade, tele-whatever (whatever their onstar equivalent is), and other comparable features. Apply the tax credit. Good? Now assuming typical driving habits, cost them out year by year for gas purchase and electric cost. Amazing what happens in year five right? VOLT IS CHEAPER. Change the price of gas to $4 or $5 and that savings kicks in on year 4 or 3. So if after 3-5 years of ownership the Volt equals or is lower in cost than a Prius, why is the Volt 'priced out of market' and a loaded Prius is not?
Let's take it one step further. Assume you LEASED both cars. Well, in that case the Volt is cheaper day ONE, since the Volt's attractive lease deal puts it ahead of a comparable Prius lease (assuming similar mileage and down payment).
Do the numbers before you try blasting the numbers.
@rickman: Your point about long-term cost of ownership may be valid, but most peoples' cash flow doesn't allow them to make decisions which take five years to pay off. I need to pay my bills from month to month. So money which is available right now is worth much more to me than money which I might have five years from now. (Besides, if the car gets totalled in an accident, or some other unforseen event happens, the long-term savings which the spreadsheet predicts might never materialize).
You may have a point when it comes to leasing. But in any case, I'm not in the market for a fully-loaded Prius, either. I might consider a $19,000 Prius C.
"the Volt is a car for those with an untraditional sense of luxury -- well-to-do people who are willing to spend the extra money to clean up the environment."
A slight correction is in order: I know of a lot of other Volt and LEAF owners for which using made-in-USA fuel is their main reason for purchasing an electric vehicle. When one realizes that 70% of our oil is imported, it's a great feeling to be using 100% made-in-USA fuel.
I'm a Volt owner since March, 2011. Before that, I estimate that I 'donated' over $2000 each to the Saudis and Hugo Chavez since 9/11/01. Since I bought my Volt, my 'donations' to anti-US regimes have declined by over 90%.
Good point, Jim, but I would think the number of Americans willing to spend these high prices in order to buy American is very limited. There have been a number of periods when buying American cars would have helped our economy and kept Americans in jobs, yet consumers were still rushing to non-American cars.
Thank you, Charles. One other reason for buying an electric might be the completely silent, vibration-free drivetrain. My neighbor with an E-series Mercedes noted how my Volt is quieter and smoother than his 'benz. I actually believe the Volt should have been branded as a Caddillac or even a Buick. People tend to pay the premium for performance and lack of Noise Vibration and Harshness, and the Volt excels in these areas.
And Rob, I agree: high prices will keep most Americans away from cars like the Volt and Leaf, UNLESS gas prices rise substantially. Then electric cars could actually be cheaper to own and operate than gasoline cars. The main reasons American cars fell behind in the 1970's was the jump in gas prices, and the fact that there were really no competitive, reliable U.S. small cars (i.e., Pinto, Vega and Gremlin). If GM can cut the price down below $30K, and gas prices go up, GM would have to run triple-shifts to keep up with Volt demand.
Actually, Jim, the Arab oil producers are very well aware of your logic. The Saudi oil folks noted last year that high oil prices have spurred oil alternatives. They said they could stop the development of alternatives if they could keep oil down to $80 per barrel. So far, they haven't been able to pull that off.
jhankwitz: Thank you for the link! I was repeating the numbers I hear in the media which are usually in the range of "6 million BPD U.S. production vs. 20 million BPD usage". I see these numbers don't include bio-fuels and other liquid sources, which puts U.S. production of liquids to 9.7 Million BPD. Soooo, my 'donation' numbers from my first post are inflated - i.e. I only gave $1400 each (roughly) each to the Saudis and Chavez over the last ten years, not the $2000 that I thought I did.
And also a good point: Oil over $80/barrel will spur alternatives. It's my opinion that the Saudi's have lost control of the market because they don't have the spare capacity that they used to have.
Other interesting facts from your link:
Top Sources of Net Crude Oil and Petroleum Product Imports:
Some cars are more reliable than others, but even the vehicles at the bottom of this year’s Consumer Reports reliability survey are vastly better than those of 20 years ago in the key areas of powertrain and hardware, experts said this week.
As it does every year, Consumers Union recently surveyed its members on the reliability of their vehicles. This year, it collected data on approximately 1.1 million cars and trucks, categorizing the members’ likes and dislikes, not only of their vehicles, but of the vehicle sub-systems, as well.
A few weeks ago, Ford Motor Co. quietly announced that it was rolling out a new wrinkle to the powerful safety feature called stability control, adding even more lifesaving potential to a technology that has already been very successful.
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