Engineer Mike Hichme (left) and designer Stuart Norris (right): GM's design and engineering teams colocated in an effort to understand the customer's needs and choose the right technologies to support those needs.
I think there's a solution to the unsustainable luxury car dilemma that you mention, Ann. In earlier stories, I have mentioned that the Volt is based on a new definition of luxury. I can buy a Chevy Cruze for under $20,000 or buy a Volt for $40,000. In some respects they are the same car, same size, same foundation. The Cruze gets 42 mpg; the Volt gets about 45 mpg on gasoline and 90+ mpge using electricity. The Volt also has a few more luxuries inside. I really do believe that most of the of the buyers of the Volt, Leaf and other EVs and hybrids are wealthier consumers with a new definition of luxury. If they were buying out of a sense of pragmatism, they'd go for vehicles like the Cruze.
Chuck, that's a really interesting shift in what's defined as luxury. Thanks for pointing that out. OTOH, I hope that doesn't mean that EVs and hybrids are being aimed at the upper end of consumers, since that will most likely delay acceptance and the higher volumes needed to make them mainstream. During the energy crisis in the mid-70s, people started buying smaller Japanese cars in huge numbers because they both cost less and had better mileage than Detroit. It was a win-win.
Ann, I'm afraid that until now, most hybrids and electric cars have been aimed at upper-end consumers. That's starting to change no, though, with last week's introduction of the $19,000 Prius c. Automakers are also turning to plug-in hybrids because they can market them at the mid-level of the market by reducing the size of the battery and, therefore, reducing the cost.
Thanks for reporting on that lower-priced Prius and the down-sized pricing of plug-in hybrids. They should go a long way toward getting volumes up by appealing to more consumers, especially in these tough economic times.
Next we want to hear how much Toyota is going to charge for its plug-in vehicle, the Prius PHV. If that comes in at a reasonable price -- say, $28K -- we'll really see electrification appealing to more consumers. We should know soon.
Ann: We should know by second quarter of this year. Predictions seem to vary from $28K to $32K, but when I interviewed Toyota engineers over the summer, they described the sweet spot as $26K. I doubt they can come in that low, but they do have the advantage of a small-ish battery on this (one-third the size of the Volt battery), so they should be able to keep costs down.
A final note on the Prius PHV, Ann. To me, it seems like the most logical form of electrification in vhicles today. By minimizing the size of the battery, Toyota will hopefully keep the costs down. If you're a person who drives less than 13 miles roundtrip to work, and if you recharge religiously, you can run in pure electric mode the majority of the time.
There's good news and bad news regarding the sub-systems of today's late-model vehicles. The good news is that new engines and transmissions are more trouble-free than in the past. The bad news is that the infotainment and DVD players are still prone to be "buggy."
For decades, the corporate path to the chief executive's office has often passed through engineering. Automotive, computer, electronics, and oil companies have frequently drawn their leaders from the engineering ranks.
The Texas Motor Speedway has flipped the switch on a high-definition video board that uses 14 million LEDs, weighs more than 200,000 pounds, and is 80% larger than the Dallas Cowboys' world-renowned scoreboard.
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