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Big-Picture Volt Coverage: Time/BizWeek/Forbes/Car+Green Sites
Sep 18, 2008 (From the CalCars-News archive)
This posting originally appeared at CalCars-News, our newsletter of breaking CalCars and plug-in hybrid news. View the original posting here.
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Yesterday we excerpted some of the major news stories on the Volt launch. Now the high-power weeklies and the top clean car sites weigh in. This is a long email: we're running the full text of some of these reports. Why? Because they're so informative. These authors have worked hard to gauge the importance of what many see as a major turning point. We hope you'll enjoy getting their full vision. We've combined them so we don't crowd your in-box with multiple stories on GM (we hope to get back to lots of other news too). So this is the second-to-last Volt story for at least a day or two! Contents:

  • TIME Maazine "Is America Ready to Drive Electric?" and "The Chevy Volt: GM's Huge Bet on the Electric Car"
  • FORBES "The Automobile Shifts Gears"
  • BUSINESS WEEK "GM Charges Up the Electric Chevy Volt"
  • GREEN CAR CONGRESS "GM Formally Unveils the Production Version of the Volt"
  • HYBRIDCARS.COM "Chevrolet Volt Unveiled, As GM Turns 100"
  • EV WORLD GM's "Fortune Tied to Fate of Electric Car"
  • EV WORLD: "GM Panel: Transportation in the 21st Century" [with audio links]
  • WIRED "The Volt Isn't A Prius. It's Better"
  • TWO STEPS FORWARD "General Motor's Second Century"
  • AUTOBLOG GREEN "GM Centennial: Bob Lutz talks about the Volt's future, $7,500 tax incentives"

TIME MAGAZINE has two Sept.16 stories on plug-in cars -- not clear if either will be in the next print edition.

"Is America Ready to Drive Electric?" [full story; we note two corrections] by Byan Walsh­time/­business/­article/­0,8599,1841378,00.html

Rebecca Lindland, a senior auto analyst for the research firm Global Insight, is a fan of both electric cars and GM's plug-in Volt. "This is not a George Jetson future," says Lindland. "This is ours." But that future is still a ways off. Lindland said that when she met with GM executives not long ago to talk about the Volt, she reminded them of one vexing question: The plug-in makers' assumption is that drivers will recharge their cars in the garage at home, where it shouldn't be too hard to find an electrical outlet. "But I live in an apartment and park my car on the street," says Boston area resident Lindland. "So where am I going to plug in my car?"

That's just one of countless questions that needs an answer before plug-in cars can truly take their place on American roads. Certainly, electric cars have at least one built-in advantage: The electrical grid already exists. Other auto alternatives, like hydrogen fuel cells, would require the development of an expensive new infrastructure to deliver the gas to fueling stations around the country. But to make plug-ins a truly viable alternative -- one that could kill petroleum -- we will need to make changes to the way we supply and use electricity, both small and large. "Electricity is everywhere and it is extremely low cost," says Mark Duvall, program manager for electric transport at the Electric Power Research Institute. "But we have to take into account the ways that drivers will want to use electricity."

The first changes would have to be in pricing and delivery. Most of the U.S. utility system is extraordinarily dumb -- using 19th-century technology to run 21st-century applications. In real-time, utilities rarely know how much electricity any given customer is using, or when. Even though electric cars use relatively little power -- the average car recharging draws about as much juice as a widescreen TV -- they could still potentially overwhelm the electrical system. If plug-ins suddenly became popular, before the grid had a chance to get smarter, it could lead to a real power predicament. "You can imagine what would happen if five drivers on the block got home at 5 p.m. and all decided to recharge their cars at the same time," says Charles Griffith, auto project director at the Ecology Center in Berkeley, Calif. [actually Ann Arbor, MI]

One way to deal with the additional demand created by electric cars would simply be to build more power plants. That would be expensive, however, and, if the additional plants burned coal or natural gas, bad for climate change. A better solution: tap into the enormous extra capacity of the grid during off-peak times, like between midnight and dawn. According to a study by the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, off-peak capacity could support the conversion of 73% of the current auto fleet -- enough to cut demand for oil in half -- without the addition of a single extra plant, provided the cars all charge late at night. "We have a great amount of untapped resources," says Luke Tonachel, vehicle analyst for the Natural Resources Defense Council. "We can minimize impact on the grid."

To do that, however, we need to persuade plug-in owners to recharge at the right time -- by pricing electricity cheaply late at night, when demand is low. If charging a plug-in battery costs 2 cents-per-mile after midnight, and many times that during the day, drivers will likely wait before plugging in. (If that pricing model sounds familiar, it should be -- it's how long distance calling works.) But to make that system work, utilities will need to install smart meters in customers' homes capable of monitoring when cars are charging, and then to price the juice accordingly; smart meters are already being tested out by utilities in California and Texas. These changes would also help utilities even out the peaks and valleys that come with providing power. "The hope is that we'll be able to actively regulate our grid to improve efficiency," says Brian Wynne, president of the D.C.-based Electric Drive Transportation Association. "There is tremendous potential."

A shift to plug-in cars could also help the development of renewable power, all the more important since a proliferation of electric cars would alter the national pattern of carbon emissions -- the utility sector would take on the emissions that once belonged oil-based transport. While a power grid fueled by solar or wind would be clean, one of its key drawbacks is that it would also be intermittent -- if the sun were shaded or the wind failed to blow, we wouldn't have power. Likewise, if solar or wind produced more power than the grid could use, that excess power might simply be lost. But if millions of electric cars were plugged into the grid, they could act as mini-batteries, storing renewable electricity as it's generated -- and eventually even channeling electricity back into grid during cloudy or windless days, a system called vehicle-to-grid. "If you have control over renewable power resources and plug-ins, you can start to synchronize the two," says John Clark, CEO of V2Green, a Seattle start-up that is looking to integrate the grid and plug-in vehicles, and which has already begun field trials with utilities in Austin, Texas. "To utilities, electric cars can become batteries on wheels."

But plug-ins won't catch on if the home is the only place drivers can recharge. By making charge stations as ubiquitous as gas stations are today, utilities can speed the end of the gasoline-powered car. Which raises yet more questions: How will utilities charge customers for recharging on the road? Who will install and run public charging stations? All of these factors have to be integrated fluidly -- most car owners won't switch to electric if plug-ins are any less convenient to operate and refuel than the average gas guzzler. "We want to make sure the environment for the vehicle is as seamless as possible for the customer," says Mary Beth Stanek, director of environment and energy for General Motors.

Such infrastructure changes are still far off -- official plug-ins have yet to hit the street -- but a few companies are already gearing up. A start-up called Coulumb Technologies [actually Coulomb] in Campbell, Calif., is developing public charging points that would enable drivers to plug in and pay for the power they use. Another model altogether is Shai Agassi's Better Place, a company that wants to develop a vast infrastructure of public charging and "battery swap" stations. Agassi imagines a subscription model similar to how mobile phones work. Drivers would lease the batteries that power their electric cars, and be charged based on how much they drove. If they needed to drive farther than the range of the battery, drivers would pull over into a Better Place station and swap the depleted battery for a fresh one in a few minutes. Agassi already has commitments from Israel and Denmark to begin developing the model, and Nissan is aboard to make the cars. "We started swimming and a tsunami has come," says Agassi, referring to the growth of his project thanks to rising oil prices.

But even with infrastructure improvements, the shift to electric cars is likely to take years, even decades. According to Alan Madian, a director at the research firm LECG, even assuming solid growth, we can't expect more than 68 million plug-in hybrids by 2036, which would account for less than 17% of the total estimated fleet at that time. Given that the U.S. car fleet is likely to have grown to over 400 million vehicles by then, we may still end up using more oil in the future than we do today in a business as usual scenario. That's all the more reason for the government to get ahead of the curve and begin piecing together the electric infrastructure -- smart meters, public charging points, more renewable power -- that will speed the adoption of plug-ins. "A car affects the world more than anything else a buyer will purchase in his or her lifetime," says Felix Kramer, founder of the California Cars Initiative, a plug-in advocacy group in Palo Alto, Calif. Plug-ins can turn the car from a force for environmental destruction to something that frees us from oil -- but only if we make it happen.

"The Chevy Volt: GM's Huge Bet on the Electric Car" By Bryan Walsh -- With reporting by Coco Masters, Yuki Oda and Michiko Toyama / Tokyo [full story]­time/­business/­article/­0,8599,1841374,00.html

I can see the future of the automobile -- I just can't quite hear it. I'm riding around General Motors' secure proving grounds in Milford, Mich., in what from the outside looks like an ordinary Chevrolet Malibu. But inside it couldn't be more different. The test car isn't powered by a gasoline-fueled internal combustion engine, like nearly every automobile since the first Model T rolled off Henry Ford's assembly line in 1908. Nor is it a hybrid like Toyota's fuel-efficient Prius with a gas engine assisted by an electric motor. This Malibu is electric, powered by a 400-lb. lithium-ion battery nestled beneath the floorboard -- an energy source that is not only silent but entirely emission-free.

Actually, what we're driving is not a Malibu at all but a "mule," a stunt double for what will become the Chevrolet Volt, a new plug-in electric car that could save a struggling GM and, not incidentally, change the way we drive -- just as long as they can make it work in time. "Developing this car is not something for the lighthearted," says Alex Cattelan, the Volt's assistant chief vehicle engineer, from behind the wheel. "But it's so much fun."

To understand why the Volt could be so important to two once dominant institutions that have hit hard times -- General Motors and the United States -- all you need to do is visit your nearest gas station, where a gallon of unleaded now costs an average of $3.64. We're spending around $700 billion a year to import oil, with much of that money being shipped to countries that don't like us very much. When we burn all that imported oil, we release nearly 2 million tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere each year, heating up the planet. Those twin trends can't continue, and the solution "is to move away from oil as quickly and as devastatingly as possible," according to former CIA director turned green warrior James Woolsey.

GM is hardly the only major automaker to explore electrics as the way to make that happen; in recent months every major international automaker has announced plans to produce plug-in hybrids, semi-electric cars that can be recharged from a wall socket, like the Volt. But it is GM -- which has seen revenues vanish as Americans stampede away from SUVs and other gas gluttons -- that is pursuing the most ambitious program. The company does not have a happy history with electrics, having produced the battery-powered EV1 in the 1990s only to discontinue it in 1999. But this time GM has staked its future on the Volt, promising to have it in showrooms by the end of 2010 -- far quicker than the pace of development for a standard car, let alone one whose battery does not technically exist yet. "This is not a choice," says Rebecca Lindland, an auto analyst for the research firm Global Insight. "This is necessary for their survival." And in a warming world, perhaps ours too.

Under the hood, Bob Lutz is not your typical green. The former Marine pilot -- who owns a pair of surplus military jets he likes to fly -- probably has a carbon footprint half the size of Michigan. But it is the gravelly Lutz, GM's vice chairman for global product development, who is the driving force behind the Volt. Lutz worked in the auto industry for decades, left to run the battery company Exide Technologies and returned to GM in 2001 full of ideas. His dream was to develop an all-electric car that would be powered by lithium-ion batteries similar to the kind now used in cell phones and laptops. Most current hybrids use nickel-metal-hydride batteries -- less expensive, but also less powerful. In 2003 a Silicon Valley start-up named Tesla Motors announced it would produce a $100,000 lithium-ion-powered sports car, and that helped galvanize Lutz. "If some guy in California can do it, to me it shows that this is certifiable technology," he says.

GM as a whole shared that confidence and at the 2007 Detroit Auto Show unveiled an early concept-car version of the Volt. To the surprise of even Lutz, it was the hit of the show. Other hybrids may offer fuel efficiency, but the Volt would go several steps further. A traditional hybrid like the Prius has two means of propulsion: one electric motor run by a battery and one engine run by gasoline. The battery can't take you very far -- maybe 7 or 8 miles -- which is why the gas engine kicks in so often. But as you drive, the battery does pick up extra juice, mostly courtesy of what's known as regenerative braking -- collecting the heat generated every time you hit the brakes, converting it to electricity and storing it in the battery. The result: less gas used on every trip.

The Volt will rely on its electric motor, powered by its new battery, and will go up to 40 miles without using a drop of gas. For the nearly 80% of Americans who drive less than 40 miles a day, that would mean they could effectively eliminate gasoline from their lives. After 40 miles, the Volt's gas engine switches on, but unlike the Prius', it doesn't make the car move an inch. Rather, it generates electricity and feeds it to the battery, much the way an emergency generator in a hospital keeps the lights on during a blackout. This allows you to go an additional several hundred miles before you need either a fill-up or a charge-up. "With [past electrics] people had to change the way they lived," says Andrew Farah, the Volt's chief engineer. "I want a vehicle that doesn't ask them to change at all."

GM always knew that the hardest part of building the Volt would be harnessing the still young lithium-ion technology to create the right battery for the job. In a normal development process, GM would work with batterymakers to design and test the power packs, then begin making the car itself. But these aren't normal times at GM, a company that lost $15.5 billion in the second quarter of 2008 alone; that surrendered the aura of technological leadership to Toyota; that finds itself squeezed between tightening fuel-economy standards and a fleet that is still shifting from trucks and SUVs. So the order went out to design the batteries and the car simultaneously, with the aim of putting Volts for sale in the "tens of thousands," according to Lutz, by the end of 2010.

On Sept. 16, 2008, GM's 100th birthday, the company further committed to its self-imposed deadline by unveiling the final production design of the Volt: a sleek and aerodynamic body that still looks more like a family sedan than a car of the future. Now it will be up to the team in the company's advanced battery lab to make good on the 2010 pledge.

That unit, led by engineer Denise Gray, is currently putting various lithium-ion modules through their paces, cycling them through charges and testing them in warm and cold conditions, with the aim of ensuring the packs can run safely for at least 150,000 miles of driving. The technology has had its problems in other applications -- recall the lithium-ion batteries that caught on fire in Sony laptops in 2006. But so far, GM says, theirs are performing well, an assessment confirmed by outside analysts. The test packs I'm shown have gone through the equivalent of about 22,000 miles of driving, and the peppy Gray -- who seems to be lithium-ion-powered herself -- says they're still going strong.

Even if the technology is ready by the end of 2010, critics doubt that manufacturers will be able to produce the batteries at scale by then -- or cheaply enough to make the Volt remotely affordable. (Lutz says he's "shooting for $40,000 or less," which would still be a stiff premium for what is, high tech aside, a family car.) Menahem Anderman, the founder of Total Battery Consulting, believes that it should take GM four to five years to develop and test new lithium-ion packs. "I'd like to be wrong," he says. "But it's difficult to see how they can succeed."

Toyota, GM's bete noire, seems to agree. Six months after GM unveiled the Volt concept in 2007, Toyota announced it was already test-driving plug-in hybrids -- cars that adhere to the two-engine model of all hybrids but allow the battery to plug into the grid and pick up an extra charge while parked. Toyota has been as quiet about its plug-in plans as GM has been loud about the Volt, but it does seem that the Japanese company takes a more skeptical view of lithium technology. "Our thinking is of a smaller battery with a lower initial cost [for the consumer]," says Tasatami Takimoto, Toyota's executive vice president for green tech.

No matter when the Volt hits the showrooms, it seems unlikely to appear in large numbers right away. In a July filing with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, GM said the Volt and other plug-ins would be "low-volume applications" until 2015 and that the government shouldn't take the technology into account when devising new fuel-economy rules. To Lutz, any initial success of the Volt matters less than GM's ability to improve and adapt the car's system across its entire fleet. "This is generation-one technology, and it's been developed very fast," he says. "Generation two is already in the hopper, and generation three is being worked on."

GM -- and the rest of the auto industry -- can't go through those generations fast enough. More than hydrogen fuel cells (perpetually 10 to 15 years off) and cellulosic ethanol (ditto), electric cars represent a promising near-term solution to America's oil addiction. The infrastructure to support electric cars exists today -- it's called the electric grid, and we can all tap into it in our homes. Electricity is far cheaper than the cheapest oil -- plug-ins generally run on the equivalent of 75 cents a gallon. Even with America's current electrical supply, which is more than 50% coal-generated, switching to plug-ins will reduce greenhouse gases, and as the grid gets cleaner and cleaner, those savings will only increase. A joint study by the Electric Power Research Institute and the Natural Resources Defense Council estimated that by 2050, widespread adoption of plug-ins could reduce greenhouse-gas emissions by 450 million metric tons annually -- equivalent to removing 82.5 million passenger cars from the road.

Nor would plug-ins overwhelm the electrical grid. Because utilities need to keep excess capacity available to meet rare peak-power events -- a bit like a hotel holding 20 extra empty rooms for a convention that happens once a year -- there's plenty of electricity to power plug-ins, provided they charge at off-peak times. A study by the Pacific National Northwest Laboratory found that the grid could power 73% of the nation's car fleet without adding a single new plant, provided most of the charging was done at night.

The Volt may not be the only way to kick the oil habit, but the sheer excitement the unfinished car has generated -- more than 30,000 people have joined an unofficial waiting list -- indicates that GM has taken the lead in the race for tomorrow's car. The real question may be whether the company, still bleeding revenue in a depressed market, can survive until the Volt arrives. Lutz has no doubt. "This is the last program we would ever cut," he insists. "Even as we face the Grim Reaper, we would still be spending money on the Volt." Let's hope so. When it comes to the Volt, what's good for General Motors could once again be good for America.

FORBES: "The Automobile Shifts Gears" September 16, 2008 by Mark P. Mills, who writes the "Creative Disruption" column (referring to Clayton Christensen's business research) and with Peter Huber, started writing about PHEVs in 2004 [ful story]­claytonchristensen/­2008/­09/­16/­generalmotors-toyota-daimler_leadership_clayton_in_mm_0916claytonchristensen_inl.html

The future of the automobile is being fought on the two stages of politics and raw capitalism. No surprise, given that cars are at the epicenter of not only oil demand and manufacturing might, but also technology deployment. Both presidential aspirants (cars seem to bring out the inner dweeb in the candidates) have tech-centric future-car plans. Not coincidentally, the world's two largest automakers have started a Kabuki dance over who will lead the next secular shift in automotive technology from whence 21st century market dominance will emerge. Regardless of who wins either battle, the transformation of the car, over time, alters energy markets in far-reaching ways.

Both Obama and McCain propose to accelerate the idea of a "plug-in hybrid," a vehicle directly derived from the digital silicon economy. So do automakers. In mid-August, General Motors announced it had "essentially finished" the design of its Volt, a radical new hybrid car first unveiled just a year ago in January, with planned production in 2010. Not to be outdone, Toyota quickly announced, contemporaneous with the Democratic Convention, an acceleration of its own similar plan and release schedule. Nissan, Ford, Mitsubishi, Chrysler and Mercedes all have plans too.

What's the big deal? Don't we already have hybrids? Yes, but these new hybrids will have a plug that connects to a wall socket, giving consumers a choice of using (mostly domestic) electricity to replace all (mostly foreign) gasoline on most trips.

This simple feature has immense consequences.

The plug is the physical and economic link that makes it possible, for the first time, to connect two nearly independent parts of our energy economy--the oil and the non-oil domains. By doing that, the plug-in hybrid has the potential to radically alter the energy equation that currently favors gasoline.

Consider: 95% of all American transportation energy is supplied by oil. Meanwhile, the energy for everything else--offices, factories, homes and data centers--is 85% supplied without oil, and most of it is delivered as kilowatt-hours. (Only a vanishingly 2% of electricity is generated by oil.) Once you connect automobiles to the electric grid, you access a trillion-barrel-of-oil-equivalent energy infrastructure almost entirely fueled by domestic sources: coal, uranium, natural gas and hydro dams.

Look at this another way. Today, most alternative energy technologies that are discussed--wind, solar, tides, waves, clean coal, nuclear fission and, perhaps one day, fusion--are useful only for making electricity. Yet today, wind does no more for commuters than gasoline does for computers.

Conventional hybrids such as Toyota's Prius have moved from a cult niche to a mainstream product, with a cumulative million units sold--the demand for this car has closely tracked oil prices. Nevertheless, conventional hybrids are still locked into the oil economy, with a drive shaft directly connected to a gasoline engine.

Plug-in hybrids turn this upside down--reversing the roles of gasoline and electricity. Conventional hybrids use mainly the gasoline engine for propulsion, drawing on the electric drive and batteries only occasionally to (impressively) improve gasoline efficiency. Plug-in hybrids use mainly electric motors and batteries for propulsion, relegating gasoline to occasional use to extend the battery range. The gasoline engine serves as an on-board personal electric utility for when you forget to plug in to the local grid, or for ensuring a total range to match that of any conventional car you'd buy today.

The Volt's gasoline generator is mechanically independent of the wheels--easily swapped in the future for ethanol, biodiesel or fuel cell generators. Think of the plug-in hybrid as the biggest consumer electric appliance ever. Store enough kilowatt-hours for 40 miles in a battery (the Volt's planned range) and you capture daily driving for most people. So the average commuter could stay in kilowatt-only mode every day. A pint of gasoline is displaced by each grid kilowatt-hour--whether produced from one pound of coal, five seconds of a wind turbine's spinning blades or 20 square meters of solar cells.

What does it mean for energy markets? Ultimately, the invisible, under-the-hood electronic architecture of the plug-in hybrid will become as commonplace as automatic transmissions and anti-lock brakes. Once the majority of domestic cars become plug-in hybrids, we could displace most urban gasoline use, or nearly one-half of current U.S. oil imports.

To make this technology practical, automakers had to wait for ultra-powerful but compact electronics and, critically, useful batteries. Storing large quantities of electricity has long been the domain of 150-year-old lead-acid chemistry. Lead, while cheap, is a nonstarter; your small laptop computer battery would wheeze to a stop in 30 minutes using lead, as would your Volt if its 400-pound battery pack were lead. Driving for 30 minutes at commuting speeds yields a useless dozen miles.

Lithium battery chemistry, commercialized in 1991, changes this equation with a four-fold gain in energy stored per pound. Lithium technology was a key market enabler for notebook computers and cell phones. Now automotive-class lithium price, performance and safety is emerging from dozens of venture-funded entrepreneurs and established battery players.

They're going to be busy though. If 10% of the world's automotive production switches to plug-in, we'll need to at least double the world's current lithium battery output. And then we'll need substantially more electricity to charge them up. On average, each Volt will add electric demand equal to a couple of home refrigerators. These challenges, however, are more under our control than what happens in oil markets. GM is already working with several dozen utilities to smooth the transition to smart, electric refueling. Many more utilities and automakers will follow.

History is littered with examples of products created before their time, from Ford's Edsel to the Osborne PC years ahead of Apple, and Apple's own notorious flop with the Newton (the iPhone's ancestor). Add to the dud list GM's 1996 EV1 electric-only car. The timing and technology finally appear right for car unshackled from oil dependence.

Doubtless, the next president will implement policies and take credit for helping this inevitable transformation. But credit will belong to a global constellation of digital entrepreneurs, and engineers at the likes of GM and Toyota, who compete to finally take the auto industry out of its 19th century roots.

Written by Mark P. Mills, a physicist and a co-founding partner in Digital Power Capital, an energy tech venture fund. Mills is also the co-author of The Bottomless Well: The Twilight of Fuel, the Virtue of Waste, and Why We Will Never Run Out of Energy (Basic Books, 2005.) Mills may hold positions in companies discussed in this column and may provide technology assessment services for firms that have interests in the companies. He can be contacted at inquiries@... .

BUSINESS WEEK "GM Charges Up the Electric Chevy Volt: GM introduces the Chevy Volt, a sleek electric car capable of 40 mpg on a single charge" by David Welch, BusinessWeek's Detroit bureau chief September 17, 2008 [abridged]­lifestyle/­content/­sep2008/­bw20080916_356100.htm

Some critics have called the Chevrolet Volt, the electric car General Motors (GM) plans to sell in 2010, vaporware. Other skeptics have doubted the company could get the needed lithium-ion batteries ready for market by then. But in a play to show that GM will get beyond its current financial struggles and challenge Toyota (TM) in the technology game, Chairman and CEO G. Richard Wagoner Jr. showed the production version of the car at a 100th anniversary event for the automaker at its Detroit headquarters. "The Volt is symbolic of what GM is today--cutting-edge design and technology," he said.

Design Change: First, Lutz said, the car will be built using similar underpinnings of GM's future family of compact cars. In that sense, the Volt will be a cousin of the Chevrolet Cruze compact (, 7/10/08), which goes on sale in Europe in March and the U.S. a year later. That allows GM to share some parts with a family of compacts that will sell hundreds of thousands of copies a year worldwide. The tradeoff is that the Volt loses the longer hood and sporty stance of its concept car.

There were other reasons the design had to change, Lutz says. Standing next to the Volt, he showed how the production version is more aerodynamic than the show car was. That will help GM engineers get the car to run 40 miles before the gasoline engine kicks in to start charging the battery. If the carmaker had kept the more stout design of the concept, "you're looking at 33 or 34 miles of electric range," Lutz said. "We're getting a reliable 40 miles of range. It's exactly what we predicted."

Will the Car Be Ready? Inside, the dashboard, central console, and controls look like they were styled in Apple's (AAPL) studios. A glossy, metallic-white center console resembling a large iPod houses all the control buttons. And those turn on the stereo of environmental controls by sensing touch. No need to push down on a button.

GREEN CAR CONGRESS "GM Formally Unveils the Production Version of the Volt" 16 September 2008 with over 75 comments [full story]­2008/­09/­gm-formally-unv.html

General Motors marked its centenary today by unveiling the much-anticipated production version of the Chevrolet Volt extended range electric vehicle. The design of the Chevrolet Volt production car has changed from the original concept that was unveiled at the 2007 North American International Auto Show in Detroit. (Earlier post.)

Because aerodynamics plays a key role in maximizing driving range, GM designers created a more aerodynamically efficient design for the production vehicle than was represented by the concept. While design cues from the concept vehicle remain in the production Volt, the Volt's rounded and flush front fascia, tapered corners and grille are functional, enabling air to move easily around the car. In the rear, sharp edges and a carefully designed spoiler allow the air to flow off and away quickly. An aggressive rake on the windshield and back glass help reduce turbulence and drag.

The Volt uses electricity to move the wheels at all times and speeds. For trips up to 40 miles (under the EPA city cycle), the Volt is powered only by electricity stored in its 16-kWh, lithium-ion battery. GM uses half of the capacity (8 kWh) in its operating strategy for the Volt. When the battery's energy is depleted, a 1.4-liter, naturally aspirated gasoline/E85-powered engine range extender kicks in.

The Chevrolet Volt can be plugged either into a standard household 120v outlet or use 240v for charging. The vehicle's intelligent charging technology enables the Volt's battery to be charged in less than three hours on a 240v outlet or about eight hours on a 120v outlet. Charge times are reduced if the battery has not been fully depleted. GM estimates the cost of a daily 8 kWh recharge to be about $0.80 (10 cents per kWh).

CAPTION: The Volt's electric drive unit delivers the equivalent of 150 hp (111 kW), with 370 Nm (273 lb-ft) of instant torque, and a top speed of 100 miles per hour.

GM estimates that the Volt will cost about two cents per mile to drive while under battery power compared to 12 cents per mile using gasoline priced at $3.60 per gallon. For an average driver who drives 40 miles per day (or 15,000 miles per year), this amounts to a cost savings of $1,500 annually. Using peak electric rates, GM estimates that an electrically driven mile in a Chevy Volt will be about one-sixth of the cost of a conventional gasoline-powered vehicle. The cost savings are even greater when charging during off-peak hours, when electric rates are cheaper.

The Chevrolet Volt is expected to be built at GM's Detroit-Hamtramck manufacturing facility, subject to GM successfully negotiating satisfactory government incentives. Production is scheduled to begin late 2010 for models in the United States. Pricing has not been announced.

HYBRIDCARS.COM "Chevrolet Volt Unveiled, As GM Turns 100" by John Voelker September 16 2008 [abridged]­carmakers/­chevrolet-volt-unveiled-gm-turns-100-25000.html

The Chevrolet Volt is undoubtedly the most popular car in the world that doesn't yet exist. From the January 2007 unveiling of the concept through last week's "leaked" photos of the production version, it routinely draws huge traffic and passionate comments to any website.

GM product czar Bob Lutz called design and styling the "one big differentiator left" as every brand improves quality, offers good handling, excellent packaging, and so forth. He talked about bringing designers into the process at the earliest stages to help conceive cars, rather than just asking them to "skin" products that had already been engineered. But he acknowledged that the Volt design team's assignment was a little different, requiring above all "superb aerodynamics to ensure efficiency."

The actual unveiling seemed almost anti-climactic. A curtain pulled back, Bob Lutz slowly drove the car out onto a turntable, the crowd applauded--and that was it.

So now we know what it looks like without executives standing in front of it. We have 26 months left until cars appear at Chevrolet dealers--we hope--but if there's one certainty, it's that you'll see way, way more Volt publicity between now and then. Stay tuned.

EV WORLD GM's "Fortune Tied to Fate of Electric Car: General Motors officially debuts its next generation electric car" [full story]­article.cfm?storyid=1528

CAPTION: Nowhere nearly as radical a design as the original Volt concept or the remarkably successful 2004 Toyota Prius, the Chevy Volt is, nonetheless, an attractive design. But the secret of the car is what powers it: electricity. Behind the wheel is Co-Chairman Bob Lutz who championed the car.

midst the melt-down on Wall Street where once-powerful banking and investment houses are toppling like dominoes, out in Warren, Michigan another drama is playing out.

This morning General Motors, itself fighting for survival amidst persistent rumors of looming bankruptcy, rolled out a small silver-gray sedan that might easily be overlooked in any parking lot unless one looks closely at the Volt badge on the rear or the camouflaged plug-in port on the front fender. Those will be the subtle clues that this car is unlike anything else on the road. GM management, employees and shareholders fervently hope this is the car of the future.

As the official company photographs below illustrate, the Volt E-Flex range-extended electric vehicle, is an attractively styled vehicle that will surely appeal to many car buyers who still find the styling of the Prius off-putting. While the rackish hot-rod looks of the original Volt concept car first unveiled nearly two years ago have morphed into something less dramatic in the name of improved aerodynamics, it is what's under the sheet metal that makes the car extraordinary.

Instead of blending the gasoline engine with an electric motor through a complex transmission system as is done in all current production hybrids, including those from GM, the Volt is propelled entirely by its 111kW (125bhp) electric motor. Supplying the power to the motor is a 16kWh lithium ion battery pack nestled between the passenger seats. Capable of moving the car to top speed of 100 mph (160km/hr), the energy in the battery is sufficient to drive for 40 miles on electric energy only. To extend the range of the car to several hundred addition miles, car is equipped with an internal combustion engine/generator that recharges the battery and supplies enough extra electricity to propel the car. When the car is parked, the battery can be recharged using common household current at either 110 or 240 volts AC. GM engineers estimate that 85 percent of drivers will seldom use the engine/generator during the normal work week, which will translate into significant cost savings. At 10 cents a kilowatt hour, a typical 25 mile round-trip commute will cost just $1.00 in 'fuel' costs a day; roughly one-quarter of the cost of conventional gasoline car getting 25 mpg.

With the roll-out of the Volt today, the company now plans to have as many as 50 pre-production Volts on the road by years end to begin intensive, real-world testing of the technology. By year's end, it will also announce its selection of battery supplier(s). In just 14 months from now, it hopes to have the first production cars rolling off the assembly line and out to dealers. No MSRP has been announced, though spectulation puts the price tag as high as $45,000. GM has said it wants to keep the price of the car "affordable", presumably in the low $30's by the time all the incentives -- both public (tax rebates) and private (GM funded) -- are in place.

The Volt, however, isn't the only plug-in car being developed. There are a raft of other models in the works from the just announced Peugeot PROLOGUE to its most serious competitor, Toyota. In addition the newly revealed Honda Insight, which is slated to go on sale next Spring for under $,19,000 and purportedly offers 70 mpg fuel economy, will pose serious competition for both GM and Toyota.

EV WORLD: "GM Panel: Transportation in the 21st Century" September 16, 2008 [includes link to hear or download the audio; [abridged]­article.cfm?storyid=1529

As part of its Centennial Celebration, which included the official unveiling of the Chevrolet Volt E-Flex extended-range electric car, General Motor's hosted an experts panel discussion on the future of transportation in the 21st Century. Panel members include: Dr. Larry Burns, GM's VP, Research & Development; Dr. Mark Duval, EPRI; Dr. Don Hillebrand, ANL; John Gasesa, Casesa Shapiro Group, LLC; Chris Paine, director 'Who Killed the Electric Car?; and Joel Makower, Executive Editor Greener World Media, Inc., acting as moderator. The topics and questions spanned a wide range of issues from discussions of the technology in the Volt to the current economic turmoil on Wall Street and its potential impact on the industry and consumers.

WIRED "The Volt Isn't A Prius. It's Better" By Chuck Squatriglia September 17, 2008 [abridged]­cars/­2008/­09/­the-volt-isnt-a.html

The Chevrolet Volt and Toyota Prius look a lot alike, but they are fundamentally different cars that blaze separate paths toward the inevitable electrification of the automobile. And while the Prius is the world's most-popular hybrid and the poster child for green(er) motoring, the Volt is more technologically advanced.

Assuming it works, of course. GM is confident it will, and it's given 700 people -- many of them veterans of the groundbreaking EV1 electric car GM unceremoniously killed in 1994 2003 -- a blank check to make sure the Volt is in showrooms by the end of 2010. The company reportedly will spend $400 to $500 million on the project during the next two years. "We can do anything we want to make this happen," Andrew Farah, the Volt's chief engineer and a veteran of the EV1, tells us. Many industry analysts and battery experts say it'll be close, but GM almost certainly will meet that deadline.

"GM is staking its reputation on the Volt working and it's spent a lot of money to make sure it will work," says Mike Omotoso of JD Power & Associates. "I think they'll be able to mass produce them by 2010."

The heart of the car is a T-shaped 16-kilowatt-hour battery comprised of 220 lithium-ion cells and a 111-kilowatt (150-horsepower) electric motor good for a top speed of 100 mph. GM says the drivetrain will produce acceleration similar to that of a V-6 engine. The goal is to get the battery down to 396 pounds and no more than 64-inches long and 33 1/2-inches wide across the top of the "T." That's light-years ahead of the similarly shaped lead-acid battery that powered the earliest EV1s; it weighed 1,200 pounds and was 92.5-inches long. The Volt's battery will run the length of the cabin, taking up the space beneath the center console and the rear seat.

GM is testing batteries around-the-clock at labs in Michigan and Detroit, where engineers have as many as 40 battery packs on test rigs that measure life-cycle depletion rates, thermal behavior and load performance. "Extreme cold temperature and battery life are the biggest challenges," Denise Gray, director of advanced battery technology, says. The objective is to build a battery that works as well in Nome, Alaska or Flagstaff, Arizona as it does in the lab -- and is good for 150,000 miles. "It's a high hurdle to clear," Gray concedes. "Maximum" Bob Lutz, VP of global development for GM and the guy cracking the whip to keep the Volt on schedule, says the batteries are performing "flawlessly" and "it's almost scary that we aren't seeing any problems with them." GM is testing batteries from LG Chem/Compact Power and A123 Systems/Continental, and Lutz says the company's decided who'll get the contract but won't announce it until the end of the year.

General Motors wants the Volt to recharge in eight hours using a standard 120-volt wall outlet or three hours with a 240. Of course, that won't do you any good if you're miles from home when the batteries are winding down. At that point, the Volt's 1.4-liter four-cylinder engine kicks on, powering a 53-kilowatt generator that will keep the battery going. The original plan called for a 1-liter three-cylinder turbocharged engine, but GM went with the four because it's lighter and simpler. "To be honest with you, we've got enough technology in the Volt," says Micky Bly, director of hybrid drivetrain engineering. "We don't need the added complexity of a turbocharger."

Bly says the engine will produce less than 100 kilowatts (134 horsepower) but promises that's enough to do the job. And because the engine drives a generator that will run at a constant speed, the power band can be optimized for maximum fuel efficiency and lowest emissions. "We can run it in the sweet spot at all times," he says. Just how sweet that spot is remains to be seen, because GM isn't saying what kind of fuel economy or emissions we'll see from the Volt, although 50 mpg has been mentioned.

The engine will not fully charge the battery. Instead, it will keep the battery in what Farah calls "charge sustaining mode" at about 30 percent of its capacity, providing enough juice to keep the car going. The idea, like so much of the technology in the Volt, was born of the EV1. Engineers testing the EV1 in the early 1990s needed a way to keep its battery charged as they racked up miles on the track. They fashioned a generator from a snowmobile engine strapped to a trailer towed behind the car. Farah thought it was a great way to improve the EV1's range, and some of the engineers urged GM to incorporate it into the car. If it had, what was the EV1 might have been the Volt.

TWO STEPS FORWARD "General Motor's Second Century" by Joel Makower September 17, 2008 [full text]­joel_makower/­2008/­09/­general-motor-1.html

General Motors turns 100 years old today, a milestone for any company. And while like any centurion, the moment offers a chance to look back, GM is hellbent on looking at the road ahead -- where it's going, how it will get there, and whether it will idle and sputter to a halt before it regains the cruising speed it once enjoyed.

I've been chronicling GM's environmental opportunities and challenges for the past few years (and previously disclosed that GM is both a client of GreenOrder, with which I am affiliated, and a sponsor of, of which I am executive editor.) Along the way, there's been the company's push for flex-fuel vehicles, the move to revive the electric car, and the company's need to help create a plug-in infrastructure. All are part of the GM's vision to reinvent itself for its second century, moving away from its legacy of big, gas-guzzling vehicles to recapture its long-lost legacy as a design and technology innovator, this time focusing on electric vehicles and renewable fuels. It's about as big a leap as any major company has tried to take.

Will it work? That's the question of the hour. Forecasting the fate of Detroit's Big Three auto makers has become something of a parlor game in some circles, with even the allies of Ford, GM, and Chrysler pondering whether the automotive giants can survive their current spate of jaw-dropping financial losses (GM's losses since 2005 alone approach $70 billion). But nearly all agree that these companies, should they survive, will look very different in ten years than they do today.

That shift has been evident the past two days. I'm writing this from Detroit, where I'm moderating a webcast today on "the future of transportation" (viewable here). In preparation for the event, my five panelists and I spent yesterday at GM's Milford Proving Grounds, the massive testing facility located a half-hour from the company's Detroit headquarters. Milford, with its massive 67-acre asphalt-covered "black lake," is where cars get their punishing workout during development.

At Milford, we saw presentations from GM brass, including vice chairman Bob Lutz, and drove prototypes of forthcoming vehicles, including the Volt, the "extended-range electric vehicle" on which the company is, more or less, betting its future.

The Volt, for the uninitiated, is an electric vehicle with a small gas-powered motor. Unlike the Toyota Prius, which also sports both electric and gas-powered motors, the Volt's engine doesn't send power to the wheels. Rather, it recharges the battery. So, if you drive under 40 miles between plug-in charges, it's a pure electric vehicle; you use no gas. If you drive beyond that, the motor kicks in to recharge the battery, giving you hundreds more miles of driving before refueling. If your daily commute is a dozen miles or so each way, you potentially could use no gas at all.

There's plenty of skepticism whether the Volt is "real" -- that is, whether it will ever come out, as opposed to being a showpiece the company is using to green up its image -- greenwash, as some have charged. But the car is very real, and the company is on schedule to bring it to market -- at least the first 10,000 or so copies -- by the end of 2010. (One recent deadline, an August 26, 2008 goal of locking in "production-intent components," was missed by only two days.) The first vehicles will roll off the line next June, in showrooms a year later following testing and refinement. Unofficially, the company views the Volt as its ticket out of the doldrums -- and its vehicle back to profitability, if it all comes together. It's a high-wire act, to be sure, and will be one of the more interesting business stories of the next few years.

GM is hardly the only innovator, of course. Toyota, Ford, and most of the other auto makers are working on their green car plays, each company's strategy taking its own course. That's exactly as it should be. To succeed, the next generation of vehicles will need to move past the monocolture of gas-powered, mechanically propelled vehicles to embrace a range of fueling and propulsion technologies. And they'll need to address challenges beyond just energy and the environment, from urban congestion to safety to new vehicle ownership models for developing economies that provide the freedom of individual mobility without necessarily requiring each individual to own his or her own car.

Even if the Volt and its other strategies succeed, GM won't be out of the woods. It has legacy problems -- for example, high pension and health care costs that add $2,000 to the price of every vehicle (much of this will be handed off to an independent trust fund starting in 2010). The age of persistently high gas prices -- with the never-ending possibility that a border skirmish, petty dictator, or pipeline hiccup could further constrain supply and raise prices at the pump -- makes GM's current lineup of Hummers, Escalades, minivans, and full-size pick-ups vulnerable to the vagaries of the oil market. New, smaller and more nimble competitors are coming onto the scene with increasingly regularity, giving the major auto makers a continually changing competitive environment. It's possible that the leading auto makers of 2025 aren't yet even in business.

Given all this, something strange and potentially wonderful is going on here in Motown, a change in course that's been evolving for the past few years but which is now gently accelerating. It's a make-or-break moment for GM and its brethren -- and, by extension, all heavy industry -- to see whether these old-line companies' can adapt to the green economy's changing realities.

AUTOBLOG GREEN "GM Centennial: Bob Lutz talks about the Volt's future, $7,500 tax incentives" by Sebastian Blanco Septemer 17, 2008 [full text includes link to 31-minute audio]­2008/­09/­17/­gm-centennial-bob-lutz-talks-about-the-volts-future-7-500-ta/­

Ahh, the blogger round table. At GM's Centennial celebration yesterday, GM chairman sat down with a group of bloggers to talk about - what else? - the Volt. Lutz took questions about the car and gave a upbeat assessment of where the overall program is now; he didn't even knock wood when he said that the battery testing has not given them any problems - guess he's not superstitious. One thing that Lutz said would help GM sell more Volts would be government incentives, specifically $7,500 incentive for each person who buys one. By the looks of it, the he won't quite get that amount.

Over the next few years, here's what will happen with the Volt program: There will be 50 or so Volt powertrains in Chevy Cruze bodies cruising the streets gathering data in the next few months. They are currently building three a week. Next year, about 100 Volts that look like the Volt will be out and about and in 2010 there will be a "pretty huge fleet" testing. Basically, Lutz said, everything's on track for the late-2010 production date.

We also hear how those leaked photos hit the web - yup, GM was embarrassed. Have a listen to all this a lot more.

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