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The Volt's Redesign: Pro/Neutral and Suspect
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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Many of the reports from Michigan indicate that people are understanding the reasons why GM changed the design of the Volt. Below we present several journalists' reports on the debut and their and others' reactions and the description by GM's Bob Lutz of what was involved.

Finally, the return of a wild card. Portland-based CNW Market Research. CNW got much ridicule and many refutations -- yet broad attention -- for its 2007 "Dust to Dust" contention a Hummer was a more environmentally-friendly, less energy-intensive vehicle than a Prius. Now Edmunds reports that CNW plans to release results of quick focus groups showing disappointment and reduced interest in buying the Volt. This time, it would be good to counter this questionable report BEFORE anyone takes it too seriously. This could become a subject at the new GM website -- but far better for it than responses from others. A few days ago, GM-Volt's poll showed that for 2,300 Volt fans, 3% thought looks was most important (see our report at­calcars-news/­998.html with a link to the survey). Now the website has conducted another quick survey, and got 1500 responses showing 53% prefer the production version. Read on for:

  • GM Fastlane Blog "Power On" by By Bob Lutz
  • GM-VOLT.COM "The Day The Volt Was Reborn"
  • AUTOOBSERVER "GM's Day-Long Anniversary Fete Highlighted by Volt, Lots of Chat"
  • EDMUNDS.COM "Chevy Volt Design vs. Technology: Could Plug-In's Looks Hurt Sales?"
  • GM-VOLT POLL: Chevy Volt Concept Versus Production Version

GM Fastlane Blog "Power On" by By Bob Lutz, GM Vice Chairman September 16th, 2008 with 67+ comments­archives/­2008/­09/­power_on.html

We've weathered a lot of skepticism since the Chevrolet Volt concept was introduced at the 2007 Detroit show. The Volt has been called "vaporware" by some members of the media. We've heard executives from other manufacturers tell the press that the battery technology won't work. We've even been accused of using the Volt to "greenwash" our image.

Well, as everyone knows now, the Volt is real, and the covers have come off. And it represents nothing less than the first step in the reinvention of the automobile.

The vehicle's design has come under some criticism, most of it, to me, unwarranted. The challenge to the designers wasn't to design the most beautiful car imaginable and accept the compromises you have to make to do so. It was, make no compromise to fuel efficiency and electric range, and then do the most beautiful design possible, around those aerodynamic dictates.

When you look at the exterior of the Volt, you might notice certain aerodynamic shapes and design elements of some other cars you might see on the road. But beneath the skin, it shares very little with any other car that's ever existed. So I submit that while it's typically design that makes an emotional connection with buyers, in this case, the Volt is going to be bought for emotional reasons, but it will be for the emotion tied to the technology contained therein.

The Volt means a lot to General Motors, and to the industry, on a variety of levels. First of all, this is solid technology that is going to be proven reliable. It's a practical way that we can electrify the automobile and drastically reduce our dependency on imported petroleum. It's also important to GM to help reinforce and continue its proud history of technological innovation, and to help restore the image of leadership that accompanied that history.

In terms of the impact of Volt on the automobile industry, I think you'll see lithium-ion technology filter out to the rest of the industry, even to our competitors who initially said it wouldn't work. I think they've figured out that we may well be onto a winning formula here, with 40 miles of driving powered by electricity from a battery and a small engine -- powered by gasoline or E85 -- to create additional electricity to power the vehicle for several hundred additional miles. I suspect most of our competitors will have vehicles with technology similar to the Volt within four or five years.

What does that mean for society at large? I think it can have an enormous benefit. Our statistics show that 78 percent of Americans drive 40 miles a day or less. That means that nearly 80 percent of Americans can commute powered by electricity from the grid, never using a drop of gas.

When we achieve substantial production, and if our competitors do as well, and the public takes to this new way of driving -- and there's no doubt in my mind they will -- we will drastically reduce gasoline and/or diesel consumption and we will simultaneously be drastically reducing our dependency on oil. This puts the country in a much more comfortable place geopolitically and also helps the environment. So at this point, I think it's very hard to overestimate the importance of the Volt for GM, for the industry and for society in general.

The production version of the Volt represents our progress, and our commitment to seeing that all become a reality in short order. We'd like nothing more than to see everyone drive a Volt and stop going to the gas pump so often to fill up on ever-more-expensive fuel imported from an ever-more-unstable part of the world.

With the Volt, you go home, you plug it in, and you're done. And for roughly 80 cents' worth of electricity, you've got a fully-charged battery, ready to take on another forty miles of gas-free and tailpipe-emission-free driving. If that's greenwashing, then come on in -- the water's fine.

GM-VOLT.COM "The Day The Volt Was Reborn" by Dr. Lyle Dennis September 16th, 2008­2008/­09/­16/­the-day-the-volt-was-reborn/­

After more than a year and a half of following the Chevy Volt's development on a daily basis, nothing was more important or profound as today, the day GM revealed the production version Volt to the world.

First of all there were hundreds if not more than a thousand media people present. Most with far superior technology and access to legions of assistants. I am an army of one. I have done my best to get you the latest photos and information, but there is a lot to consume. Keep posted over the coming days as there are many stories to tell as well as your questions answered.

I think the car is absolutely beautiful. That's my opinion. It's lines are clean, refined, and very sleek. It does not look like a Prius. The people involved with building the car were entirely pumped. Jon Lauckner, VP of global program development showed me around the car and his pride and glee were palpable. There is one charging port, on the driver's side, right behind the mirror. The rear sharp edged corner was striking, and the front grill although closed was clean and well done.

The car clearly speaks to the future and to its electric drivetrain. It sits very taut to the ground with wide stance and rake and looks like it will leap when the accelerator is depressed. And I'm told it will, thanks to instantaneous torque. The roof and belt-line continue the dark theme. No-one would say what the final Volt roof will be made of, except that there will be options. On the new showcar, it is painted steel.

Anyone getting up close to this car wont be disappointed. There is absolutely nothing like it on the road. The interior was also quite unique, comfortable, and undeniably futuristic. There are two vivid 7 inch LCD screens that will provide a plethora of customizable data. There are two perfectly placed cupholders in the front and the back. There will be many appearance options.

A clarification is worth mentioning. A CNN article quoted me as saying readers were disappointed with the design. I was referring to last weeks leaked photos, not the images of today.

I was told there are four units of the model shown today, the other three being shown around the world.

Today is a key day for the future of this country and our quest to get off of oil. I believe GM has hit the nail on the head with this one. This car is and will be a winner. Much more to come, and the next chapter of has begun.

AUTOOBSERVER "GM's Day-Long Anniversary Fete Highlighted by Volt, Lots of Chat" by Bill Visnic September 16, 2008­2008/­09/­gms-day-long-anniversary-fete-highlighted-by-volt-lots-of-chat.html

DETROIT - By lunchtime on the day General Motors Corp. chose to celebrate its 100th anniversary with a massive celebration here and an ambitious interactive program on the Web, it was apparent the world's largest automaker had the tech requirements figured out. There were no major glitches and GM deftly executed a global multimedia presentation - drawing from four additional regions around the globe - that would have done Microsoft proud.

The culmination, however, was the official unveiling of the vehicle that has emerged as the symbol - and rallying point - of GM's drive to remain as pertinent in the next 100 years of personal transportation: the Chevrolet Volt "extended-range" electric vehicle.

Introduced by CEO Rick Wagoner and driving silently onto a stage at GM's downtown headquarters here, the Volt engendered massive applause from the crush of company insiders, journalists and dignitaries on hand, and the rollout was seen live on the GMnext website that was created as a portal to the company's wide-ranging centennial-celebration activities.

The fact that images of the production Volt's sheetmetal already were leaked last week did not appear to diminish the impact of the Volt's unveiling - and some in attendance immediately commented the Volt, in the metal, is much more appealing than it appeared in the images GM allegedly distributed by mistake. The car evidenced more intricate and appealing surface detail and was unveiled with more attractive wheels than last week's leaked images revealed.

Wagoner, meanwhile, despite difficult market conditions and sputtering nearterm outlook for the auto industry, seemed upbeat and almost defiant in his remarks to the crowd, paying homage to GM's storied past and promising equal impact for the future. 2011 Chevy Volt interior.jpg

Other key executives were scheduled to hold online chats during the day, and scheduled for later in the day, GM promised an intriguing roundtable discussion on the future of automotive transportation with participants that included Chris Paine, the director behind the controversial - and uncomplimentary to GM - film, "Who Killed the Electric Car?"

EDMUNDS.COM "Chevy Volt Design vs. Technology: Could Plug-In's Looks Hurt Sales?" by John O'Dell, Senior Editor­greencaradvisor/­2008/­09/­chevy-volt-design-vs-technology-could-plug-ins-looks-hurt-sales.html

Will the upcoming Chevy Volt's plug-in, extended-range electric vehicle technology make it a sales hit in these times of concern about energy security and fuel prices and availability? Or will its just-revealed design -- so different from the cutting-edge but admittedly un-aerodynamic design of the original Volt show car -- blunt the public's appetite for the car?

CAPTION: The Chevrolet Volt Concept (top) unveiled at the 20007 Detroit Auto Show was lower, sleeker and, unfortunately, far less aerodynamic, than the 2010 production version (bottom) unveiled this week.

We hope not, but we have to admit that we weren't all that wowed by the looks of the production version of the Volt unveiled earlier this week.

Some already are seeking an answer to the Volt design vs. tech question, and one of the first out of the gate is CNW Research. That's the iconoclastic Oregon-based auto market research and analysis firm that last year opined that a Hummer was more environmentally friendly than a Prius when the impact of elements such as nickel mining (for battery material) and transpacific shipping was added to the Prius' account.

In a teaser announcement advancing a full report to be issued Friday in its regular Retail Automotive Summary (subscription only), CNW says that it found in a series of focus groups this week that almost three-quarters of participants, who viewed photos of the concept and production Volts, think the production version's design "common or uninspired."

And in the California market, an important one for hybrids and EVs, "the design was considered a serious disappointment among virtually all of those who had been aware of the show car," CNW found. Among those focus group participants with high-tech backgrounds, the Volt's technology, the report says, "was considered clever and innovative, but they, too, felt the design was too bland and didn't give the technology the 'wrappings' it deserved." That technology combines all-electric propulsion with rechargeable batteries and an onboard generator -- an internal combustion engine -- that keeps things going even after the initial battery charge from the commercial power grid is depleted.

Finally, the report says that compared to people who said they'd consider buying one when the Volt show car was the only version they'd seen, "consideration of acquisition" of the production version -- based on a viewing of its design - "was significantly lower."

We don't know how much attention GM pays to CNW's studies (the carmaker sure liked the Hummer vs. Prius report), but the company isn't a lightweight when it comes to taking the buying public's temperature.

Sure, the Prius proved that svelte good looks aren't everything to the car buying public -- heck, GM's late and unlamented Pontiac Aztek proved that even the ugliest mishmash of design elements can be sold to some people. But we wonder how many of the 50,000 or so people who've raised their hands as prospective Volt buyers on a variety of web-based fan sites for the car will still be standing in line when it actually goes on sale at the end of 2010.

We're willing to bet that a lot will depend on gas prices and that the lower they are, the more the Volt's aesthetics will override its technology -- and vice versa.

GM-VOLT POLL: Chevy Volt Concept Versus Production Version September 17th, 2008 `­2008/­09/­17/­poll-chevy-volt-concept-versus-production-version/­

We previously ran polls about reader preference with regards to concept versus production design. Those were biased however in that we were comparing grainy video stills and poorly framed and angled images.

Now that we can see the fruit of many months and many millions of dollars of labor by GMs E-Flex design team, it is most appropriate to take another poll.

You already know what I think, so lets let GM and the world know what the die-hard Volt fan base on this site thinks too. GM vice chair Bob Lutz has weighed in on his blog, and described the design changes as being the most beautiful possible around its aerodynamic dictates. He also pointed out that the emotional drive to buy this car will not be just appearance but more so what lies beneath the skin. Our last poll here showed 68% felt driving without gas was most important thing about the Volt, 2% believed it was looks, and 36% felt both factors were equally important.

So for the final poll on this matter:

Which version of the Chevy Volt do you prefer the appearance of?

  • The Production Version (53%)
  • The Concept Version (34%)
  • I prefer them both equally (13%)
  • Total Votes: 1,506 and 149 responses to the page. [By the way, the website has a well-implemented anti-ballot stuffing mechanism]

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