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Chevy Volt Emerges: Reports and Analyses plus GM & Bright
Aug 5, 2010 (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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We've seen wall-to-wall coverage of the Chevy Volt's arrival, along with many welcome matchups about Chevy Volt vs. Nissan LEAF. What a pleasure to have a choice! Soon we'll at last see what consumers want! GM announced Volt pricing at Plug-in 2010: $41,000 price ($33,500 after tax credit), plus a very enticing alternative of a $350/month lease ($3,500 up front, 12,000 mile/year allowance, option to purchase at the end of three years). For a media roundup with pointers to many stories see­2010/­08/­03/­chevy-volt-media-limbaugh-cost . This includes a not-to-be-missed cartoon and a reposting of a pricing analysis by rising star plug-in consultant and newly-minted Ph.D. Shannon Arvizu ("Miss Electric"). Below you'll find links for the President's Volt drive, GM's responses to reports of price-gouging, news about GM's investment in Bright Automotive, and finally Ron Gremban's four thoughtful comments about the Volt and the LEAF.

PRESIDENTIAL DRIVE: Those who were disappointed that the President Obama didn't take the Volt out for a spin last month will be happy to know that on Friday, he came to the venerable Detroit-Hamtramck plant where Volts are built. Though he didn't get to take a spin around the cones, he did creep forward about 10 feet under the watchful eyes of GM executives, the Secret Service and the Press. In his eight-minute speech­article/­20100730/­AUTO01/­7300409/­Obama-drives-Volt--praises-U.S.-auto-industry , he says to the autoworkers, "You are proving the naysayers wrong." Watch the drive at­wp-dyn/­content/­video/­2010/­07/­30/­VI2010073004584.html (1 minute); after drive he said, "pretty smooth." Media didn't credit plant manager Teri Quigley for sitting with him and showing him what buttons to push.

PRICE-GOUGING BY DEALERS? We're seeing signs that some short-sighted Chevy dealers plan to take advantage of the shortage of vehicles, and thereby risk their customers' goodwill and their franchises' reputations with watchful social media. In the wake of reports that some dealers by up to $10-20,000 over sticker price­greencaradvisor/­2010/­08/­think-41000-steep-for-a-chevy-volt-one-dealer-wants-20000-premium.html , GM has made clear that while it has no absolute control over its dealers' policies, it would discourage the practice. At Plug-In 2010, GM's Britta Gross, Director, Global Energy Systems and Infrastructure Commercialization, in response to a question about dealer mark-ups said, "We wrote some cautionary letters to them to remind them that we're all in this together, but we don't own dealers, they're independent business operators. I've heard some stories here and Tony DiSalle was here all week. He's head of marketing and he's already gotten a couple of stories. We'll do what we can....we're going to try talk and pass the word that that's not what we were hoping for." She thereby reinforced comments by GM spokesperson Phill Colley, who told that the company would "pay close attention" and "strongly discourage" this behavior­2010/­06/­25/­gm-does-not-expect-dealer-price-gouging-on-early-chevy-volts/ . YOu can PRINT THIS OUT and take it to any dealer who tries to pull a fast one....

GM INVESTS IN BRIGHT IDEA: A few days after the conference, we were gratified to hear that the new $100M GM Ventures firm, headed by former GM Vice President of Global Product Planning Jon Lauckner, as its first equity position has invested $5M in Bright Automotive, along with technology sharing plans. Read about the deal at­files/­Bright GM Investment Release.pdf . We hadn't heard much from Bright recently as it continued to wait for a response from Washington on its loan application to support building the Bright IDEA, an optimized lightweight commercial van that incorporates many of the pioneering ideas of the Rocky Mountain Institute from which it, like Hypercar, spun off. Bright also has a promising aftermarket conversion arm which is also completing a project for the U.S. military to convert a gas-guzzler to a PHEV, and a similar project for the U.S. Postal Service.

WE LOVE VOLT AND LEAF: We pay most attention to PHEVs because that's CalCars' focus and because we think PHEVs will dominate plug-in car sales for many years. But since our goal is to displace as much petroleum with electricity ASAP, if we're wrong and EVs arrive sooner than we think, we'll win even bigger! Our two full-timers, Founder Felix Kramer and Technology Lead Ron Gremban, are now both on official lists for both cars. (ADVERTISEMENT: We'll soon be selling Ron's silver historic world's first Prius PHEV conversion and Felix's white Prius PHEV, famously driven/viewed by dozens of Senators and Representatives in 2006, and other luminaries including Orlando Bloom, Stewart Brand, Lester Brown, Bill Clinton, Al Gore, Andy Grove, Daryl Hannah, Dean Kamen, Burt Rutan, Maria Shriver, and George Shultz -- see links from­photos.html . Both are 2004 -- contact us if you want to buy one or can help us organize an auction!)

CALCARS ANALYSES ON VOLT VS. LEAF: We're not very interested in predicting what car-buyers will want: we'll find out soon enough. At Plug-In 2010, we heard some wise observers speculate that "what's logical may be wrong." EVs may not be most popular in cities: PHEVs could predominate when daily charging isn't as easy, and people want to be able to go away on weekends. EVs could predominate in suburbs where more people own more than one car, and the second one will work fine with a 100-mile range. Here are Ron's four thoughts about the vehicles:

1. LEAF PRICING AND SMALL CARS: Even if the LEAF turns out to be not optimal for all conditions, it's a game changer because Nissan's huge commitment to high volume production (200k-500k/year) of Battery Electric Vehicles will make the up-front price of BEVs competitive with that of gasoline vehicles, especially after the $7,500 federal tax credits. The ultra-low cost of fuel and maintenance will become a welcome gift that will over time amaze owners. Via word-of-mouth and publicity, it could excite other car buyers. Of course, range and refueling time will still be limitations compared to gasoline-fueling. But not as second cars. And based on­publications/­highlights_of_the_2001_national_household_travel_survey/­html/­table_a02.html , the average household has 1.9 cars. And there are 115 million U.S. households. Nissan is working on deployment of half-hour fast chargers to make occasional longer-distance travel practical, starting in limited geographical regions. Increasingly popular carshare programs can also make BEVs more practical by providing an inexpensive, convenient option for rare short hauls for a large vehicle, and we hope people will choose conventional rentals for infrequent longer trips or when they need a different vehicle. This could lead to more people buying small cars in general.

2. LEAF BATTERIES: Nissan has also indicated it plans (helped by its production volume) to double EV range in a few years. (The same fast chargers will also then charge larger packs during a meal stop.) As gasoline prices rise with a rise in global demand, LEAF owners will be sitting pretty. If we face a supply disruption, used plug-ins could well command premium prices. Despite Nissan's eight-year 100,000 mile warranty, the LEAF's air-cooled battery thermal management design could at some point limit its effectiveness and/or longevity in especially hot and cold climates. We could someday see third parties sell thermal management add-ons, just as aftermarket fans were once popular to "fix" the original Volkswagen Beetle's ineffective cabin heater.

3. VOLT PRICING AND RANGE: The Volt should be compared more to the similar-sized-and-not-much-cheaper BMW 3-series than to economy cars. It will enable many people who really want to get off gasoline to do so most of the time. The up-front cost premium for doing so will be worthwhile to many customers who want the advantages of electric propulsion -- including the ability to keep driving during 1970s-like fuel disruptions and/or rationing -- but are unable or unwilling to live with BEV limitations. This will be THE PHEV for purists. Many people don't realize that a Volt with a 20-mile range would not sell for significantly less, as a smaller battery still capable of providing the power required under all conditions would cost nearly as much. These power requirements are one reason the Volt has a 16 kWh pack while using only 8 kWh to provide the 40-mile all-electric range. It also ensures battery longevity and keeps battery aging from reducing electric range.

4. VOLT VS. PLUS-IN PRIUS: We believe that in volume production Toyota should be able to price its Plug-In Prius, expected to be available in 2012, at a modest premium over the standard Prius -- perhaps $3,000. The increment comes from the plug-in's higher capacity battery and its charger. This vehicle could provide many of the advantages of electric driving at the lowest cost, without range limitations. To meet emissions requirements, a "blended-mode" PHEV like this will in the U.S. and perhaps elsewhere have to start the engine for every trip, and run it periodically to keep its catalytic converter hot, so no trip will be gasoline-free. The result will be 20-25 miles of electrically-assisted and electric-only driving. This makes the 14-mile electric-only range reasonable (though I'd prefer 20 miles). Owners will likely cut their average gasoline consumption by 50%compared to a non-plug-in Prius -- more if their daily drives are short or they can plug in again at work. However, many plug-in Prius owners, like owners of today's Prius conversions, may eventually love the feeling and the economic benefits of all-electric driving so much that they will find themselves trying very hard to avoid that dreaded engine assist, and look for a series PHEV (EREV) or a BEV for their next car.

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