Nov 7, 2007 (From the CalCars-News archive)
Many people still doubt the credibility of GM's plans for the Chevy Volt. Until now we've only had a production volume attributed to unnamed sources in the company. But now the effort's leader, Vice Chairman Bob Lutz, confirms that the company's first "run" of cars will be in the tens of thousands, and "unofficially" sets Year One 60-100,000 goal. He gives updates on the first deliveries of full battery packs, and says he's increasingly confident about production in 2010. CalCars has been invited to hear from the Volt's team at the LA Auto Show next week.
With smaller companies (Fisker, Visionary Vehicles, Venture Vehicles, Aptera and others hoping to get there even sooner, all the large carmakers are watching the competitive landscape closely -- while continuing to criticize proposals from Congress for higher CAFE standards or from Presidential candidates for rapid production of plug-in cars. In a more recent story on the prospects of US Car makers, the same Detroit Free Press, reporter as in the story below says, "Any of the automakers could suddenly hit home runs with new products or could benefit from the government addressing trade or policy issues. Of the Detroit automakers, analysts generally consider GM to be the farthest along in its turnaround and say that if the automaker is able to take its Chevrolet Volt electric car to market by the end of the decade, it has the potential to change the game." http://www.freep.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20071105/BUSINESS01/711050400
GM describes the Volt as an "'extended-range electric vehicle," but most others call it a PHEV. We've updated our page at http://www.calcars.org/carmakers.html to reflect this interview and Toyota's retrenchment.
VICE CHAIRMAN BOB LUTZ DECLARES:
'A new era' nears for GM: Chevy Volt, new labor deal propel automaker into future
October 31, 2007 BY KATIE MERX DETROIT FREE PRESS BUSINESS WRITER
MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- With its reputation on the mend, sales of new cars and crossovers exceeding expectations, and a new labor deal projected to cut billions from its annual costs, General Motors Corp. is in its best situation in decades, Vice Chairman Bob Lutz said Tuesday.
But the challenge on the path to regaining revered status and sustainable profitability, particularly in the United States, isn't over.
"It's a substantially improved world, and I would say our situation product-wise, reputation-wise, labor-cost-wise is probably the best it's been in 20 years," Lutz said in an interview at a media event in Memphis to promote the launch of the refreshed Chevrolet Malibu. "I would say all of the stars are aligning very nicely. ... But are the worries over? No."
In a wide-ranging interview with the Free Press, Lutz said he wants to make up to 100,000 fuel-efficient Chevrolet Volts in the first year of production. (The first batteries were delivered Tuesday, he said.) [snip] The big fear now, Lutz said, is "ill-conceived" government-imposed fuel economy standards at the state or federal level.
If legislation proposed in California were passed today, Lutz said, GM would have to stop building 80% of the vehicles it produces, and something the size of a Saturn Vue small SUV would have to take the place of a Suburban and a compact Chevrolet Aveo would become the company's midsize car. At the same time, he said, the price would go up. [snip] But the Malibu and other new models are just part of the new GM that is emerging.
At the dawn of 2007, GM publicly stated a goal of producing a long-range electric vehicle by 2010 when it showed the Chevrolet Volt concept car at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit in January. It followed that with the unveiling of a fuel-cell version of the electric vehicle at Auto Shanghai in April and then a diesel version of the so-called E-flex electric propulsion system in Frankfurt, Germany.
"These are all no-excuses vehicles," Lutz said. "This is why I was brought in. ... It's unleashing the engineering and manufacturing power of General Motors."
On Tuesday, Lutz said he continues to be increasingly confident that GM will bring the range-extended Chevrolet Volt to market by 2010.
"We got our first experimental battery pack today" from LG Chem, Lutz said. The battery pack doesn't yet have a cooling system, he said, but doesn't need one for the stage of testing GM and LG Chem are in.
GM expects to receive an experimental battery pack in December from A123Systems, the other battery supplier with which it has a contract, Lutz said.
By the first quarter, GM expects to be running the E-Flex operating system in late model Malibus for testing purposes, he said.
Lutz said the first-generation production version of E-Flex will appear in a vehicle that will look much like the concept car shown at the 2007 Detroit auto show, but with a more traditional front end.
"The engine-motor configuration didn't work. ... Now it has a more classic-looking front end. ... It will be called the Chevrolet Volt."
Lutz said the company has not determined how many Volts it will make in the first year, but said he believes "it's a very safe bet that it will be produced in the tens of thousands" in its first generation.
"This is not sanctioned, not an official GM number, but in the first full year of production I would like to see between 60,000 and 100,000 and then go up from there," Lutz said.
And its future, made more possible by the capital expected to be freed up by GM's new and historic cost-cutting contract, is further linked to the contract in that GM committed to build the electric vehicle at its Detroit Hamtramck Assembly plant, the UAW says.
"We're charging full-speed ahead before we know exactly what the investment is going to be, before we know whether we can make any money off it or not, before we know how many we're going to sell," Lutz said. "This is unusual. This is different from anything I've ever seen in my 40 years in the automobile industry."
Moving in the right direction
The fact that GM's product plans are accelerating at the same time it's been able to cut costs and make itself more competitive with a new UAW labor contract, improves the chances that GM can continue its turnaround and regain a reputation as a revered American automaker, a reputation that has eluded the automaker for decades. [snip] And while none of the advances -- the new products, new contract or plans to launch the first mass-market electric car to take on Toyota's offerings -- on its own gets GM to the position it needs to be in, they do move it in the right direction, analysts and Lutz agreed.
Said auto industry analyst Joseph Phillippi: "On a scale of one to 10, GM's probably at a four" in its renaissance. "They're really starting to bring it all together on the vehicle side ... and with the new contract. It took a long time for them to get there, but they're really starting to accelerate."
Said Lutz: "This is potentially the dawn of a new era, but we're not there yet."