With the countdown to the introduction of the Chevy Volt now at seven months, General Motors held a one-hour technical update Monday on the vehicle’s progress. The engineering team focused on actual test numbers, and steered away from broad marketing messages—as if to say that it’s time to get real about what the first Volt customers might experience when they get behind the wheel.
According to chief engineer Andrew Farah, the pre-production Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid is achieving the much-publicized goal of 40 miles of electric-only driving—although the number of pure EV miles could be 20 percent higher or lower depending on driving conditions. After the batteries are depleted, and the gas engine is used to extend the vehicle’s range, the Volt travels at approximately 50 miles to the gallon, according to GM testing.
The engineering team has so far logged about a half-million miles of test-driving. Farah said the vehicle is on time and is performing well—adding that engineers continue to make modest tweaks on aerodynamic and “customer convenience items for 2012.” The Volt is scheduled to start regular production in the fourth quarter.
Total MPG Still In Question
The Volt team avoided its grandiose claim of 230 mpg from last summer. At the time, many observers warned that exaggerated and irrelevant miles per gallon numbers would come back to bite General Motors.
“The 230 mpg number talked about a few months ago was based on some preliminary discussion with the EPA,” said Farah. Last August, then-GM President and CEO Fritz Henderson announced the 230 mpg number, as part of a short-lived marketing campaign that featured a “230-mpg logo” and street-level buzz generation. At the time, Henderson said, “Are we overpromising? No. That’s what the customer will see in the city.”
The EPA has been exploring how to rate the efficiency of vehicles that use little or no gasoline, but has not issued its rules.
And The Price…
The big unanswered question, of course, is the price tag for the Chevy Volt. Nissan’s recent announcement that the pure electric Nissan Leaf will be sold for $32,800 (not including tax credits) will put pressure on GM to keep the Volt’s price below $40,000.
Pricing is tricky for these first-generation electric-drive vehicles, because carmakers are expected to lose money with each sale—but anticipate turning a profit in future generations with economies of scale. GM forecasts as much as a 50 percent in cost reductions on the third-generation battery pack, the vehicle’s most expensive component. Micky Bly, GM’s executive director of global electrical systems, said the team continues to study what other future vehicles might use a Volt-like propulsion system, but no details were provided.
GM gave indications that the company has a long-term commitment to plug-in series hybrid technology—what it calls “extended-range electric vehicles”—when it separately announced Monday that it plans to invest an additional $8 million to double the size of its automotive battery lab in Warren, Mich.