General Motors sees the upcoming Chevy Volt plug-in hybrid as perhaps the best example of the company’s technical prowess—and as a powerful symbol of the company’s ability to turn itself around. At last month’s Chicago Auto Show, GM added another dimension to the Volt story: the push for suppliers to develop energy-saving components in every nook and cranny of the vehicle.
GM is pushing its suppliers to do everything possible to help the Volt achieve 40-miles of electric range and to elevate the plug-in hybrid’s mileage to 100 mpg—a target for engineers and executives. Speaking in Chicago, Ed Pepper, Chevrolet general manager, said, “Success (for the Volt) depends on capturing…maximum efficiency from every single part on the car.” The company gave two examples: one is fairly obvious but the other surprised the audience.
Tires are obviously critical to fuel economy. Most cars come from the factory with relatively low rolling resistance tires that are a component of the automakers’ EPA mileage certification process. However, traditional low rolling resistance tires too often sacrifice tread wear life and road handling in the name of efficiency. GM challenged Goodyear to not only decrease the rolling resistance of its existing high-mileage tires but also increase grip and wear life. The result is the Goodyear Assurance Fuel Max, which incorporates a 4% improvement in fuel economy while simultaneously improving wet weather traction. GM said the tires, which will be standard exclusively on the Volt, are good for an extra 1 mpg.
An unexpected contributor to the Volt’s efficiency is the optional Bose sound system. GM’s Volt vehicle line executive, Frank Weber, said that everything on the car that uses electricity has come under intense scrutiny. The idea is to root out any potential drain on the Volt’s EV-only range. So the Bose folks were challenged to come up with a new sound system that cranks heavy tunes with a light touch, putting out a big sound from a small space. The result? The Volt’s Bose Energy Efficient sound system will be 30% smaller, 40% lighter and, most importantly, use 50% less energy than a comparable existing system. It’s like removing 50 pounds from the car’s weight. When trying to reach 100 mpg, every pound counts.
Weber summed up GM’s approach to the efficiency of Volt components: “We want everything.”
It remains to be seen if the Chevy Volt will help save the company for its financial predicament. But that level of pressure on the company—and in turn on its suppliers to produce greener components—could yield innovation that will lead the entire auto industry in a better direction.