In the Hot Seat for Chevrolet's Volt: Denise Gray

With each passing day, General Motors seems to become more confident that it will send the first Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrids to dealers before the end of 2010. That’s still a major gamble for GM. As John Voelcker, a frequent contributor to, writes in the current issue of IEEE Spectrum, “Not since the earliest days of the industry have [carmakers] tried to develop a new body and chassis and a new energy storage and power delivery system, all at the same time and all for the same car.”

The Spectrum article is a profile of Denise Gray, the GM executive in charge of making sure that the Volt’s battery packs are delivered—on time, in adequate quantities, at an acceptable cost. That could be the most critical role for the project. Aaron Bragman, an industry analyst with Global Insight, told Voelcker, “The advanced battery team is the group that the entire Volt project hinges upon.” Bragman added, “Beating Toyota to market with a plug-in hybrid is absolutely critical.”

That puts Denise Gray in the hot seat. She said, “I understand what it means to the company, and, quite frankly, to the industry, to our country.” Gray also understands what it’s like to fight against tough odds. She’s an African-American woman electrical engineer, who grew up in a single-parent household and was educated in Detroit’s public schools. She rose through the ranks at GM, spending much of her career formalizing rigorous testing practices to ensure that the increasingly large amount of software in a modern car—which by now controls pretty much any function you can think of—actually works properly. That’s exactly the background and expertise needed to beat the odds of bringing the Chevy Volt to market.

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  • MrVolt

    Can someone let me know if the battery is going to be in house for GM?
    A memo needs to be put out to the sometimes shady dealers. Please no games with the Volt. Hybrids right now are a huge hassle to buy. Hope dealerships actually stock Volts and don’t do bait n switch tactics.

    By the way go Denise Gray If the Volt takes off I’m sure she will be a top dog in the automobile industry.

  • Greg

    I would gladly support up to $7,000 tax credit for the Volt if it was sold in mass quantities by the end of 2010. Having some form of government backing is needed! Hope McCain and Obama would be committed fully in their support for this project.

  • J-Bob

    This is my PHEV, cost me only $4,500 and is already available. Works great, and has better mpg than the Volt will..

  • anon Imus

    As an American (and former Pontiac & Chevy owner) I couldn’t be more disappointed with GM and embarrassed by their stubborn, selfish lack of leadership. If they succeed with the Volt project, it will erase the disgrace. Bottom of the 9th, walk-off homer to win it for the home team. Make it happen Mrs Gray.

  • AugustEver

    WOW, the specs on this bike are impressive. Thanks for the link. I have to check with my state DMV to see what I need to register an e-bike. I know that a gas bike under 50cc does not have to be registered but I don’t know how they treat an e-bike or if I need a motorcycle endorsement on my license.

    BTW, I think the Chevy VOLT is going to be an awesome vehicle but if it is not priced competitively it can be the greatest car in the world and still end up dead on arrival. I read recently where the CEO of Toyota earns $903 thousand per year total compensation whereas the CEO of GM makes 8.5 mil per year. I wonder if that has anything to do with how much the Volt is going to cost? And it’s not just the CEO salaries that determine the per vehicle cost.

  • ex-EV1 driver

    [As John Voelcker, a frequent contributor to, writes in the current issue of IEEE Spectrum, “Not since the earliest days of the industry have [carmakers] tried to develop a new body and chassis and a new energy storage and power delivery system, all at the same time and all for the same car.”]
    This is not true. GM did a fantastic job of developing a chassis, energy storage and power delivery system at the same time in the ’90’s. It was the EV1.
    I believe that they are just adjusting expectations regarding the Volt in case they find a loophole that will allow them to kill it from a business or political perspective. This is exactly what they did with the EV1 when they used the promise of a future Hydrogen Fuel cell vehicle allowed them to kill the vehicle. We know that GM can build a great new vehicle – if they want to.

  • Stan Smart

    Reading the full article on Denise Gray (IEEE) has give me renewed coinfidence in GM and the VOLT project. Cost will be secondary to functionality and reliability.

  • Bryce

    It’s coming. Only a matter of time. : )

  • cliff


    The Volt battery is built outside, by A-123 and somebody else. The car will be hard to get, probably with production behind the demand for 5 years or so, because of the battery issue.

    Dealerships have no control over stocking hybrids (or Honda Fits). When they have “hot” cars, like the Prius or Fit, they may have 100 orders in for a month, say, and get 12 from the auto company. Obviously, if you come in to buy a Fit, and they don’t have any, they will try and get you to buy something they have. Last time I checked in GRB it was an 8 month wait for a Fit.

    GM will NOT kill the Volt. They are planning on recovering their title of #1 auto manufacturer, both worldwide and here in the US. To do it, they will need to make cars that cost much less than today’s do, with an fuel that is not (mostly) oil based. Their long-term plans are great, and they will try their best to succeed. Cancelling the Volt is a 180 degree departure from what they are trying to do.

    Will GM succeed? Some analysts say that is not unlikely that GM, Ford AND Chrysler will ALL go Chapter 7 because they don’t have enough cash to survive the change over away from ICE powered by petroleum-based fuels.

    Toyota’s CEO, meanwhile, says that Hyundai, that’s right, HYUNDAI is Toyotas’ BIGGEST threat!!!


  • Bryce

    Good points.

    It is true though, the Korean car companies are coming to get Toyota. The market that Toyota appeals to can more easily be snatched up by a korean car company than an American one. Each has a niche and Hyundai is moving in on their niche, which they don’t like. Plus the added competition from the emerging Chinese and Indian car companies and pledges from VW to move into one of the top 3 automakers worldwide slot means that it is an extremely competitive market, especially for those in the top slots, Toyota and GM.

  • America

    American technology that is made in America and sold world wide. That is the goal. If we keep sending our dollars out of the country and do not manufacture we are in a vacuum that will leave us empty and void of the ability to manufacture. China did not become the manufacturing giant they are now as quickly as you think. It took years of back breaking labor and huge sacrifice. The U.S. also went through those same sacrifices and will again if we do not support our own. A small moped made in China is not the answer. The answer must come from home.
    We can either make the decision for ourselves or have it made for us. The bottom line is that if you spend your last dollar on toys made overseas, no one will be left earning a living here. It probably won’t come to that, but I see it as a possibility.

    Hey, what do I know. I’m just a flunky with to much time on my hands.

  • Bryce

    Indeed, maintaining our own industrial capacity is important. However, development of foreign markets into industrialized states (ie China, Korea, Japan) are in our own best interests. Because of our investment into China, there is an emerging middle class there who are buying American goods. Buick is the best selling brand over in China and China is one of the biggest consumers of American made industrial inputs such as machinery and construction equipment. Korea has become one of the hubs for video gaming commerce and other electronics made/developed here in the states. There are just certain things that a huge industrialized state like the United States is best apt for. Yes, we can make t-shirts really well, but that labor and effort could also be directed towards transistors and microchips that are much more advanced and profitable. Besides, 9 times out of 10, those evil Chinese made products are from American companies that are just using cheap labor to produce their superior product. Look for products that say made in China and developed in anytown, USA.

  • Sheldon Gesell

    Well about 5 years ago I wrote a letter to G.M. about how disappointed I was in the styles of their vehicles and the length of time between the generational changes.

    Over the last couple of years their styles have improved and they are rotating the different styles in shorter time periods. Way to go General Motors.

    Your next step is the Hybrid market and the electric market place. Forget about the Hydrogen market. The infrastructure is to expensive and the Canadian government and other countries, other than the U.S. will not pay to have the infrastructure to be set up. Focus on the electric/gas combination as it brings more dependability in all kinds of weather conditions that North America has and will continue to have with the ever changing global environment.

    Keep the hybrid vehicle for the mass consumers in the price range of $26 to $35K range on a car and it will sell volumes. Also look at the Vans for a hybrid vehicle. Lots of places to store batteries in those big cabins and the Vans are a huge seller and sit most of the time during the fall and spring soccer seasons with the engines running in order to keep warm. Great opportunity there for sure.

    Until the next time G.M. keep on track.


  • cha2


    i am a film maker and doing a movie about fuel cell .

    i would like to know if any one can hep me with more details like :-

    does the car with fuel cell stil needs any type of fuel … that you need to go to gas staion and fill it as every day car.

    are there any cars that run only on battrie power and no gas at all.

    and are there any bus that run on fuel cell…

    thanking you


  • Bryce

    Fuel cell cars run on compressed hydrogen (often refined from natural gas)

    There are a few small cars (really gold carts though) that run on electricity only. These would include the Mag cars and those by ZENN. Tesla has come out with an electric only roadster that is highway viable and has a 200 mile range. It is a bit out of Joe Schmo’s buying range given that it costs $110,000. The Chevy Volt slated to arrive in dealerships at the end of 2010 will cost around $35k minus some sort of expected tax credit, which many expect to be around $7k. It has an electric only range of 40 miles and then a small gas “generator” charges the battery to continue moving the car.

    There are no widespread fuel cell buses on the road that I know of, however, GM has been selling hybrid 2-mode buses for the past few years that usually improve city gas mileage by about 50%.