GM’s Green Gambit, Decoded

By dancurranjr On October 13th, 2008

The Playmaker’s Standard, a Washington, DC-based communications firm, released an analysis on Friday of General Motors’ chess-like strategy for trying to gain a footing in the hybrid car market. The Playmaker’s Standard used its “classification framework of 25 irreducibly unique stratagems or plays” to map GM’s high-stakes tit-for-tat match against critics, including skeptical environmental groups, financial analysts, and industry watchers.

The principal findings of the study show GM using a classic gambit move: the company takes a risky step about a green initiative, waits for criticism, and then allows a company executive, most notably product chief Bob Lutz, to “freely admit failure and fault.” Critics are unaccustomed to GM admitting fault and are somewhat neutralized as the company returns to claims about green car programs that could take several years to produce results.

Playmaker’s Standard uses colorful-sounding names to describe various specific moves—such as the Disco, Bear Hug, and Lantern. But they are all ultimately designed to help “the car giant buy time in the hybrid electric market and re-earn the public’s trust,” according to the summary of the Playmaker’s Standard “Play Action Strategy Map.” Highlights include:

February 2006

GM’s Move – “Screen and Partner”

GM debuts its “Live Green, Go Yellow” campaign to promote the use of homegrown biofuels and its commitment to manufacturing flex-fuel vehicles. GM partners with Chevron to expand distribution of E85 ethanol in the US.

Critics Response – “Call Out”

Environmental groups question the benefits of corn-based ethanol, and The Sierra Club calls the “Live Green” campaign an “unmitigated, total fraud,” stating the only reason GM is making flex-fuel vehicles is because of the government fuel efficiency credits it receives.

GM’s Countermove – “Disco and Fiat”

GM admits that fuel credits have been an important driver of its flex-fuel car production in the past, but insists that the company is willing to make the ethanol-burning cars without them.

January 2007

GM’s Move – “Preempt and Peacock”

At the North American International Auto Show, GM debuts the Chevrolet Volt concept car, a plug-in hybrid that delivers 40 miles of all-electric range with an E85-based engine to extend the range up to 640 miles.

Critics Response – “Bear Hug and Challenge”

Auto analysts commend GM for starting the “Great Plug-In Car Race of 2007,” but question its ability to manufacture the car. Analysts challenge GM to issue a production timetable. Wired magazine reports that industry experts doubt the underlying required battery technology.

GM’s countermove – “Lantern”

Bob Lutz, GM product chief, says, “There is still a 10 percent chance the Volt could fail.” CEO Rick Wagoner says the Volt may not be ready by 2010.

August 2008

Critics Move – “Mirror and Ping”

CNBC airs hour-long feature titled “Saving GM” and suggests that GM needs a smash hit vehicle to restore the GM brand and make more people consider GM cars.

GM’s response – “Bear Hug”

Lutz embraces CNBC’s quality of reporting and repeats challenges GM faces as a company.

Critics Move – “Ping and Call Out”

Volt supporters begin to worry that the cars’ style is veering away from original concept design, and is starting to look like the Chevy Malibu.

GM’s countermove – “Deflect”

Bob Boniface, director of design for the Volt, says stylistic changes will improve the car’s fuel range. One month later, in a “Call out and Preempt,” Lutz calls the Volt program “nothing less than the first step in the reinvention of the automobile.”

Buying Time, But Enough?

If the purpose of the cat and mouse game is to buy time for GM to catch up on hybrids, as Playmaker’s Standard asserts, then it may be case of too little and too late. GM’s cash reserves stand right around $20 billion—and the company is burning through about $1 billion per month.

In recent days, reports have emerged that GM may be trying to merge with Chrysler to more directly and literally buy more time. Unfortunately, many industry experts say there is little to be gained, because Chrysler sales have fallen further than any other carmaker and its most popular vehicles are pickups, minivans and SUVs—the same segments that GM is having a hard time selling.

If GM losses continue—$18 billion so far this year—then the company will be out of cash before the time that the Chevy Volt is scheduled to hit the market. At that point, the description of GM communiques as peacocks, callouts, lanterns, and bear hugs—as poetic as it may be—will seem misplaced. The more accurate metaphor will be rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.

Source: Hybrid Cars

Orbitz To Rent More Hybrid Vehicles

By dancurranjr On October 13th, 2008

Orbitz Worldwide Inc. announced an agreement with Fox Rent A Car, a rental company that specializes in airport rentals of hybrid and fuel-efficient vehicles. Orbitz Worldwide will offer Fox rentals across all the company’s brands, including Orbitz for Business.

The company says that year-over-year, hybrid rentals through increased 80 percent in July 2008. In addition, a recent Orbitz study found that 35 percent of those surveyed say they are now renting smaller and more economical vehicles as a result of rising gas prices.

The company says that through its own corporate initiatives and eco-travel microsite, it is aiming to offset more than 12 million pounds of CO2 in partnership with in 2008.

Last year, the company launched a corporate citizenship initiative to raise environmental awareness, and an eco-travel microsite with environmentally-focused travel tools and content.

Source: Environmental Leader

Moller Completes Design for Flying Hybrid Vehicle

By dancurranjr On October 9th, 2008

Moller International Inc. said Tuesday it has completed the design for a hybrid-electric vehicle capable of lifting off vertically and flying for about 15 minutes.

In theory, the sports car would be used primarily on the road. If a driver got stuck in traffic, the car could then lift off and fly at up to 150 miles per hour for a short distance, then land and travel up to 40 miles or more.

Davis-based Moller was under contract with a wealthy foreign businessman to design the flying car. The man was unable to commute between his country home and Moscow because of overcrowded streets, according to the company.

Moller conducted a preliminary analysis and found that a hybrid propulsion system powered by engines and electric motors, together with a proprietary eight-fan aircraft design, could be blended to create the “autovolantor.” Scale model wind tunnel testing and further analysis predicted “good all around performance” for the car-aircraft.

“We would love to build a prototype but we’re not going to be able to on our own nickel,” general manager Bruce Calkins said.

Moller estimated the cost of developing a prototype at more than $5 million. The businessman did not want to fund a prototype, Calkins said.

Last November, Moller had “substantial doubt” of continuing its operations and developing flying vehicles, as the company’s deficit increased to $40.6 million, according to documents filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission. The deficit reached $41.2 million in December, according to SEC documents.

Moller is a developer, manufacturer and marketer of proposed vertical take-off and landing vehicles for personal and military use. The 25-year-old company developed the Skycar, which has demonstrated the ability to take off and land vertically. Unlike the autovolantor, Calkins said the Skycar is more airplane than car, and would travel short distances at low speeds, or up to about 35 miles per hour, to reach final destinations.

Source: Sacramento Business Journal

Volvo Plans Diesel Hybrid by 2012

By dancurranjr On October 9th, 2008

Volvo Car Corp. will introduce a diesel hybrid in 2012 if not sooner, while start-stop technology will arrive in 2009, company executives said here at the auto show.

The hybrids will be sold in Europe and the United States.

The start-stop technology, which turns off the engine at stops, will be introduced on Volvo’s smaller cars, such as the C30, S40, and V50. Later, start-stop will be spread to the rest of the lineup.

Diesel hybrids will appear first in the larger sedans, crossovers, and SUVs.

Volvo’s hybrids will be able to operate on battery power alone at low speeds. In the Volvo system, the front wheels are driven by a variant of Volvo’s five-cylinder turbodiesel, while the rear wheels get a separate electric motor.

A plug-in variant will come “very quickly” after the initial hybrid arrives, said Magnus Jonsson, Volvo’s senior vice president of r&d. Plug-ins use household current to recharge the battery, reducing the need for gasoline or diesel fuel.

Diesel engines and electric motors have an inherent shortcoming: both have ample low-end torque but lack high horsepower at high rpm. Nevertheless, the combination makes the most sense for reducing carbon dioxide emissions, said Lex Kerssemakers, Volvo senior vice president of brand, business, and product strategy.

Volvo also is studying whether to stop using V-8 engines in favor of turbocharged six-cylinder engines on its high-end models, Kerssemakers said.

“I don’t think there is a bright future for the V-8, especially for Volvo,” he said. “It’s the best engine we have. But if the environment is changing, you can be stubborn, or you can look for alternatives.”

Source: CNET

BMW To Make Hybrid Car

By dancurranjr On October 9th, 2008

BMW will make its new luxury 7-Series available in a hybrid drive version with a concept vehicle to be unveiled at the Paris Motor Show, the car maker has announced. The first versions of the 7-Series hybrid drive serial-production version will be presented in 2009, said a BMW spokesman.

The Concept 7 Series ActiveHybrid combines a 300 kW/407 hp combustion engine with a 15 kW electric motor that reduces fuel consumption by 15 per cent compared to a standard model, according to the car maker.

The new BMW 7 also comes with a host of new fuel-saving technologies such as brake regeneration energy, on-demand management of ancillary units, lightweight materials and tires with reduced roll resistance.The electric motor is fully integrated into the gearbox.

This provides additional acceleration power and energy for onboard electric appliances. In addition, the motor acts as a generator, collecting energy from brake regeneration and storing it in a lithium-ion battery in the boot.

Full electric drive is however not possible at this time. But a full hybrid model, with a limited capacity to run entirely on electric power, is planned for the BMW X6 model next year, the spokesman said.