Tesla CEO Critical of the Chevy Volt

By dancurranjr On April 11th, 2009

chevrolet-voltPayPal founder Elon Musk is the CEO of Tesla Motors.  Recently he unveiled the Model S 4 door all-electric sedan shown above to much fanfare.  The car exists only as a prototype but the company hopes to mass produce it if it can obtain a $350 million dollar government loan to build the assembly plant.

Tesla has already been producing the 2-seat electric Roadster and has plans to eventually build inexpensive electric cars and partner with automakers.  GM vice chairman Bob Lutz has even credited the company with inspiring him to develop the Volt.

But one thing that stands out is Tesla has no plans to build an extended range electric car like the Volt.

GM-Volt.com had the chance to ask Elon Musk why.

What is your feelings about the range-extender concept of the Chevy Volt and why have you not considered it it any of your products?

We looked closely at a range extender architecture for Model S. It ends up costing about the same in vehicle unit cost, a lot more in R&D and a lot more in servicing. Also, although performance is ok when both battery and engine are active at the same time, it turns really bad when the battery runs out and an undersized engine is carrying all the dead weight of the pack. Essentially, a REV is neither fish nor fowl and ends up being worse (in our opinion) than either a gasoline or pure electric vehicle.

An important consideration that people without a technical background don’t understand is that you can either have a high power or a high energy cell chemistry, but not both. Since the battery pack in a plug in hybrid like the Volt has to generate the same *power* as a much larger battery pack in a pure electric vehicle, it has to use a low energy cell chemistry.

That means a 40 mile REV pack is not 1/5 the size of a 200 mile pure EV pack, as simple proportionality would suggest. Another factor is that the REV pack is forced to do three to four times more cycles that a pure EV pack and is (obviously) hit with five times the current per cell during acceleration and regen braking, which forces the REV pack to be derated considerably.

The net result is that a 40 mile REV pack is roughly half the size of a 200 mile EV pack. On top of that, you have to add the engine, generator and all the interconnects between engine and battery. It ends up having about the same mass and worse packing efficiency than a pure EV, plus you still have to deal with all the environmental issues of a gasoline engine.

SOURCE: GM-Volt.com

GM’s Chevy Volt to Plug-In Hybrid (PHEV) Debut in Washington, Bay Area

By dancurranjr On February 11th, 2009

2011 Chevrolet Volt Production Show CarGeneral Motors’ new plug-in electric car, the Chevrolet Volt, will go on sale in Washington and San Francisco first, the automaker announced this week, as it began laying plans to work with area government and power companies to ease the car’s introduction.

Ed Peper, GM’s North America vice president, made the announcement Tuesday at the Washington Auto Show. He said the cars should begin arriving in the two metropolitan areas in late 2010. In the meantime, the company is seeking policies and infrastructure, such as carpool lane access for Volt drivers and charging stations at work, to make the buyers’ transition from gas to electric easier.

The San Francisco Bay Area was an obvious choice to be one of the first plugged-in cities, said Britta Gross, GM’s architect of the plan. A warm climate combined with a wealthy, tech-savvy population has boosted sales of the Toyota Prius.

“They raised their hand before we even made the offer,” she said.

The D.C. region’s relatively high concentration of hybrid vehicles suggested people in this area were also willing to pay more for a vehicle with better fuel economy. Washington, along with Southern California and New York, is also testing GM’s hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles.

“An East Coast location was important to us, too,” Gross said.

It also helps to have an iconic car like the Volt close to Washington’s power brokers, who will soon be considering additional federal loans for the struggling automaker, said Roland Hwang, vehicle policy director at the Natural Resources Defense Council. After all, when natural gas debuted, buses using the alternative fuel ran regular routes past California’s state capital in Sacramento.

“You want your clean technologies to be very visible and build trust with public policy makers, even if city isn’t the ideal in demographics or in terms of infrastructure,” he said.

Hwang added: “What we’re talking about is signaling to decision makers in Washington that the car is on its way to not just America, but to your garage.”

First, though, the company needs to persuade people to buy it. Analysts said the car may initially cost $30,000 to $40,000 largely because of its advanced battery technology.

“Clearly we never made any secret out of the fact we’re not going to make much money off the Volt until the cost of batteries go down,” said Bob Lutz, GM’s vice chairman for global product development.

So the goal is to create strategies that make the pricey technology more attractive for Washington drivers, in hopes of eventually ramping up production. High manufacturing volumes means cheaper batteries and cheaper cars.

Gross, GM’s manager of hydrogen and electrical infrastructure development, said the lack of incentives has hindered a mass migration from gasoline to alternatives fuels like biodiesel.

“We know cars don’t sell themselves,” she said.

GM has been working closely with the Electric Power Research Institute and a coalition of 40 utilities — including Dominion Virginia Power of Richmond — to solve development challenges of plug-in vehicles. And it aims to reach out to other utilities in the Washington region to ensure they can handle the surge of people plugging in their cars.

“We’re always looking for ways to use energy wisely and planning for a reliable electric grid,” Dominion spokesman Karl Neddenien said.

Federal tax credits could stimulate sales. GM is also urging state, city and county governments to give Volt drivers access to restricted carpool lanes and other benefits. In addition, the automaker hopes the governments themselves will become early adopters, setting an example by buying large fleets of plug-ins.

“The Chevy Volt is truly coming to life,” Peper said, “but preparing the market for electric vehicles also requires capable partners from outside the auto industry.”

Source: Washington Post

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

GM Settles on Volt’s Battery Maker

By dancurranjr On August 29th, 2008

General Motors Corp. has decided on a battery maker for the Chevrolet Volt range-extended electric vehicle, but it’s not saying who it is, yet, Vice Chairman Bob Lutz said Thursday on the sidelines of a media event touting the automaker’s 2009 vehicle line.

Lutz said GM plans to announce the battery supplier by the end of the year and will show the production version of the much-anticipated electric-drive vehicle “fairly soon.”

GM is hoping to regain a solid reputation for technological leadership and return to profitability with the Volt and a growing lineup of more fuel efficient and alternative energy vehicles, some of which it showed to automotive journalists Thursday in Joliet, Ill.

The Volt, which is expected to drive 40 miles on an electric charge alone and about 400 miles using an onboard gas-burning generator to recharge its lithium-ion battery, is not expected to be available publicly until November 2010. But it is already the symbol GM is using to promote an image of fuel efficiency and environmental friendliness.

“The actual production of production vehicles may be earlier,” Lutz said.

Because the battery technology necessary to make the vehicle possible is yet unproven, GM has been working closely with two battery makers — Continental and LG Chem — to develop the power supply for the Volt.

Lutz said Thursday that the automaker expects to have a large number of production Volts operating in a test fleet by the end of 2009.

“The Volt is real … and test work is progressing nicely,” Lutz said. “We haven’t hit any obstacles so far for the batteries. They are all performing flawlessly. It’s almost scary we are not seeing any problems with the batteries.”

The Volt is just one part of an energy diversification strategy at GM that includes efforts to develop more fuel-efficient internal combustion engines, hydrogen fuel cells, clean diesel and small turbocharged engines.

But it’s an important part, said auto analyst Erich Merkle of Crowe Chizek.

“The Volt is a big game-changer,” Merkle said. “It’s not going to save GM, but it’s a green halo vehicle. It has the potential to change the perception of GM to be one of a fuel-efficient automaker.”

GM is already doing a lot of things to improve the fuel efficiency of its lineup, Merkle said, but often has difficulty getting credit for what it does accomplish.

GM is already using many of the technological measures other automakers are now boasting about, Lutz said.

For example, GM has already begun combining turbocharging and direct injection in engines, he said.

Ford calls its combination of gasoline-injection with turbocharging EcoBoost and says it provides up to a 20% improvement in fuel economy.

It will be available on a few vehicles in 2009, such as the Lincoln MKS and Ford Flex crossover. Four-cylinder EcoBoost engines are to debut in 2010 in North America and Europe.

But Lutz said GM is already doing that.

“We build EcoBoost turbos today,” Lutz said. “This technology is not new. We don’t call it EcoBoost. We’re doing a lot of it and we know how to do it. The only thing we don’t understand is how Ford claims to get 20% better fuel economy. … When we look at absolutely equivalent engines, we see about an 8% improvement.”

Lutz said he believes Ford must also be including other vehicle improvements such as low-friction tires and electric steering.

Lutz also explained why the Volt should not be called a hybrid — even a plug-in one.

“I know you’ve been hearing a lot about it lately, but it bears repeating that the Volt is not a plug-in hybrid, even though you can plug it in,” Lutz said. “It’s not a hybrid, which is a vehicle that is usually powered by an internal combustion engine with vehicle assist. It is an extended-range electric vehicle. The power driving the wheels is electricity, and only electricity.”

Toyota Motor Corp. has said it will launch a fleet of plug-in hybrids in 2010, but Toyota’s plug-in system — like its existing Prius hybrid — has both the electric motor and gas engine powering the wheels.

GM does plan to launch a plug-in hybrid, Lutz said. The Saturn Vue plug-in hybrid is to make it to market in 2011.

Lutz said all of the solutions GM is pursuing — as well as many that others are pursuing — are viable and in many cases, complementary.

“We are exploring all of them, because ultimately, it may take more than one of them to transform the industry,” Lutz said. “They’re not competing alternatives.”

Lutz said he could not predict when GM will return to profitability after reporting some of its worst quarterly losses ever in recent years. He said GM hopes its upcoming vehicles combined with a plan to save and raise $15 billion this year and next could lead to a return to profitability as early as 2010.

“I cannot in all good conscience make any projections of when” GM will return to profitability, Lutz said. CEO Rick Wagoner and President Fritz Henderson “have said if everything goes according to plan and we have some sort of recovery in 2010, we would hope to have the corporation profitable again by then.”

Source: Freep.com

Plug-In Hybrid (PHEV), Electric Car on Toyota Agenda

By dancurranjr On August 29th, 2008

Toyota is getting back in the electric vehicle game.

The Japanese automaker said this week it intends to develop a small all-electric car for sale early in the next decade. The announcement by President Katsuaki Watanabe is the first indication that Toyota plans to revisit an area of automotive technology that it dabbled in a few years back in the Golden State.

Toyota President Katsuaki Watanabe During California’s abortive effort to encourage development of electric cars, Toyota leased electric versions of its RAV-4 sport utility vehicle. Some of those are still on the road, and some electric-vehicle advocates have been grousing that Toyota, the industry leader in sales of fuel-efficient gas-electric hybrids, should resurrect its earlier electric-only efforts.

Other big automakers, such as Nissan and Mitsubishi, have also announced plans for electric vehicles. And several smaller companies, such as Bay Area-based Tesla Motors, are also developing electric cars or light trucks.

Toyota didn’t release any details of what its proposed electric car will look like or how much it will cost. But spokesman John Hanson said they will be sold to the general public.

That is decidedly not the case with Toyota’s highly anticipated plug-in hybrid, which operates like a gas-electric hybrid but also has a short electric-only range and more powerful batteries that can be recharged overnight through a household outlet.

Toyota has said early versions of that vehicle — widely expected to be based on the successful Prius hybrid — initially would be leased only to fleet operators such as corporations and municipalities.

That plan hasn’t changed. But Watanabe said Toyota now plans to deliver the first of those plug-in hybrids in late 2009 rather than in 2010 as previously announced — indicating that the automaker and Matsushita, its battery-development partner, have made progress in perfecting mass-production techniques for the tricky lithium-ion batteries that will power the plug-in vehicles.

General Motors Vice Chairman Bob Lutz Meanwhile, General Motors Vice Chairman Bob Lutz told reporters this week that GM doesn’t consider itself to be in a race with Toyota because its entry in the plug-in sweepstakes, the Chevy Volt, is a completely different (and, he hinted, better) design.

While the Toyota plug-in is expected to have an all-electric range of not much more than 10 miles, Lutz repeated his earlier contention that the Volt’s lithium-ion technology will give it an electric-only range of 40 to 50 miles.

Once these vehicles exceed their all-electric ranges, it’s expected that the Toyota will shift to conventional gas-electric hybrid operation, while the Volt will still be powered by its electric motor and use a gasoline engine to recharge the depleted batteries.

“It’s wonderful that Toyota is working on this,” Lutz said, according to the Associated Press. “If they have test fleets out next year, that’s great. But it’s not the same thing as a Chevy Volt, which is not a plug-in hybrid.”

Several automakers have some sort of plug-in vehicle in the works. Felix Kramer, founder of CalCars.org, a Palo Alto-based advocacy group, thinks the movement will spread.

“It looks like between 2010 and 2012, every major car maker is going to have something that plugs in,” he said.

GM expects to have the Volt in dealer showrooms by late 2010, although Lutz said production versions will be driving in large test fleets late next year.

Toyota’s insistence on providing the first wave of its plug-in vehicles only to fleet users (in what will essentially be a large-scale road-test of the plug-in technology) grates on advocates who can’t wait to get their hands on a plug-in car.

One Northern California Toyota dealer is actually taking $500 deposits to get on a waiting list for the upcoming plug-in, even though the car isn’t even on the delivery schedule yet. So far, they’ve gotten about 30 folks to pay the deposit, which is refundable at any time should the depositor tire of waiting for a car with no delivery date.

“The only reason we’re doing this is because the demand in our area is so enormous that we have to do something to satisfy our customers” who have been clamoring for the plug-in hybrid, said Eric Doebert, business development manager at Magnussen’s Toyota of Palo Alto. “Perhaps out efforts here will show Toyota what their market looks like.”

Hanson said Toyota doesn’t “have anything against him taking orders for future products. But ‘future’ is the key word here.”

Source: LA Times