GM Gambles on Chevy Volt

Posted: June 17, 2008

Toyota has overtaken GM as the world's leading seller of automobiles, building its reputation around hybrids and fuel-efficiency.  GM, known primarily as a manufacturer of trucks and SUVs, has been hammered by $4/gallon gas prices.  Seeking to recover, the General has poured a huge investment of time and money into the Chevy Volt, a plug-in hybrid GM hopes to bring to market in 2010, for an MSRP under $30,000.  

How's that going?

Atlantic Monthly has published the most extensive article yet profiling the Volt project.  It's a long read, but a worthwhile one, and the magazine's conclusions are mixed.  AM portrays the Volt project as an institutional struggle for GM.  AM concludes that "battery glitches have reduced the odds of GM’s having the Volt in showrooms by late 2010, but advances in the underlying technology have increased the odds of its producing the Volt early in the decade. In other words, delay on the order of months is looking more likely, but delay on the order of years is looking less likely."  They also predict "that the car’s sticker price will be higher than GM initially hoped, maybe north of $35,000."

Autoblog notes that "The article is just as much about GM and how the company operates as it is about the car. The case is put forward that this is less about the viability of the Volt and more about whether GM can finally execute a proper long term follow through."  The Volt, Autoblog says, is "the Barack Obama of automobiles-everyone's hope for change. Even the Atlantic Monthly knows that this car currently means more to GM and perhaps the U.S. car buying public than anything else."

The Los Angeles Times, meanwhile, reports that "the Volt has gone from nice idea to working model."  The car being tested is far from a finished Volt -- it's a Chevy Malibu with critical parts of the Volt's powertrain built into it.  The most critical element of the Volt's architecture is its Lithium-ion battery pack.  Li-ion batteries, the same type used in cell phones and laptops, have "so far proved somewhat problematic for such a large-scale application," but GM Vice Chairman Bob Lutz insists the batteries in the so-called Mali-Volt are "exceeding expectations" in early testing.

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