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Volt gains "Sport" mode and works out some of its noise issues

The 2011 GM Volt is generating unprecedented hype as the highest profile upcoming mass-market electric vehicle.  With the U.S. government and automakers worldwide all betting big on electric vehicles, General Motors has done perhaps the best job at promoting its upcoming vehicle.

The vehicle is currently in the pre-production testing phase, in which the final bugs in the prototypes are ironed out via minor changes, largely to the vehicle's software and mechanical settings.  A fleet of prototype Volts completed a long test-drive journey and engineers are now using the data collected to tweak the Volt.  They hope to minimize its problems in the process.

James Riswick, an editor with, recently took one of the mules out for a test drive to measure their progress on this front.  He reports, "[The Volt] is sort of on the more fun to drive hybrid.  The suspension is a little firmer, than say, in the Prius, which is on the floaty, comfortable side.  This is not a sports car by any means, but actually the electric power steering is reasonably direct and well weighted."

In his opinion, the noise when driving under gasoline generator is minimal and seems like "white noise". However, when stopping, a more "rough" unpleasant sound was heard – GM says they're working on this issue.  Overall, Riswick says the car is "pretty darn normal" and that "It drives like a pretty nice car"

However, as many have noted a couple of pivotal unknowns remain -- the Volt's finalized real world gas mileage and cost.  The Volt will be available in all 50 states when it debuts, according to GM.  It will be available for around $40,000, plus a $7,500 federal tax credit, which brings it to approximately $32,500 (excluding additional hybrid tax breaks in certain states).  However, this price could be bumped significantly higher or lower still.

The vehicles will currently recharge in about 8 hours household 120-volt current, while special 240-volt charging stations can charge it in only 3 hours.  GM estimates the car's fuel economy to be 230 mpg, but this value has yet to be confirmed in real world independent testing.  One of GM's top priorities has been trying to tweak the gas mileage upwards during the testing cycle.

One detail that has not been widely publicized is the new vehicle's "sports mode".  Activated by a Sport button on the center stack, the feature makes the throttle more receptive and increases its ultimate limit, bumping 0 to 60 mph acceleration down to 9 seconds.  The Volt's urge to scoot increases in the mode, though.  Like most cars, the Volt also provides an electronic version of a "Low" gear similar to that found in normal cars, which allows faster deceleration.  GM recommends the Low mode for driving on slopes or in stop and go.

One disappointment is that the Volt and other Lithium-ion battery-powered electric vehicles may not be viable in hotter climates, such as some states in the American Southwest.  Despite the fact that Volts will be sold in these states, performance may be significantly undermined due to the heat.  Volt Chief Engineer Andrew Farah describes, "The Volt may not be right for everyone. If you live in the Southwest, depending on how you use your car, the Volt might not be right for you."

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RE: Toom high a cost
By FaaR on 11/30/2009 2:19:46 PM , Rating: 5
It's a first-gen product, what do you expect?

You think cars ("automobiles") were cheap, or even particulary viable, when they were first introduced? :)

The price will come down as the tech matures and spreads out amongst other marques and models, that's the natural order of things in a market economy.

RE: Toom high a cost
By bjacobson on 11/30/2009 2:59:41 PM , Rating: 4
*ahem* In a true "market economy" GM would not be around, because apparently enough people don't want their cars to justify GM's existence.

RE: Toom high a cost
By room200 on 11/30/09, Rating: 0
RE: Toom high a cost
By cscpianoman on 11/30/2009 3:45:14 PM , Rating: 3
Many companies would exist and thrive if the gov't would keep their hands off. The reason subsidies, tax breaks and bailouts exist is because the gov't is taxing companies and people out of existence and yet in return we are gifted with more and more regulations and a debt that, unless something were to change drastically, will put a not so good economy into utter failure. A true market is about balance and creating competition. Companies rise and fall in a true market and just like evolution, the strong will thrive and the weak collapse.

Now, don't get me wrong you have to have a stable gov't to allow a true market to exist and there has to be monitoring to make sure everyone plays by the rules. But when the gov't gets to the point of handing out tax breaks just to keep a company alive, then you know the gov't has gotten a little out of control in it's taxing, spending and regulating.

RE: Toom high a cost
By IvanAndreevich on 12/1/2009 4:04:26 AM , Rating: 3
I think many Americans may be happy about a company's demise because they respect the constitution, free market economy, and don't want to support failed businesses out of their pocket. Makes good sense to me.

RE: Toom high a cost
By room200 on 12/1/2009 2:10:34 PM , Rating: 2
You know, you guys trumpet this free market, constitution crap as if it makes you some expert on economics. There will never be a true free market economy. The higher ups will always find a way of making things unfair by manipulating EVERY situation or changing laws, or buying politicians, to their advantage. Yet, while suckers like yourself are trumpeting this free market, constitution garbage (because it sounds good and gets the flags a wavin'), big business is laughing all the way to the bank. Free market my ass.

RE: Toom high a cost
By Iaiken on 11/30/2009 3:16:53 PM , Rating: 1
Chevy made the mistake of not targeting a market where the price would not be a major factor.

The model S is going actually offer up some meaningful competition to BMW 330, Lexus IS350, Mercedes C, Infiniti G37 at a similar price point.

The biggest problem with the Volt is that it's competitors (civic, corolla, focus, accent, jetta TDI, prius) are all 1/2 the price (or less!). People just won't part with that kind of money unless there is actually $20,000 + interest of perceived benefit.

And almost as if to guarantee failure, most of that cost is labor. The first several rounds of Volts are currently hand-built in the same way that Corvettes are and current commitment plans don't have an automated production line up and running until 2011, so don't expect any drop in the ridiculous price until 2012 at the soonest. Had Chevy actually committed to the Volt the way they have with crossovers, they would have already had these plants up and running on existing properties in Michigan.

Ironically, the Tesla Model S will be built at a re-tooled Chevrolet plant in Flint.

RE: Toom high a cost
By Spuke on 11/30/2009 3:33:37 PM , Rating: 2
BMW 330, Lexus IS350, Mercedes C, Infiniti G37 at a similar price point.
Too bad none of those cars costs $50k (I think you meant 335i for the BMW). BTW, that $50k price for the Model S is after the tax credit. Since tax credits != cash, the Model S actually costs $57,400.

RE: Toom high a cost
By Keeir on 11/30/2009 3:51:00 PM , Rating: 2
Lets also not forget that the Model S will come with 160, 220, and 300 mile battery packs. Since these numbers use the same tests as the Volt's 40 AER, lets assume 120, 175, 250 RW values.

The 250 RW Model S will likely cost 70k+ MSRP (before Subsidy), which is a much more fair comparison to the Volt (or other gasoline cars) than the limited 120 (160 in testing) Model S, I am driving over 150 miles today... and this happens several times a month. I (and most Americans) would need at least 150 miles of daily range to feel comfortable buying a BEV.

The battery pack will likely wear out so within a decade (if similar to Roadster which claims 30% loss after 5-7 years is acceptable), your 250 RW Model S will become a 175 or less RW Model S as well

RE: Toom high a cost
By mcnabney on 11/30/2009 3:48:13 PM , Rating: 2
The Volt doesn't directly compete against anything. The closest would be a Prius or Fusion Hydrid, which it beats both in efficiency.

Both of those cars are in the mid-to-upper $20's, so $32k isn't a huge stretch.

The Tesla S is still two years off and is hardly comparable since it adds another $10-15k to the price. It might compete against the Corvette though.

All pre-production models (used for testing and demos) of every car ever made are assembled by hand. It would be far less efficient to tool-up an assembly line to only produce 30 or 40 cars and then turn around and modify the line for the final version.

I agree on the commitment issue. If GM hadn't killed the electric car (EV1) they wouldn't be in the trouble they are in now.

RE: Toom high a cost
By Slaimus on 11/30/2009 5:25:19 PM , Rating: 2
You're right about price. The Fusion Hybrid C&D tested was over 32k:

RE: Toom high a cost
By Bagom on 11/30/2009 6:23:43 PM , Rating: 2
Is the 40K price that I see thrown around the final price? Will the Volt have options or is it just a no option car? If options are available I am thinking Volts will start at 45K+ (don't forgot huge dealer markups for this low production car). The mid-to-upper $20's you are quoting are for optioned out cars. I think the base is more in the lower $20's.

RE: Toom high a cost
By mcnabney on 11/30/2009 10:35:18 PM , Rating: 2
I imagine the $40k price is a fairly basic price. Leather, upgraded stereo, and navigation will cost extra. It won't have an engine or transmission option though.

Also, the Tesla S is slated at $50k after tax rebate and at the lowest tier. The low tier has a very limited range (smaller battery) of 160 miles before stopping. At least the Volt can keep going.

"A politician stumbles over himself... Then they pick it out. They edit it. He runs the clip, and then he makes a funny face, and the whole audience has a Pavlovian response." -- Joe Scarborough on John Stewart over Jim Cramer

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