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Automaker looks ahead to Cadillac ELR, second-generation Volt

When it comes to sales General Motors Comp.'s (GM) Chevy Volt has done modestly, moving a couple thousands units per month in good months.  Compared to other entrants such as the Nissan Leaf EV from Nissan Motor Comp., Ltd. (TYO:7201), whose sales number in the mere hundreds per month, that's not bad.

But sales have still been short of the hype that surrounded Volt, a car that was viewed by many as a "savior-car" of sorts for the automaker during its recession troubles.  The Volt has suffered a 2011 National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) investigation over battery fires and more recently has been rejected by some Chevy dealerships over high tooling costs.

Still, GM is convinced that electric vehicles are a winning proposition.  Wednesday night at the Automotive News World Conference GM's North America chief Mark Reuss boldly proclaimed, "The electric car is not dead... We couldn't be happier … with the Volt."

The Chevy Volt has seen several sales targets slip.  In 2011 GM promised to sell 10,000 Volts, but only sold 7,700.  In 2012 it predicted 45,000 units sold, but only moved 23,000.  At times the Hamtramck Assembly Plant where the vehicle is assembled was idled.

GM is forging ahead, looking to fill the idle capacity at the Hamtramck Assembly Plant with orders of the new Cadillac ELR, which is essentially a luxury reskinned Volt.  At the conference Mr. Reuss revealed that the plant would begin producing Cadillac ELRs before the end of the year.

2014 Cadillac ELR
The 2014 Cadillac ELR will begin production later this year. [Image Source: GM]

He also teased at the upcoming second generation Volt design, which he claims "will be even better".  He comments, "We'll get there.  We will see the day when we have an affordable electric car that offers 300 miles of range with all the comfort and utility of a conventional vehicle. We're talking about a transformation here. And transformation takes time."

He admits that pricing needs to become more competitive, stating, "The rest of them will come around when technology advances electric vehicles to the point where they offer comparable performance at comparable prices."

Chevy Volt at dealership
GM looks to get more competitive with Chevy Volt pricing when it releases its second-generation successor to its current EV. [Image Source: Autoblog Green]

The determination from the Detroit automaker runs counter to its previous approach from the 1990s, where it debuted the EV-1 only to bail, pulling the plug in 1999 after three years of poor sales.  GM was oft villainized for that decision for much of the last decade; now it is celebrated by EV advocates as a key proponent of the advanced vehicle push.

The optimism also contrast sharply with the grim rhetoric of Nissan at the auto show.  While Nissan is sticking with its LEAF EV, it's dropping the price (to $28,800 USD) and admitting that so far the project has been a flop.  LEAF EV sales were essentially flat, up only 1.5 percent from 2011 to reach 9,819 units.  Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn admitted this week; "It was a disappointment for us."

Others like Ford Motor Comp. (F) have been more restrained in their EV dive, but have also suffered poor results.  Ford produced 1,627 2013 Ford Focus EVs, but only sold 685 (42 percent of the stock).  Fiskar also suffered a rocky year with its Karma being panned by reviewers as "overweight".  The Karma also suffered fire issues leading to recalls and 320 of the pricey EVs were destroyed when Hurricane Sandy hit.

Tesla Motor Comp. (TSLA) also saw slow sales for much of the year, but like GM it also delivered a fair degree of good news, becoming profitable again late in the year, thanks to the launch of the 2013 Model S mid-range luxury electric sedan.  The Model S was well received by reviewers who gave it many awards for its slick handling and performance.

Source: The Detroit News

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Concept was much better...
By Rugar on 1/17/2013 8:14:29 PM , Rating: -1
If they had stuck with the original serial hybrid design, the Volt would have been a tremendous success. Whatever engineering difficulties they ran into however turned the Volt into a poorly performing hybrid. Why pay a similar amount to get less than a Prius?

RE: Concept was much better...
By m51 on 1/17/2013 9:05:44 PM , Rating: 5
This is a common misconception of people without a clear understanding of the design and engineering involved.

The direct engine coupling has almost nothing but upsides. It occurs at higher cruising speeds only and bypasses the generator, battery buffering, and electric motor cycles to give an overall increase in efficiency. It also increases the total horsepower available for such things as passing maneuvers because you have both the horsepower of the ICE engine and the electric motors combined, giving you higher performance.

People become fixated on the serial hybrid design and fail to realize this is actually an improvement. It is not just a standard hybrid design because of the high power electric motor, high capacity battery, and the ICE charging system.

The ICE is only connected to the drive wheels when it increases overall system efficiency.

The overall result is a higher efficiency, higher performance system. How is that worse than a pure serial hybrid?

RE: Concept was much better...
By GulWestfale on 1/17/2013 9:28:05 PM , Rating: 2
the average guy is not an engineer who thinks about hypothetical benefits. the average guy looks at price, economy, performance and design. oh, and build quality, not something GM is noted for. so why this turd on wheels when there are better options out there?

that caddy does look good though, let's hope the tech works better second time 'round.

RE: Concept was much better...
By wordsworm on 1/18/2013 9:54:13 AM , Rating: 4
The average guy looks at the hot girls draped over the car at the auto show.

RE: Concept was much better...
By kkwst2 on 1/17/13, Rating: -1
RE: Concept was much better...
By Ringold on 1/18/2013 4:09:45 AM , Rating: 1
I don't understand the engineering (not an engineer), but I still call bull.

Why? Simple. Occams razor. The engineering that goes in to making this car's ICE capable of doing both sounds hideously complex and expensive. Price tag of the vehicle seems to confirm that. Having an ICE purely as a back-up range extender sounds vastly simpler, or having something like the Prius with a larger battery sounds simple as well.

This car tries to do both, and it's not working out too hot. I mean, it's great for technology geeks, who appreciate engineering marvels for the sake of engineering marvels, but complexity alone doesn't help sales.

Anyway, free market hath spoken. Sales suck.

RE: Concept was much better...
By m51 on 1/18/2013 11:50:05 AM , Rating: 3
Occam's razor is used for determining which of two competing hypothesis is more likely the true one. It doesn't apply here.

In the pursuit of increasing vehicle efficiency and performance you trend toward increasing system complexity. Thus fuel injection, turbo chargers, regenerative breaking, variable valve timing, double clutch transmissions, engine control computers etc.

Sure simple is nice, but you can't have both simple and efficient. There is a tradeoff to be made.

Also you are just guessing that the making the ICE capable of doing both is hideously complex and expensive. Not because you have any information or knowledge on the subject but only because it helps support your position. The engineering required is neither hideously expensive nor complex by the way.

The classic one-two punch of the Dunning-Kruger effect and Confirmation bias. Everybody is susceptible to it, don't get sucked in.

Remember a slight mental change from 'How can I prove I'm right' to 'How can I prove I'm wrong' changed the entire world. (the scientific method).

By Richard875yh5 on 1/18/2013 9:22:19 AM , Rating: 2

RE: Concept was much better...
By Nutzo on 1/18/2013 11:00:07 AM , Rating: 2
No, on the Volt the ICE is also connected to the wheels when you need more power.

The problem with the Volt's design (and pretty much all Hybrids) is that the motors/batteries are not strong enough to drive the car under all situations. The car would weight too much if the electic motors were powerful enough, since the car also includes an ICE. In the case of the Volt, it is only under the worse 5%, like driving at high speed up a steep incline. The Prius needs the ICE for almost anything outside of a parking lot:)

An all electric car doesn't have the added weight of an ICE, so they can increase the size of the Electic motors and batteries.

RE: Concept was much better...
By m51 on 1/18/2013 12:03:17 PM , Rating: 2
The Volt's electric motor is 149hp. This considerably more effective than a 149hp ICE because of the torque curve advantage of electic motors.

Here is a detailed explanation of the Volt drive system so people will stop guessing.

RE: Concept was much better...
By kkwst2 on 1/17/2013 10:19:09 PM , Rating: 2
How are you deciding it is less than a Prius? Supposedly, GM determined that on average people drive it well over half the miles in all-electric mode, which gets over 100 mpg equivalent. So even half the time at 100 mpg and the other half at 30 mpg gets you 65 mpg on average. If you do short commutes every day, it would be even better.

I personally don't think any hybrids financially make sense right now. But if your driving patters are right, and with the government handouts, you can make a case for the Volt over the Prius.

RE: Concept was much better...
By Nutzo on 1/18/2013 11:09:57 AM , Rating: 2
But if you have a short commute, you will never save enough to justify the added cost of the Volt.

I have a very short commute, and only drive around 6K miles per year. It would take me almost 9 years to break even buying a Hybrid, compared to a 4Cyl Ice car, and that's assuming gas is $4/gal.

As for a Plugin like the Volt, I'd never break even as the payback is longer than the expected life of the car.

After the Tax breaks, the Leaf would have the quickest break even period, but I'd have to keep another car for the occasional long trip, negating any savings.

RE: Concept was much better...
By Rukkian on 1/21/2013 4:27:24 PM , Rating: 2
It were just occasional long trips (which at 6k miles per year, it would have to be), wouldn't it be much cheaper to just rent a car for the those times?

I do not own a hybrid or electric car, as I just can't afford them at this point, and I live in a rental place without a good electric to charge a full electric, but think it is tech heading in the right direction.

"Well, there may be a reason why they call them 'Mac' trucks! Windows machines will not be trucks." -- Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer

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