The Chevy Volt, ready to go in Warren. (Credit: Jim Motavalli)
WARREN, MICHIGAN—I’ve been waiting to drive the Chevrolet Volt for a couple of years now, and I finally got to peel some rubber. Literally, because the Volt was a lot faster off the line than I’d anticipated. No, it’s not the Tesla Roadster, but it was definitely fast enough for me. On the road with the wind in my hair, I could temporarily forget about this moment in history.
Here's what Volt global vehicle line exec Frank Weber has to say about the Volt:
General Motors’ bankruptcy has certainly circled the wagons. The opening of a new 33,000-square-foot, $25 million Global Battery System Lab on the campus of its sprawling Eero Saarinen-designed Tech Center June 8 brought out some heavy political artillery, including what seemed to be the entire Michigan Congressional delegation (including its two U.S. senators).
It was a bit surreal. I was able to shake hands with Frederick “Fritz” Henderson, the GM CEO who is trying to steer the great ship, and he said he’d seen my green car writing. I also chatted with Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm. I asked her if she’d driven the “range extender” Chevrolet Volt, which was parked right behind us, and she said, “Yes, I have. It’s fabulous, like a luxury car ride. Its quietness is very striking.”
Granholm wants GM to snare some of the $2 billion in advanced battery stimulus money for Michigan. “It’s a reinvention for GM and for Michigan, too,” she said.
Also standing up was U.S. Senator Carl Levin, who noted, “The media is full of the GM reorganization. In the real world, GM is not only being reinvented, it’s being reborn. The new GM will not only emerge, it will burst out of its shell.” Yes, “reinvention” was the key word. The mayor of Warren, Jim Fouts, repeated his offer of $100 million if GM would just move to his city from its downtown Detroit perch in the Renaissance Center.
But there was more to the day than listening to the politicians. We also toured the battery lab, which according to staff researcher Ramona Ying has evaluated 60 battery chemistries (which it can submit to extremes of heat and cold). And, yes, we drove the “mule” version of the Chevrolet Volt, the last step before “pre-production” vehicles by the beginning of July.
The Volt is a complete departure from anything that GM has ever done, and it has brought some skeptics, including the academics at Carnegie Mellon University, out to scoff at its prospects. But GM’s engineers, including Andrew Farah, Frank Weber and John Lauckner (who helped birth the car with retired vice chairman Bob Lutz) say they see nothing to keep the car from achieving its goal of 40 miles of electric drive, followed by another 350 as the gas generator supplies the battery pack.
Despite GM’s troubles, the Volt is still on track. According to Terry Rhadigan, a Chevrolet spokesman, “It is as high a priority as we have in this company. We will meet the deadlines we have set out.”
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