Chevy Volt’s 230-mpg EPA rating makes even new CAFE standards obsolete

August 11, 2009

When I had dinner last year with a group of GM executives, Bob Lutz talked at great length about the Chevy Volt. During one part of the discussion where Lutz was complaining about adverse affects of legislators increasing CAFE standards, we had a back and forth regarding the fact that the Volt could conceivably be rated at somewhere between 100mpg and 200mpg by the EPA…hence making those increasing standards moot.

GM announced today that the Volt will likely be rated at 230mpg in city driving. Seeing that, according to Lutz, GM plans to standardize all front-wheel-drive vehicles on the Volt technology (and we have no reason to doubt this strategy), worrying about the new CAFE requirements will be for not.

While the EPA ratings have never been Sandy Koufax-accurate, they have been a good predictor of expected economy. Unfortunately, with the rise in electrical Kwh prices due to millions of plug-in hybrids hitting the grid, they might not be such a great predictor of what the Volt and other future plug-ins might realistically cost to run. But let’s not fret about this today…this is the time to give the 800-pound gorilla plenty of “atta-boy”s for another step in the process of creating a true game changer.

Here’s the release:

WARREN, Mich. – The Chevrolet Volt extended-range electric vehicle is expected to achieve city fuel economy of at least 230 miles per gallon, based on development testing using a draft EPA federal fuel economy methodology for labeling for plug-in electric vehicles.

The Volt, which is scheduled to start production in late 2010 as a 2011 model, is expected to travel up to 40 miles on electricity from a single battery charge and be able to extend its overall range to more than 300 miles with its flex fuel-powered engine-generator.

“From the data we’ve seen, many Chevy Volt drivers may be able to be in pure electric mode on a daily basis without having to use any gas,” said GM Chief Executive Officer Fritz Henderson. “EPA labels are a yardstick for customers to compare the fuel efficiency of vehicles. So, a vehicle like the Volt that achieves a composite triple-digit fuel economy is a game-changer.”

According to U.S. Department of Transportation data, nearly eight of 10 Americans commute fewer than 40 miles a day http://tinyurl.com/U-S-DOTStudy .

“The key to high-mileage performance is for a Volt driver to plug into the electric grid at least once each day,” Henderson said.
Volt drivers’ actual gas-free mileage will vary depending on how far they travel and other factors, such as how much cargo or how many passengers they carry and how much the air conditioner or other accessories are used. Based on the results of unofficial development testing of pre-production prototypes, the Volt has achieved 40 miles of electric-only, petroleum-free driving in both EPA city and highway test cycles.

Under the new methodology being developed, EPA weights plug-in electric vehicles as traveling more city miles than highway miles on only electricity. The EPA methodology uses kilowatt hours per 100 miles traveled to define the electrical efficiency of plug-ins. Applying EPA’s methodology, GM expects the Volt to consume as little as 25 kilowatt hours per 100 miles in city driving. At the U.S. average cost of electricity (approximately 11 cents per kWh), a typical Volt driver would pay about $2.75 for electricity to travel 100 miles, or less than 3 cents per mile.
The Chevrolet Volt uses grid electricity as its primary source of energy to propel the car. There are two modes of operation: Electric and Extended-Range. In electric mode, the Volt will not use gasoline or produce tailpipe emissions when driving. During this primary mode of operation, the Volt is powered by electrical energy stored in its 16 kWh lithium-ion battery pack.

When the battery reaches a minimum state of charge, the Volt automatically switches to Extended-Range mode. In this secondary mode of operation, an engine-generator produces electricity to power the vehicle. The energy stored in the battery supplements the engine-generator when additional power is needed during heavy accelerations or on steep inclines.

“The 230 city mpg number is a great indication of the capabilities of the Volt’s electric propulsion system and its ability to displace gasoline,” said Frank Weber, global vehicle line executive for the Volt. “Actual testing with production vehicles will occur next year closer to vehicle launch. However, we are very encouraged by this development, and we also think that it is important to continue to share our findings in real time, as we have with other aspects of the Volt’s development.”

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Summer’s Automotive Summary

August 10, 2009

We’ve been getting quite a bit of email wondering where we have been and why we haven’t chimed in on a number of large automotive issues. The short answer has been that It has been a busy summer over here. We provide content to a number of different publications, so quite simply put, it was the Four Wheel Drift that suffered.

For all of you who were desperately waiting for our view on current events, here is a summary of where we stand on the issues.

Cash For Clunkers: With our reputation for being involved with collector cars, people assumed we’d be absolutely against CFC. They were right, but not for the reasons they figured.

The conventional wisdom circulating in the classic car and hot rod circuits is that CFC would cause the destruction of thousands of tomorrow’s classic cars…and therefore the program must be stopped at all costs.

We take a different…more pragmatic view that exposes our business backgrounds. The crushed future classics affect from CFC will be far less noticeable than from rising scrap prices prior to WWII…or from the use of salt in a particularly bad winter in the Northeast and Midwest. In other words, most of the vehicles succumbing to the CFC crushers a) are mass-produced vehicles, b) are family cars, c) consequently are less likely to be restored in twenty to thirty years as collector vehicles.

There are two big issues we do dislike about CFC. The first is that we’ve always felt that rebates simply create sales by cannibalizing future higher price/profit sales. Part of the decreased demand in 2007, 2008 and 2009 comes from the direct result of massive factory rebates in 2001, 2002 and 2003. Rebates are an ongoing nightmare for good product marketing folks who battle sales, finance and PR departments who are more focused on making numbers now so they can get their gold Rolexes from bonuses. Rebates kill the pipeline, dilute product value and image (although admittedly the CFC rebate doesn’t dilute product image like a standard manufacturer versions), and create a way for local dealers to provide vehicles at the same price as before the rebates, but without giving up any profit themselves.

The second reason we dislike the CFC program is that unlike a standard manufacturer rebate program that puts the financial burden on the corporation, the CFC program puts it on taxpayers. And before you start writing the comment regarding that the program replaces the current fleet with more fuel-efficient vehicles, that’s a total red herring. This exact same thing would happen anyway – as the current fleet ages, it is replaced with newer vehicles – all which are more fuel efficient. The difference is cost. The artificial way costs taxpayers several billion, the other doesn’t.

The bottom line is that the CFC program is nothing more than a boondoggle for auto manufacturers, dealers and scrap metal recyclers in a wrapper of good intentions paid for by taxpayer money.

GM Selling Cars Via eBay: Here’s a whole lotta nothing. Simply an official program that mimics what hundreds of dealers have been doing with varying degrees of success for nearly a decade. It would have been a real story had GM found a loophole for the anti-trust laws prohibiting manufacturer-to-consumer sales to allow such sales using eBay as the “dealer”.

New Hybrids: Yawn. Meet the new boss – same as the old boss. These are still uninspiring vehicles that struggle to get better mileage than the original Geo Metro despite delivering not much more in terms of performance, size, comfort, or enjoyment. Again people, hybrid technology is over a century old.

Seller Beware: Autoweek reported in its current issue how people consigning their classics to Kruse have reported not receiving payment from the auction house for more than six months after their vehicles sold at auction. Even scarier for vehicle sellers – there is the Washington State court opinion at http://www.courts.wa.gov/opinions/index.cfm?fa=opinions.showOpinion&filename=614185MAJ , which results from the mess created when a car consignment operation (AGS Performance) closed prior to distributing the funds received from selling a Ferrari F355 on consignment. To complicate the matter, the selling party never provided the title for his Ferrari. The courts maintained that since AGS was in the business of selling cars, it didn’t need the title to facilitate a legal sale, leaving the buyer (Hensrude) with a legal purchase and the former owner (Sloss) with only the recourse of suing AGS for non-payment on a contract.

The bottom line is that sellers of collector cars need to be very careful these days.

Porsche Panamera: If we have to read another column in a major publication or hear another enthusiast question if the four-door Panamera is a “real Porsche”, we’re going to set ourselves on fire. It was a valid question when the 914…and maybe even somewhat valid when the 928 replaced the 911 as the “top-of-the-line” model in the late 1970s, but not anymore.

Note to publications, enthusiasts and auto manufacturers: the Cayenne is the best-selling Porsche ever and no Porsche enthusiast or purist not wearing a tinfoil hat has ever cared about its affect on the brand, other than to thank it for providing the necessary cash flow to develop low-production high-performance cars like the Turbo, GT3, GT etc… More manufacturers need to ignore the purists, because if you cater to them, you get the GTO, Challenger, retro-Mustang, and new Camaro. Purists love these, but people with money don’t like them enough to buy them.