Why The Chevrolet Volt Is A Game Changer

March 18, 2011

I have written plenty of articles on the subject of electric cars, hybrids and related technologies. Today’s press release from Chevrolet provides even more to support my long-held feelings that the Chevy Volt is the first big game changer — far beyond any Toyota Prius, Nissan Leaf, Tesla, or others.

Unlike the 55ish-mpg of the Prius (similar to compacts in the 1950s) or the limited range (just like those made in the late 1800s) pure electric Leaf, Tesla or limited production tin cans made by small-volume electric car companies, the Volt is actually delivering anywhere from 60 to around 1500 mpg, while granting the flexibility required by the real-world driving masses.

The Volt isn’t the world’s best or prettiest car…but it certainly is proof of GM’s concept, which will allow the technology to expand to all of its front wheel drive/automatic transmission-equipped vehicles within five years.

And it’s more proof why the Volt is a game changer.

Chevy Volt Owners Write Their Own Fuel Economy Stories
Gas or no gas makes huge difference in determining miles per gallon equivalency
2011-03-18
WARREN, Mich. – Since he took delivery of his 2011 Chevrolet Volt electric car with extended-range capability in December, Mike DiPisa is averaging 231 miles per gallon of gasoline. It’s because his 26-mile daily commute allows him to run almost gas free.

“I haven’t filled up my Volt since I took delivery,” the Lyndhhurst, N.J. resident said. Of the 1,485 miles DiPisa put on his Volt, 1,391 have used using grid electricity.

DiPisa’s fuel economy is on the high end of real-life experiences of early Volt owners, but it isn’t that unusual.

Matt Stehouwer of Lansing, Mich., says he’s getting 62 MPG after putting more than 1,500 miles on his Volt, including a drive from New York, where he took delivery of his car. He commutes about 32 miles daily from his home to his job as Technical Manager at Michigan State University’s College of Natural Science.

Mike McCarver, a retiree from Los Altos, Calif., has traveled nearly 800 miles since he bought his Volt on Jan. 28, and he’s averaging 93 mpg. McCarver uses his Volt to travel around town, to the local country club, and occasionally to his vacation home in Carmel about 80 miles away.

Three Volts. Three distinct fuel economy stories. Unlike most cars, where mileage differences vary slightly from driver to driver, the Volt defies conventional MPG measures because it runs approximately 35 miles on a single charge of electricity to its 16 kWh battery, and then can travel another 344 miles on an onboard gasoline-powered electric generator that seamlessly kicks in when the battery is drained.

By recharging their Volt regularly, owners are easily surpassing the 93 miles per gallon equivalence, or MPGe, on full electric operation and an overall 60 MPGe composite fuel economy during extended-range operation. The EPA ratings make the Volt the most energy efficient compact car on the market today.

“I really believe that over the long-term we have to have technology that is going to get us off fossil fuels and the Volt does that – I have the option of never buying gas again,” McCarver said.

Said Volt marketing director Cristi Landy: “The Volt is great for any lifestyle and can handle the driving demands of daily life. The majority of Volt customers are finding that by recharging their cars daily they are seeing exceptional real-world fuel economy. ”


Vehicle Buying and Selling Lesson #223: What Is A One-Owner Car?

February 1, 2011

People have a tendency to oversell their vehicles in online listings. Seeing words like “beautiful” or “rare” for something ugly and mass-produced is roughly as common as a Charlie Sheen rehab stint.

What gets me, though, is when sellers exhibit a total disregard for accepted terminology. Even worse, most tend to advertise the improper use of said terms by immediately following with conflicting explanations or caveats, leading prospective buyers to wonder why it’s worth dealing with the seller at all.

For instance, here’s an eBay listing I recently read:

You are bidding on what is essentially a one owner Triumph TR 2 short door. Original engine with O/D transmission upgraded back in the 50’s. I purchased it from the owner who had the car from 56 to 2003, he bought it next to new, so there was brief ownership by either dealer or private owner for less then a year. I have all the mechanical maintenance notes from the owner from 56 to the late 90’s, at which time due to age, he slowed down on maintaining the vehicle himself.

This description is laughable. The seller claims this is “essentially a one owner Triumph”, then immediately details that it’s had three owners. The seller doesn’t count himself as an owner, despite having the car for nearly eight years, which eclipses the national averages for both new and used car retention.

Defining “One Owner Vehicle”: A car, truck, motorcycle, or similar vehicle that has been in the same family user group since it was purchased brand new. A car does not need its original title, because moving from state-to-state requires a new title.

When a car is purchased — by a private party, broker or dealer, the car is no longer a one-owner vehicle. Even if it is a curbstoner (an unlicensed dealer or broker) who buys the car then chooses not to change the title before finding a person to whom they can resell, they still count as an owner. Additionally, most states consider this tax evasion.

Where the definition gets into a gray area is when it comes to cars passed between family members. While some might claim that a car has to be in the same name as originally titled, others allow a one-owner car to extend to inclusion of one that has been passed from original buyer to children or grandchildren, especially if they were among the original users of the car when new. For instance, my father bought a new ’86 Dodge 600ES Turbo Convertible as 50th birthday present to himself. I drove it from new on weekends, as did my brother, who got the car when he graduated college in 1991. When he replaced the Dodge with a new car in 1999, I took the car. It has been titled in two states under three names, but all by people who drove it when it still had the new car smell. Furthermore, the car has never sold — rather transferred under state family-gift allowances for the purposes of identifying primary insurance responsibilities. Is it a one-owner car? Probably not by the strictest definition, but it certainly falls under one-family-owned car.

The description of one-owner is intended to increase value. At the end of the day, though, it shouldn’t… and usually doesn’t. After all, why pay a premium for something that is immediately lost once it is paid for? (Creepy sex addicts need not write in with their arguments on this question.)

It is far more important that previous owners, no matter how many there were, took care of the vehicle.


Chevrolet Launches The Volt — On Time and As Scheduled!

October 10, 2010

It’s 10-10-10…and just as promised, Chevrolet today announced that it’s game-changing Volt is officially on the market. Just yesterday GM exhibited a production Volt in Tacoma, WA as it heads cross-country to illustrate its road trip flexibility.

GM’s future hinges on this car, because as Bob Lutz told me a couple years ago, the Volt’s plug-in technology will soon be offered in every front-wheel-drive car in the corporation’s portfolio. Although I have been ultra-critical of GM in the past, I have been an outspoken supporter of the Volt technology and GM’s plug-in business plan.

The press release keys on the primary advantages that will make the Volt a winner: insanely high real-world MPG (or cost per mile) without the need for a second car — which differentiates it from the Leaf and all of the other thousands of battery-only powered vehicles offered for sale since the late 1800s.

Here is the official press release. Let the Prius market share decline begin!

2011 Chevrolet Volt Reinvents Automotive Transportation In A Complete, No-Compromises Electric Package
2010-10-10
World’s first mass-produced, plug-in electric vehicle with a range-extending onboard engine
Revolutionary Voltec propulsion system delivers between 25 and 50 miles of electric driving (depending on terrain, driving techniques and temperature) with a long-life, 16-kW lithium-ion battery and 111-kW (149-hp) electric drive unit; and up to 310 miles of extended range with an onboard 1.4L engine
Eight-year/100,000-mile warranty on lithium-ion battery pack
Vehicle dynamics, upscale materials, refinement and spirited performance of a premium sports sedan in an ultra-efficient package
Extensive use of high-strength steel and full suite of vehicle safety technologies provide occupant protection before, during and after a crash
Easy-to-use technologies such as configurable displays, Chevrolet Mobile App powered by OnStar MyLink, and MyVolt.com web portal enhance owner experience
Five years of OnStar Directions and Connections service, including Automatic Crash Response, stolen vehicle assistance and connected navigation
DETROIT – Chevrolet today introduced the all-new, 2011 Volt electric vehicle with extended range, establishing an entirely new segment in the global automotive market. The five-door, four-passenger Volt is designed to provide the benefits of an electric vehicle without the range limitations associated with other electric vehicles in the market.

“The Chevrolet Volt can be the only car you own,” said Mark Reuss, president, GM North America. “The Volt delivers it all: a revolutionary propulsion system, progressive styling, industry-leading safety, premium amenities and user-friendly technologies, and spirited driving dynamics.”

Designed, engineered, built and delivered to customers in 29 months, the Volt will go on sale at Chevrolet dealers before the end of 2010. It is offered in one very well-equipped standard trim level, along with two option packages: a Premium Trim Package and a Rear Camera and Park Assist Package.

The Volt is in a class by itself

The Chevrolet Volt is not a hybrid. It is a one-of-a-kind, all-electrically driven vehicle designed and engineered to operate in all climates. Powered by GM’s revolutionary Voltec propulsion system, it consists of a 16-kWh lithium-ion battery pack and electric drive unit that provide pure electric range between 25 and 50 miles, depending on terrain, driving techniques and temperature. A 1.4L gasoline-powered engine extends the range up to an additional 310 miles on a full tank of fuel by operating the vehicle’s electric drive system until the car can be plugged in and recharged or refueled. This distinguishes the Volt from electric-only vehicles, which cannot be operated when recharging is not immediately available – such as during a power interruption or on a long-distance trip.

“The Chevrolet Volt makes the electric driving experience as productive, efficient, intuitive, safe and fun as any premium vehicle its size in the market today,” said Doug Parks, Volt global vehicle line executive.

Every major element of the Volt was designed and analyzed for efficiency, including its highly aerodynamic exterior, lightweight wheels, specially designed tires, energy-saving premium stereo system, and more. This attention to detail makes the Volt one of the most aerodynamic and energy-efficient vehicles in the market.

The Volt redefines electric drive

The heart of the Chevrolet Volt is its Voltec propulsion system, which combines pure electric drive and an efficient, range-extending engine, giving to the Volt up to 350 total miles of range.

The Volt’s long-life battery consists of a 5.5-foot, 435-pound (198.1 kg) T-shaped, 16-kWh lithium-ion battery pack manufactured in Brownstown Township, Mich. It supplies energy to an advanced, 111-kW (149-hp) electric drive unit to propel the vehicle. Using only the energy stored in the battery, the Volt delivers between 25 and 50 miles of fuel- and tailpipe emissions-free electric driving, depending on terrain, driving techniques and temperature.

The Volt battery is designed to deliver value, safety, quality, performance, durability and reliability. It is covered by an eight-year/100,000-mile warranty. Since 2007, GM engineers have completed more than one million miles and four million hours of validation testing of Volt battery packs, as well as each pack’s nine modules and 288 prismatic cells. The development, validation and test teams have met thousands of specifications and validated each of the Volt battery’s 161 components, 95 percent of which GM designed and engineered.

“Our customers are making a commitment to technology that will help reduce our dependence on petroleum,” said Micky Bly, GM executive director, global electrical systems. “In turn, we commit to deliver the highest standards for value, safety, quality, performance and reliability to our customers.”

When the battery energy is depleted, the Volt seamlessly transitions to extended-range mode. Power is inverted from a technically advanced, 1.4L 63-kW (84-hp) gasoline-powered onboard engine to the electric drive unit to provide up to 310 additional miles of range.

The Volt proves electric driving can be spirited. Not only does the Volt reach a top speed of 100 mph, the electric drive unit’s excellent low speed torque of 273 lb.-ft. (368 Nm) takes it from 0 to 60 mph in less than 9.0 seconds and the quarter mile in less than 17.0 seconds.

Charging the Volt’s battery is simple and intuitive, and can be done through 120V conventional household electrical outlets, or through a dedicated 240V charging station. The vehicle is completely rechargeable in about four hours using a 240V outlet and 10 to 12 hours in a 120V outlet. Once the vehicle is plugged in, owners can schedule either immediate or delayed charges, even coordinating charging according to departure time or when electricity rates are lower. Owners also can manage and monitor the Volt remotely via computer on MyVolt.com; or an exclusive smart phone application, Chevrolet Mobile App powered by OnStar MyLink.

The Volt is designed and refined to impress

The Chevrolet Volt’s bold, sleek, performance-oriented stance conveys its electrically driven capabilities, and looks like an upscale, midsize sport sedan. This is made possible by its wide front and rear tracks (61.2 / 62.1 inches [1556 / 1578 mm]), 105.7-inch (2685 mm) wheelbase, wheels-out stance, sculpted belt line and premium execution.

“The Volt is a revolutionary car, and we wanted the design to make as sleek and dynamic a statement as possible,” said Bob Boniface, director of design. “When you look at this car, it’s very technical and refined in its execution, with lots of interrelating surfaces that bring clean, crisp edges and creases.”

Working closely with aerodynamicists in GM’s own wind tunnel to shape the Volt, design and engineering teams developed the most aerodynamic vehicle in Chevrolet’s history. By reducing the energy needed to overcome air resistance, Volt aerodynamicists contributed an estimated eight miles of electric range, and 50 miles of extended range.

The Volt’s rounded and flush front fascia, tapered corners and grille enable air to move easily around the car to reduce drag. In the rear, sharp edges and a carefully designed spoiler control air flow. An aggressive rake on the windshield and back glass also helps reduce turbulence and drag.

Inside and out, element-to-element gap and flush relationships are as good or better than any in the segment. Even the underhood compartment is not overlooked: All components are held to a high standard of appearance that harmonizes with the rest of the car, using similarly grained surfaces and colors.

The distinctive, gloss black rear liftgate appliqué carries the Chevrolet bowtie and one of two Volt insignias; the other is found on the forward quarter panel. Six exterior colors are offered on the Volt, including Viridian Joule Tricoat, the winning name chosen in a national contest held last year. The others are Silver Ice Metallic, Black and Cyber Gray Metallic, Crystal Red Metallic Tintcoat and White Diamond Tricoat.

Inside, the Volt offers the space, comfort, convenience and safety features that customers expect in a premium five-door sedan – including storage compartments and 40/40 rear-folding seats. It also delivers them in a variety of interior color, lighting and trim options unlike any offered before on a Chevrolet sedan, but with Chevrolet’s signature dual cockpit design.

Two, seven-inch, high-resolution full-color screens are featured: One is a reconfigurable graphic cluster display and the other, in the center stack, features a touch screen display, touch-control switches and integrated shifter.

The graphics in the instrument panel and door inserts are repeated in the premium cloth or available leather-appointed seats. Bright silver appointments appear around the door switches, center cup holders, door pulls, centerstack switches and climate control outlets. Standard infotainment features include:

Navigation radio with 60-GB (30 GB for music storage) hard disc drive, AM/FM/DVD-Rom/MP3 playback capability, voice recognition, Radio Data System, Bluetooth and pause-and-play radio functions
XM Satellite Radio with XM NavTraffic/Weather, one of the industry’s most advanced, real-time information systems
Premium, energy-saving Bose audio system with six speakers and subwoofer
Five years of OnStar Directions and Connections service.
In addition to enhancing safety and solidity, the Volt’s stiff structure accommodates features that help to isolate engine and wind noise for a whisper-quiet cabin.

The Volt features excellent driving dynamics

Great driving dynamics begin with a solid body-frame-integral structure that enables optimal tuning and provides drivers with an enhanced sense of stability, solidity and confident road manners.

The Volt’s MacPherson strut-type suspension, sophisticated compound crank rear axle and quick-reacting, rack-mounted electric power steering system with ZF steering gear – a feature commonly found on premium sport sedans – have been tuned to deliver a smooth, refined ride with responsive handling and solid, on-center feel. A low center of gravity combines with the wider track and long wheelbase for balanced performance, and front and rear hydraulic ride bushings, another premium addition, help eliminate road harshness.

The electro-hydraulic regenerative brake system captures energy up to 0.2g for transfer back to the battery. The friction braking system features large rotors with a special finishing process that protects against corrosion and promotes longer life.

The Volt rides on lightweight aluminum wheels that weigh only 17.8 pounds (8.1 kg) each, compared to 24.2 pounds (11 kg) for typical 17-inch wheels. They’re wrapped in Goodyear Fuel Max all-season, low-rolling resistance tires optimized for electric vehicle range, noise, feel and performance.

The Volt features Chevrolet’s continuous safety

Like all Chevrolet vehicles, the Volt helps protect occupants before, during and – thanks to OnStar – after a crash. Crash-avoidance features include standard anti-lock brakes with traction control, StabiliTrak electronic stability control and advanced, LED daytime running lamps that make the Volt more visible to other motorists and pedestrians.

Occupant protection continues with a strong structure, and the Chevrolet Volt’s body-frame-integral structure strategically blends advanced steels to help ensure crashworthiness and stiffness. Nearly 80 percent of the Volt’s overall structure consists either of high-strength, advanced high-strength or ultra high-strength steel. Active occupant protection features include eight standard air bags and safety belts with dual pretensioners to help reduce the risk of injury.

After a crash, the Chevrolet Volt offers the security of OnStar, which uses built-in vehicle sensors to automatically alert an OnStar advisor in certain types of collisions. The advisor is immediately connected to the vehicle and can request that emergency help be sent to its location.

Because the Volt operates so quietly in all-electric mode, a driver-activated feature sounds a noise to alert pedestrians, particularly those with visual impairments, in an intersection. The alert was developed in conjunction with the American Federation of the Blind.

The Volt connects with owners 24/7

There is much more technology inside the Volt than its electric propulsion system. Intuitive features such as high-resolution displays, connectivity and the ability to monitor and control vehicle functions remotely redefine how owners interface with their vehicles.

Key technologies include:

Touch-control switch system on the center console
High-resolution, seven-inch, full-color LCD reconfigurable Driver Information Center display. The display shows electric-only range, fuel economy, , extended-range, trip information, tire pressure information and other key vehicle messages.
High-resolution, seven-inch, full-color, center stack-mounted touch screen display that serves as the interface for infotainment and cabin climate controls. An Efficiency (Leaf) switch accesses energy usage, power flow and charging screens – all easy to use and understand.
Charge modes are customizable according to need and electricity rates for efficient programming and lower costs.
A key fob that allows drivers to remotely start the vehicle and precondition the cabin based on outside temperatures
An exclusive mobile app, powered by OnStar MyLink, that enables owners to engage with the Volt functions using a smart phone.
Volt warranties bring value and peace of mind

Volt owners receive outstanding battery and vehicle limited warranty coverage. In addition to the eight-year/100,000-mile limited warranty on the Volt’s 16-kWh lithium-ion battery, Chevrolet will provide:

Three-year/36,000-mile bumper-to-bumper coverage
Five-year/100,000-mile roadside assistance and courtesy transportation
Five-year/100,000-mile limited gas engine coverage
Six-year/100,000-mile corrosion protection coverage.


Volt Goes Cross-Country To Show Why It’s A True Paradigm Shift

September 30, 2010

GM announced today that a team of new Chevy Volts will go cross country to show the benefits of its plug-in hybrid. Actually, it is more of an exhibit why the Leaf and other battery-only vehicles are nothing more than toys requiring owners to have another car in the garage.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again — the days of Prius rule for mileage-minded folks is over. More importantly, the era of gasoline (or diesel)-only travel is winding down. As Bob Lutz told me two years ago: “all of our front-wheel-drive cars will be standardized on Volt technology.”

The game changer is real — and going across America to prove it. Here’s the full release:

Power to the People – Chevrolet Unplugs Volt and Hits the Road
Cross-country drive brings the Chevrolet Volt directly to consumers
2010-09-29

DETROIT — A caravan of Chevrolet Volts will embark on a 3,400-mile, cross-country drive showcasing how easy it will be to live with the world’s first electric vehicle with extended-range capability.

The tour, dubbed “Volt Unplugged,” will give consumers an opportunity to test-drive the Volt, meet the people behind the development of the vehicles – Chevrolet engineers, designers and others – and participate in activities at each stop.

“The Volt Unplugged tour will give people a chance to get behind the wheel of the Volt and find out for themselves what makes this vehicle so special,” said Tony DiSalle, Chevrolet Volt product and marketing director. “This drive will demonstrate the one-of-a-kind capabilities of the Volt, the only electric vehicle able to drive such long distances under a variety of driving conditions and climates without having to stop to recharge.”

The tour is similar to July’s “Freedom Drive,” where the Volt completed a three-day 1,776-mile drive from Austin, Texas to New York City to demonstrate the Volt’s extended-range capability. Stops on the Volt Unplugged tour include:

Oct. 9 and 10 – Seattle
Oct. 13 and 14 – San Francisco
Oct. 16 – 18 – Los Angeles
Oct. 20 – San Diego
Oct. 22 and 23 – San Antonio
Oct. 24 and 25 – Houston
Oct. 28 and 29 – Miami
Oct. 30 – Orlando
Oct. 29 and 30 – Washington, D.C.
Nov. 1 – Raleigh, N.C.
Nov. 5 – 7 – New York City
Nov. 18 – 20 – Chicago
Along the drive, Chevrolet representatives will reach out to local community leaders, schools and consumers to educate each group about the one-of-a-kind characteristics of the Volt and discuss the progress of the nation’s electrical infrastructure. There will also be many opportunities to sit in and/or drive one of six Volts that will be on tour.

Marriott International and its Courtyard, Fairfield Inn & Suites, Residence Inn, SpringHill Suites and TownePlaces Suites hotels will serve as the hotel supplier of the Volt Unplugged Tour. Marriott has a long-standing commitment to protecting the environment, building greener hotels, minimizing energy and water use, reducing impacts along its supply chain and investing in conservation projects worldwide. For customers looking to travel in style with a lighter footprint, the Volt and Marriott offer a great solution.

Fans can follow the Volt’s journey and register for test-drive opportunities on the “Unplugged” tab located at ChevroletVoltAge.com, the Volt’s official social network or on the Chevrolet Volt Facebook page. Participants in the tour will share updates using the Volt’s many online platforms including the @ChevyVolt Twitter account, the Chevrolet Posterous page and the Chevrolet Volt Foursquare account. These platforms will feature photos, videos and text updates to keep consumers updated on the tour.

On a fully charged battery and tank of gas, the Volt has a driving range of hundreds of miles. Because the Volt can use gasoline to create its own electricity in extended-range mode, long trips are possible. The Volt is powered only from electricity stored in its 16-kWh lithium-ion battery for a typical range of 25 to 50 miles depending on terrain, driving technique, temperature and battery age. When the Volt’s battery runs low, a gas engine-generator seamlessly engages to extend the driving range

The Chevrolet Volt starts production at GM’s Detroit-Hamtramck facility this fall and will be sold in California, Texas, New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Michigan and Washington D.C. Quantities will be limited. The Volt will be sold nationwide about 12-18 months after start of production.

The Volt’s Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price is $41,000 ($33,500 net of the full federal tax credit, which ranges from $0-$7,500) including a destination freight charge of $720. GM expects to offer qualified lessees a price as low as $350/month with $2,500 down at lease signing, including security deposit based on current conditions, which could vary at time of delivery. The benefit of the $7,500 tax credit is included in the reduced lease payment, with the tax credit going to the lessor. The lease term is 36 months with 12,000 miles per year.


Chevrolet Announces Volt Production And Market Availability Plan

July 1, 2010

Chevrolet announced today its long-awaited plan indicating when, where and how many Volt plug-in hybrids will be initially sold. Seeing that the Volt is the first true paradigm shift in automobiles since the electric self-starter, this is very important news to automobile enthusiasts and near-term car consumers alike.

Chevrolet Volt Marketing Director Tony DiSalle confirmed the company plans to produce 10,000 Volts by the end of the 2011 calendar year, and an additional 30,000 Volts during the 2012 calendar year. The first Volts available for retail sales will be sold in California, Washington, D.C., Austin, Texas and the New York City metropolitan area later this year. During the first quarter of 2011, Volts should be available in Michigan, New Jersey, Connecticut, as well as the balance of Texas and New York.

Those living in other markets will either have to wait for second-year production or buy from out of state. 50-state delivery is expected by 18 months from initial dealership deliveries. These dealerships will be required to complete specialized sales and service training, and install 240-volt charging stations.

With oil still spilling in the Gulf of Mexico, the Volt (and its projected 200-plus MPG EPA rating) is the perfect car for the times. Although some might consider the limited production and availability of the Volt a problem, it gives the national electrical grid and city planners time to ramp-up charging capabilities — for if GM dumped as many Volts on the market in 2011 as Ford did Mustangs in the 1965 model year, California powerplants would have more brownouts than the outhouses at Woodstock.


Auto Manufacturers Show It’s Not Business As Usual At Le Mans.

June 15, 2010

Conventional wisdom has always been that racing at Le Mans represents a real-world R+D test bed for the automotive industry. Given the 24-hour format, what works there is supposed to eventually make it down to real production cars us mere mortals can buy.

Last weekend’s annual running of the Rolex 24-Hours of Le Mans reminds that what goes down on Circuit de la Sarthe, though, isn’t always in lock-step with the competing auto manufacturers’ Main Street realities. In actuality, how the manufacturers perform often are in contrast to their day-to-day image.

Case and point is Peugeot. On the French road course its Le Mans Prototypes were the fastest cars in the world, period. Peugeots set the fastest qualifying times, not to mention the fastest race laps twenty-some hours into the competition. This all seems unfathomable given that with the exception of the custom-designed vehicles made for the corporation’s other big racing program, the World Rally Championship, the rest of its cars are by-and-large just everyday econoboxes.

So why didn’t a Peugeot win? One crashed, while a design flaw caused the engines in the remaining cars to break. The last team car died in the 22nd hour of the race while reeling-in the leading Audi.

Speaking of Audi, what its cars lost in raw speed to Peugeot, they made up with insane reliability and fuel economy. Interestingly, this is the same company that for years has scored very low in Initial Quality and Vehicle Dependability studies. In the latest JD Power surveys, Audi rated just two out of five stars on Vehicle Powertrain Quality. As for the fuel economy, even with its popular diesel models (with the marketing power of its podium-sweeping TDI racers), Audi’s American-market fleet averages only 18 mpg and 24.7 mpg highway…or roughly the same as my 2002 Corvette.

Which brings us to those Bowtie Boys from the General Motor’s sports car program. This year two ZR1 Corvettes participated at Le Mans. The first car broke a piston early on. The second car was forced off the road and into the wall by the hard-charging second-place Peugeot in the 18th hour. The never-say-die service mechanics replaced just about everything on the rear (suspension, dry sump oil reservoir, rear wing) of the car in under 30 minutes. Unfortunately, the amazing repair work was for naught, as the car retired just a few laps after returning to the race with a broken piston just like its sister car.

So let’s get this straight — Chevrolet, the company recognized world-wide for bulletproof engines and crappy dealer service every other day of the year exhibits the dead opposite at Le Mans?

Maybe Le Mans simply needs to be recognized in the future for what it is: the automotive manufacturers’ version of Halloween. It might not be the other 364-day-reality for the auto makers, but on this day they can come however they want.


GM Melts Down Again On Windshield Washer Fluid Heaters And The Resulting Recalls

June 8, 2010

Today GM issued a second recall for the heated windshield washer fluid system found in Cadillacs and Buicks. In a small number of cases the system was causing fire.

While it is a small feature, it has been one of those little things that made a good luxury car stand above its peers and build model loyalty. Being able to melt away ice is an extremely nice touch…assuming it doesn’t burn your vehicle to the ground.

Yet when it seems that GM is finally pulling its head out of its collective ass, it goes and falls back into old habits. When the system was first recalled for fire dangers two years ago, dealers installed fuses to cut power in the event of a short. Turns out that this was a knee-jerk bandage that nobody had tested fully for efficacy. (This is what I now refer to as a “floor mat fix” for Toyota’s stupid assumption that tossing floor mats into the trunk would solve unintended acceleration problems.)

So now that the fire risk is still there, GM is simply disabling the feature “under warranty” and paying people $100 for the inconvenience. This is so typical of GM and Ford — if something doesn’t work and it might cost time and money to fix, simply take the most immediate and short-term cost-effective path. When Ford recalled Expeditions for faulty cruise controls, the fix was to disable them. After years of listening to thousands of fifth-generation Corvette owners complain about faulty column locks not releasing steering wheels, GM didn’t fix the steering lock, rather they updated the fuel management system to ensure that nobody could actually drive when the column lock jammed. Now many of these Corvette and Expedition owners are former GM and Ford clients.

As for the $100 rebate, one has to wonder if this is less than the price paid by buyers of cars with the feature…and before people start writing in about it being “standard equipment”, the price of all features are simply built into the price — usually with a nice markup.

If GM wants to be treated like a big-boy company again, it needs to stop making childish mistakes. BMW, Audi and Mercedes wouldn’t disable any feature with which it found problems, much less one considered a competitive advantage, so why would GM? Instead of wasting money paying $100 to each owner (although I understand that given the mediocrity of some of the so-equipped models that the number of owners is relatively small), cancel the country club weekend, have the executive assistants hold all calls, and actually FIX THE FREAKING PROBLEM. After that, spend the next week testing it until everyone is dead-ass certain the issue is gone for good.

At the end of the day, if GM is to revolutionize the world with the Volt plug-in hybrid technology (which is slated to eventually power every front-wheel-drive car GM produces,) it needs all the consumer confidence it can get. How can buyers trust a car running on troublesome and fire-prone lithium ion batteries at high voltage if it comes from a company which is either incapable or unwilling to make high school techonolgy-level hot water bottle heater circuits work safely?