25 March 2007

How GM May Have Muffed Up An Easy Win.

Concept cars are always an interesting gamble for a manufacturer. Sometimes they're legitimate sneak peaks at future vehicles. Sometimes they're pie in the sky exterior design exercises covering humdrum mechanicals. Sometimes they're purely engineering exercises. And sometimes they portend a revolution.

At NAIAS in Detroit this year, GM portended a revolution. Somehow evading the embargo breakers, they unveiled a concept that actually caught a lot of people by surprise- the Chevrolet Volt. Not only did it have concept styling, but it had one hell of a futuristic premise- the kind that portends a revolution: a purely electric vehicle charged every so often by an internal combustion engine. Such a simple premise, and yet one that hadn't been broached by the industry yet.

Theoretically, a vehicle like the Volt would erase gasoline needs for anyone travelling less than 60 miles in day. Drive it less than that, and all you'd have to do is plug it in when you got home. Easy, quick, painless. Heck, drive it 100 miles, and you'd only be using the small and economical gas generator for 40 miles. 40 miles for 100 miles is a great tradeoff no?

The problem with all of this was that, well, GM didn't preview a revolution. Yet.

Rather, they previewed a possible revolution. If things went perfectly the way they wanted them to. If battery technology got to a certain capacity point. If the battery technology got cheaper. If the battery technology increased the amount of recharge cycles it could endure. That's a lot of ifs. It's an especially large amount of ifs when you realize that in the last 100 years or so, battery capacity and flexibility has only increased 8-fold, which is rather piddling considering we've been trying to extract more power from batteries for some time now.

Of course, GM did nothing to dissuade the positive press. And why would they? The Volt did evreything they could have imagined, and more. In one fell swoop, GM became the darling of NAIAS and a feel good old fashioned example of American ingenuity once again leading the world. And read carefully- that is EXACTLY what they wanted. The press, enamored with their story, buried the news about how this was not feasible at all unless a lot of ifs were satisfied in the middle of their stories. Headlines sprung forth that inferred that the Volt would be ready quickly. Again, GM did NOTHING to dissuade this. Bob Lutz even gave interviews saying that the battery technology was 90% there and that GM should have the vehicle by 2010.

But things seem to have hit a snag.

Instead of being forgotten and relegated to the dustbins of auto shows past, the Volt idea has lived on. It's a testament to how good of an idea it is really.

And now, after all the thunder and lightning, GM is trying to cool down expectations.

From the Detroit News:
The enormity of GM's challenge was evident last week when it called journalists to a backgrounder to explain the technological hurdles facing the Volt project -- and reiterate that it can't guarantee the futuristic car will ever hit the road.
Isn't that a pile of BS? Two months ago, they had no problems letting imaginations run wild. Now, they're backing up quickly. So if Toyota/Honda/InsertBrandHere comes to market with a plug-in hybrid before GM, they will have basically advertised the idea for free at NAIAS this year. And with rumours of the next gen Prius being a plug-in, this may very well be the case. And don't even try to imagine the backlash against GM if they don't get this thing to market at or close to 2010- after the EV1 debacle, they'll be crucified. And they will have done it all to themselves.

At the very least, this whole situation continues to exhibit just how much trouble GM really is in- with no united message, and the same old 'wait till next year' approach to both their vehicles AND now their concepts, has GM changed?


Mags said...

What is this 'GMI' you speak of?

For someone who thinks I don't 'get it', you've managed to post in just about every single one of the articles on this site.

Everybody needs a groupie I suppose.

Mags said...

Nice try Freud, but the blog is and will continue to do fine in terms of an audience- it was never meant to be a 'volume' site, but the way things are going in just the first week, it will be there quickly.

And now, since you refuse to reveal who you are, this will be the last time I give you the pleasure of my words.