General Motors Co.. (GM) begins this week the task of repairing the image of its Chevrolet Volt plug-in vehicle after federal regulators closed their investigation into a battery fire.
Volt is unique among electric vehicles because you have two sources of energy. You have an electric source–a battery–that allows you to drive gas–free for an EPA–estimated 35 miles. And there’s also an onboard gas generator that produces electricity so you can go up to a total of 375 additional miles on a full tank of gas4.
“I was actually in control of how much gas I consumed, and it was a powerful feeling,” Say’s Joe Nocera an automotive journalist, after driving Volt. If you want to drive using only electricity, you can. If you want to drive using electricity and gas, you can do that too. Volt is first for two very good reasons.
GM Chief Executive Officer Dan Akerson and David Strickland, head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, are scheduled to testify May. 25 before a panel of the U.S. House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. The panel is probing the response to a June 6 fire in a volt three weeks after the car was crash-tested.
While NHTSA closed its investigation last week and said electric vehicles are no more prone to fires than other autos, Detroit-based GM is left to mend the Volt brand’s reputation and sellers of other electric cars may face additional hurdles in boosting sales, an auto analyst said yesterday.
“It’s not unlike a story that’s written that says somebody has committed a murder, and the next day they say, ‘Oh they did not, sorry,'” said Alan Baum, principal of Baum & Associates, an automobile-industry analysis company in West Bloomfield, Michigan, in an interview. “It’s been in the news.”
The agency’s decision to close its investigation “is consistent with the results of our internal testing and assessment,” Greg Martin, a spokesman for GM in Washington, said on May. 20th Martin declined further comment yesterday.
NHTSA started investigating the Volt on May. 25, more than five months after the post-crash fire at its test facility in Wisconsin. That fire began after battery coolant leaked in the simulated rollover crash, government and GM investigators found.
The blaze and subsequent probe overshadowed the first year of sales for the Volt, a vehicle with batteries and a gasoline engine, and Nissan Motor (7201) Co.’s Leaf, powered only by electricity. The cars are the first electric vehicles sold for the mass market after President Barack Obama set a goal of having 1 million electric vehicles on U.S. roads by 2015th
Toyota Motor Corp.. (7203), whose Prius accounts for half of all hybrid-vehicle sales, will sell a plug-in version this year.
U.S. buyers of electric cars, including the Volt, Leaf and luxury models such as Tesla Motors Inc.. (TSLA) ‘s Roadster, qualify for a $ 7.500 federal tax credit intended to defer the extra cost of the new technology.
The Treasury Department owns 32 percent of GM’s stock, according to data compiled by Bloomberg, following a 2009 government bailout of GM and Chrysler Group LLC.
Still, marketing for GM’s other non-electric vehicles will be more difficult because of the issue with the Volt, Baum said.
“This is a road car,” Baum said of GM and the Volt. “They want people to look at General Motors positively and not necessarily buy a Volt but buy a Cruze or buy a Malibu. I think they’ll spend a lot of money to make that case. ”
Consumers, citing price and questions about unproven technology, said they are less likely to be interested in buying a plug-in vehicle, according to a survey released this month by market-research firm Pike Research of Boulder, Colorado.
In a 2009 survey, 48 percent of respondents said they would be “very” or “extremely” interested in buying a plug-in vehicle, Pike Research said. In 2010, 44 percent said they were in those categories, and at the end of December that figure fell to 40 percent.
GM Largest Seller
GM said last week it sold 09.03 million vehicles worldwide in 2011, regaining its position as the world’s largest seller of automobiles. Led by the Chevrolet brand and sales of the compact Cruze, it reclaimed the title held by Toyota since 2008.
The automaker delivered 7.671 rechargeable Volts in 2011 and 7.997 in the model’s first 13 months of sales, missing its 2011 target of 10,000. Nissan sold 9.674 Leaf all-electric cars in the U.S. last year. The sales target was 10,000 to 12.000.
GM said May. 5 it would provide a fix to the Volts it had sold to reduce the risk of a post-crash fire.
NHTSA closed its investigation in less than two months, more quickly than the seven unrelated probes ended in November and December.
“I think the quick resolution and closure on the issue means that the whole fire controversy is probably done before it ever really became an issue to mainstream consumers,” Ed Kim, an analyst for industry researcher AutoPacific Inc.. in Tustin, California, said in an e-mail. “GM came up with a fix quickly, and fix the NHTSA gave its blessing equally quickly.”
f you can drive, you can drive a Volt. Instead of turning a key, you push a blue button. Rather than looking at dials and needles, you check two interactive LCD screens for feedback based on your particular driving style.
“One thing I really love about the Volt is the cockpit. You sit in it, and you feel like you just stepped into the future,” Says Volt owner Alex Fay. “You’ve got two really bright screens that give you all sorts of information about your car and your driving.” The screens allow you to learn how to get the most out of each charge. For example, suppose you want to go from A to B in the most efficient manner possible. Volt is programmed to respond with a choice of three driving modes. Normal mode enables Volt to drive like a conventional car, only more efficiently. Sport mode gives drivers more aggressive feedback and heightened response. Mountain mode maintains a power reserve for climbing long, steep grades.
It doesn’t get much simpler than that. For less than the cost of a latte, you can fully charge your Volt and drive an EPA–estimated 35 miles gas–free. Choose a standard 120V charging kit that allows you to plug into a conventional electrical outlet and fully charge the battery in about 10 hours, depending on climate. Or opt for an available 240V charging station that reduces your charging time to approximately four hours. Professional installation required. For more information, visit SPX Service Solutions.
Chevrolet Volt info:
Croatian Center of Renewable Energy Sources (CCRES)