Saturday, July 31, 2010

my opinion about the chevy volt: retort

a friend asked me for my opinion regarding an article in the new york times - an opinion piece about the chevy volt from edward niedermeyer, who edits the truth about cars website. everyone is entitled to their opinion, but i'll make one initial statement... an opinion is subjective, the truth is not.

disclaimer: i was initially writing this in an email and hence used capitalization, but decided to post it as a blog instead...

1. Edward Niedermeyer seems to be like most of America these days and seemingly has no clue of what running a business means. Should GM give everyone in America a free Volt? Or should they subsidize it the way that the US gov't subsidizes corn? This whole cost issue makes me crazy - people "want" these green technologies, but they cost $$$$. So where is the responsibility of the consumer and that of industry? In this particular case, GM is providing an extended range electric vehicle, the first of its kind in this country, and it has a price tag of $41K. I pay more for a mac than a PC because I like it, though many will argue that the cost is not "worth it" - should apple subsidize their macbooks so that American's can have their pick of PC or mac without a hit to their pocketbook? This is called consumerism, people. Buy what you want to buy, and don't buy the things that aren't worth it to you, or are outside of your budget allowance.a pic of the chevy volt (this is the production design), borrowed from the web.

2. Comparing the business model of the Prius to the Volt is silly. The Prius is a hybrid, the Volt is an EREV. I imagine that the business model for GM's hybrids MIGHT be similar to the Prius. But the Volt is a beast of it's own. Consider the cost of the Testla Roadster - it's full of laptop batteries and it's only a 2-seater and costs around $100K, and somehow that's OK. But America somehow expects GM to give the Volt away? Why? The Volt comprises a gas engine, a custom electric powertrain, and state-of-the-art built-for-vehicle lithium batteries that are brand new... all of that equals expensive!! Now consider the cost of the physical facilities, operations, and personnel to develop this beast of a new vehicle in a ridiculously short time.

3. I think the knock on the lease is rather silly simply because a 12K mile lease per year is standard in the US. GM didn't create this especially for the Volt, they are offering it to make the vehicle within reach to more consumers, which is what Edward Niedermeyer apparently wants, and yet he's bashing it.

4. How do we know that the $41K sticker price makes the Volt profitable? I'm not particularly certain that this is the case. Edward Niedermeyer said that the first generation Prius had a true cost of $32,000... that was 13 years ago with nickel metal batteries, and a significantly smaller battery pack compared to the Volt. Regulatory restrictions were much less stringent at that time as well (OBD and the like, meaning sensors, controllers, and development). And what about inflation? So, a simple thought experiment comparing the Prius of 13 years ago to the Volt of today leads me to believe that the Volt costs more than $41K to build in 2010.

5. I don't subscribe to notion that one car can save any one company, period. And even if the Volt WERE the savior child of GM, selling it at a loss doesn't exactly pay the bills. The whole notion is simply nonsensical.

6. The Nissan Leaf and the Chevy Volt are not truly comparable. Yes, everyone compares them to one another, but the Leaf is a 100% electric car. It's great for people who put around a city and have a predictable drive, and a second car for trips or deviations from the normal route. But you can't take a Leaf across country given the existing state of battery technology and the lack of a battery charging infrastructure. The Volt, however, allows one to use the vehicle as an electric vehicle for rather short commutes, but provides a gas engine that will convert gasoline into electricity so that you CAN go across country. You don't have to worry about plugging in. But of course, you CAN plug in and monopolize on reducing your gasoline consumption as much as possible. Leaf does not = Volt, and Volt does not = Leaf.

7. As for the Volt design and space within the vehicle.... I agree that it's disappointing that the design didn't stay true to the concept. GM has stated that it's due to aero. I don't know much about it. While I agree with Mr. Niedermeyer here, I can say that it hasn't inhibited enthusiasts from raving about the Volt - so it's about the potential Volt customer, not my nor Niedermeyer's opinion. As for the Volt being only a 4 passenger vehicle, I think this was always known - it shouldn't come as a surprise. To my knowledge, GM had always planned to package the battery as a T-shaped pack, beneath the vehicle, that would run through the tunnel of the car, eliminating the middle rear seat. I agree that this may be a deal breaker for some, but the Volt is really marketed as a commuter car, and most commuting takes place with one person in a vehicle. With that said, however, the Volt can take you across the country and back (thanks to the 1.4L gasoline engine), and in those cases your road trips will limit you to inviting only 3 pals instead of 4. that's a pic of the concept car, borrowed from the web

8. As for Edward Niedermeyer's sentiment that the only reason to buy a Volt is to make the bailout work is... ignorant, ridiculous, and telling of his lack of consumer perspective. People buy luxury SUV's that get < 20mpg, for hefty sticker prices in excess of $65K. Plenty of vehicles in today's US market cost in excess of $40K (think Audi, Mercedes, Cadillac, BMW, trucks, SUV's, etc.). Some greenies, techies and even regular consumers who are sick of increasing fuel prices will be willing to shell out the $41K for something new, cool and fun to drive, that provides the opportunity to avoid using gasoline during daily commutes. Need I remind Edward Niedermeyer that this is not a high-volume vehicle that GM is aiming to sell to every man, woman and child in the US. It's a relatively low volume vehicle aimed at satisfying a niche market. And given my interaction with the public surrounding the Volt, I think that GM is succeeding in that mission. Sales will paint the final picture, of course, so we'll find out once Volts begin rolling off of the production line at the end of this year.


sherrie said...

Great response, Mel. I agree with you. The only decent point he makes is on design and it's true -- we would have loved to keep it, but it wasn't very efficient.

Anonymous said...

You have to ask yourself how in the world a publication such as the New York Times - which supposedly holds itself to high standards - would publish any ramblings from a person so biased as Neidermeyer. It's not as if Neidermeyer's site published over 250 "GM Death Watch" posts over the past three years (which they have), or that he based his opinion that the hopes of GM and the taxpayers are pinned to a "$41,000 car with the performance and interior space of a $15,000" - even though he's never driven the vehicle (to determine its performance) and that "interior space" has never before been positioned as a vehicles overall measure of goodness (for heaven's sake, that would mean the Tesla Roadster would be the worst value in the world.).

Neidermeyer is an idiot - I can accept that, but the New York Times claims to know better. They have a lot to prove to me in this regard.


Pawl Bearing said...

Great post.

melly mel said...

Thanks, Pawl - I liked yours as well :)

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Anonymous said...

I love the Volt - don't own one yet but plan to really soon! Love your comments and agree - the Volt is a really great thing for GM and the USA!