Every subject matter has it's own terminology and lingo and it's helpful to become familiar with it if you plan to discuss it. The auto industry is no exception. When developing a new car, automakers build vehicles for testing components called prototypes. These prototypes come in a variety of levels of completeness. Creating new components for testing takes different amounts of time depending on the component; body structures are among the longest to get a first cut that's usable. Mechanical components are typically among the first to be available. For that reason as soon as many of those component systems are ready, car-makers will start sticking them into existing vehicles for testing.

These earliest prototypes are referred to as mules and are typically, to varying degrees, recognizable as mutated versions of existing vehicles. The first proper bodies for the prototype Chevy Volts likely won't be ready until close to the end of 2008 at the earliest. Drive systems and batteries are just about ready now. So GM is taking a handful of the last 2007 Malibu body shells and cutting them up to weld in a proposed Volt floor-pan. Into this mash-up will go an electric motor, an engine generator set and some of the first battery packs from CPI and Continental. General Motors has promised us a drive in one of these mules sometime early in the spring of 2008 so that we can get very preliminary feel for how the new E-Flex system will operate. Later prototypes will actually look more like the production car and be based on a platform architecture shared with the next-generation compact cars like the Cobalt and Astra. We can't wait to sample a mule. Let's hope we don't get kicked.

[Source: Detroit News]

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