Has there been any other vehicle in automotive history so maligned by those who don't know or understand it, yet so loved by those who do? Critics typically see the Chevy Volt as an electric car with a pitiful 38-mile range (as if the range-extending engine/generator weren't there), while media testers give it rave reviews and owners offer industry-best customer satisfaction scores.
It was lucky for me that GM's recent media forum on its electrification efforts was in San Francisco, since I would already be there for the press launch for the Ford C-Max Energi plug-in hybrid. And GM promised a session with its new global product guru, Mary Barra, and a brief drive of a prototype 2014 Chevy Spark EV.
"Come on, Gary. You talked to GM and never asked my question? ...Won't you please ask [automakers] why they don't have a significantly improved, simple, gas-powered 58-mpg runabout for the early 21st century American market (considering they've had 22 years, technology has advanced, etc.)?" – TxPatriot.
In response to my last column on this subject – Future Fuel Economy Mandates, Part I: 54.5 mpg is going to be hard to reach – commenter TxPatriot wondered why (non-hybrid) modern cars can't deliver the 53-58-mpg fuel economy he says his 1989 Geo Metro does. "I've yet to receive a satisfactory answer to this question," he wrote.
There's no end to people's emotions surrounding GM's Chevy Volt. Those with hate-GM and/or hate-Obama agendas are duty-bound to rage against it because they resent the bailout and see the Volt as a direct result of that money (even though it's not). Those who can love only "pure" battery electric vehicles must disapprove because it burns some fossil fuel on days when it runs out of battery juice.
I recently visited "Maximum Bob" Lutz at his home to interview him for the summer issue of the quarterly Motor Trend Classic and found the 79-year-old energetic and outspoken as ever six months beyond retirement from General Motors. We talked mostly product stories from his long auto career, which began at GM Overseas Operations in 1963 and progressed through ever-higher responsibilities at BMW, Ford and Chrysler, then back to GM ten years ago. But we touched on other interesting topics, too, in
Robert "Bob" Stempel, semi-retired at an energetic 78, is one of the good guys. Armed with a mechanical engineering degree from Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts, he joined General Motor's Oldsmobile Division in 1958 as a chassis detailer and 29 years later was GM president and chief operating officer under then-CEO Roger Smith.
Following my session with General Motors North America President Mark Reuss at Detroit's January North American International Auto Show (NAIAS), I caught up with two technology leaders playing key roles in GM's vehicle electrification process: Volt chief engineer Andrew Farah – a hard-working, no-BS positive thinker whom I knew and worked with on GM's 1990s EV program – and Micky Bly, who is executive director for electrical systems, hybrids, electric vehicles and batteries. The ques