During the Auto Show I had the opportunity to speak to Bob Boniface who led the exterior design team for the Chevy Volt concept about their design philosophy for this car and some of the technical challenges of the design.
ABG: Tell us a bit about what the philosophy was with the design of the Volt.
BB: Do you want the technological philosophy or the design philosophy? There's two different stories and they're both good. First the design story. You think of a lot of vehicles that would be a competitor for the Volt and I joked to Tony Posawatz, the VLD [vehicle line director] about this, and he gets tired of hearing me say it, those vehicle are typically like the sensible shoes. You know, you buy it because it's supposed to be good for you. I have a different philosophy. I think that people look at an automobile as a piece of fashion design. You wear your car. I mean that's what you're seen in, and they don't want to buy something where they have to make excuses or apologize for the way their car looks. So you can do something that's tough, it's fashionable, it's sporty and still be environmentally responsible and still get good fuel economy, and that's what the Volt's all about.
Continue reading Bob's discussion of the Volt exterior design after the jump.
ABG: Could you discuss dual belt line look a bit.
BB: Well you know, the belt, you know the area where the body column meets the glass, you know, one of the ways you make a car look tough is you get the shoulders up high. You know, you think of cars like the Audi TT, or the Chrysler 300 or a Hummer, something where the proportion of glass to body is pretty low – is what makes the car look tough. It's an old hot rod trick. The down side of that is that you normally can't see out of the car if you have a little gun turret side glass. So what we did is we kept the shoulder high, but we dropped the side glass down into the door so it still gives the appearance of having a high athletic shoulder but you can still see out of the car.
ABG: For the clear part of the outer door skin there, how did you do that? What kind of material were you using for that?
BB: Well the dropping glass and the windshield are actually glass pieces. But the roof, the trunk lid and the shoulder pieces, or the secondary pieces that you're talking about, are a lexan composite done by GE and they have a material called Exotec glazing. What it is, it's a couple of microns of glass actually bonded to the polycarbonate. And what that means is, you know, glass doesn't like to bend. You know you can press form it, you can drape form it, but it really isn't a very designer-friendly surface. However, with a polycarbonate like lexan, you can do a lot, you can injection mold, you can get any shape you want and then you can put this Exotec glazing on it and you get the scratch resistance and the gloss level of glass with a lightweight formable product.
ABG: That's a pretty complex curve that you've got there on that shoulder. I can see how that would be very difficult to do in glass. You'd get a lot of distortion after.
BB: Yeah, you'd get distortion but it would probably be impossible because you would have to bond it on. With this, they're able to injection mold all the gusseting and all the structure to mechanically fasten it to the door. It's all one piece. It's lightweight, it's strong, it's impact resistant, scratch resistant and you could never do it with glass.
ABG: So the glass coating's on the outside and that gives you the scratch resistance?
BB: That gives you the scratch resistance and the gloss level.
ABG: What about the rest of the body structure? What's the rest of the skin made out of and the structure underneath?
BB: Well GE did the hood, the fenders, the fascias and the bumper beams and I don't have the press release – I forget the technical terminology for what the parts are called. Hey, I'm a designer. But they did a lot of the panels on the car and it was all an effort to get mass out of the vehicle.
ABG: Well that's a fabulous looking car for what it's designed to do, as a sporty, commuter car and something that's still technologically advanced.
BB: You know, even though it's a commuter car, it can go pretty fast. Our initial feasibility studies looked at 0 to 60 in around 8 seconds and a top speed of 120 miles per hour, and that's with a 640 mile range. You can imagine a future where you say okay, maybe I don't want a 640 mile range, how fast can I go if I use that power and if you give me a 300 mile range? Well, I'd like to look at things like that. What's the hot rod version of this? You know, what would a tuner do with this kind of architecture? I mean it just opens up a whole Pandora's Box of what you can do.
ABG: That sound like fun. Thank you very much for your time Bob.