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Playing Devil's Advocate, Part 2: The Chevy Volt

After taking a look at Tesla Motors and their lithium-ion battery powered Roadster with a rather "critical eye", I decided we should take a look at General Motors and their Volt. On the surface, there doesn't appear to be a great deal in common between the Volt and the Tesla Roadster; do any of the concerns we discussed regarding Tesla Motors carry over to the General? Well, yes and no. There are certainly concerns, but the only one which carries over directly relates to the batteries. This just happens to be a very big issue, perhaps the largest of them all. If you have spent any amount of time perusing the comments that we get whenever we mention the batteries being the biggest issue with the Volt, you know that some agree and many don't agree with that sentiment. With vehicles such as GM's own EV1 already proving to some extent that electric vehicles can be viable for certain consumers, where does GM come from in telling us that they can't make the Volt yet? We'll discuss that issue here, and a few others. So, strap in and read why Chevy might not succeed with their Volt.

Continue reading after the break.

The batteries... yes, that is a big problem, if you believe what General Motors has to say. I am not saying that I don't believe them. But, here's the rub. Whether you believe them or not, it still may be bad news. Think of it this way: If GM is right, then a major, perhaps THE major component, for the Volt is not yet ready. How, then, can they say they plan to produce it, possibly as early as 2010? Or, if you think that the battery issue is all smoke and mirrors, then you must think that GM is playing around with their consumers, and might be using the batteries as nothing more than an excuse. Either way, that leads to serious questions as to whether the vehicle will ever reach dealers lots and, ultimately, consumers hands.

Is there anything else to worry about? Of course! GM has already stated that they plan to use different sources of power as their "range extender". Be it a standard internal combustion engine, using ethanol or gasoline, a diesel engine or a hydrogen fuel cell, that range extender will be adding a significant cost to the vehicle. There is no way around this fact, there are two power-plants in the design of the Chevy Volt. With American automakers already struggling to make a decent profit, how does GM expect to compete in the midsize vehicle class with a car that comes with a built-in disadvantage of costing more to build? Will they pass that cost onto the consumer, or will they end up selling them at a loss? Perhaps the price of the batteries, motor and associated electronics drops to the point that the end-cost is close to what consumers want to pay for the vehicle. That sounds to me like a big "if"; how about you? Additionally, the cost of the vehicle itself might be too high if they need to use exotic materials in its construction.

Will GM be around long enough, and have enough cash on hand to continue producing the Volt, even if it loses money in the process? Some have suggested that whatever amount of money GM needs to spend to get the Volt ready for the road is money well spent, because it will greatly bolster their green credentials. Is that true? Perhaps, but let's take a closer look at that before agreeing. GM took a pretty big leap already with their aforementioned EV1. They built a completely new platform, using materials which cost them more than other vehicles the EV1's size. Much of the vehicle was built using aluminum, and every part was scrutinized to ensure light weight and safety needs were met. Let's just assume that they did not sell them at a profit, alright? I think that is pretty fair to assume. So, GM made an electric vehicle and put them in consumers hands already. They certainly made lots of news headlines when they did it too. Everybody knows about the GM EV1 by now, right? Sounds like good press in the making! Hold on a minute, not so fast! GM got quite the black eye at the end of the EV1 story, by not re-leasing them after a couple of lease cycles took place. This has sullied the reputation of the automaker in the minds of green car enthusiasts. Why did they refuse to sell them off, or re-lease them back out to the public? There are many possible reasons, some of which involve "big oil" playing a part. A different scenario is that they were getting old. GM did not have any desire to keep losing money on them. They were expensive to build and were expensive to maintain. No matter what the real reason, GM chose to crush them instead of gaining traction in the green world of alternative transportation choices. Does that tell you that GM probably is not going to invest a ton of money into another money-losing proposition with the Volt? Perhaps. Will they choose again to only lease the vehicles? Perhaps. Will they do much like they did with the EV1 and take them back after some time on the market? Again, perhaps they will. We do not know what they will do, or if they will even bring them to market at all. We do know, though, that making a "green" car such as the EV1 does not guarantee good publicity, and GM now knows that better than any other automaker.

Lastly, we strive to do the best job that we can to bring you all the latest news in the automotive sector that can be considered green. We usually don't need to dig that deep to find it, either. There are many companies like Tesla and Phoenix Motorcars that are hoping to enter the same market as GM may with the Volt. The more choices out there, the better chance that GM will not want to enter the market without knowing that profits will be a "sure thing". How many will they need to sell to present a strong business case? If Tesla succeeds in bringing their "Whitestar" vehicle to market, and follows that up with an even cheaper electric car; and if Phoenix succeeds in selling their all electric SUT and SUV; and Toyota continues to refine their Prius with lithium ion batteries; and Honda revives their hybrid-only model with the return of the Insight or another model... Get the point? There are others too. How many sales will there be for GM with the Volt? Remember too that they have also publicly said they plan on selling a fuel cell car by 2010 as well.

Did you read that whole thing? Kudos to you if you did! If you did take the time to read it, why not take one more minute and comment. What do you think? Will GM release the Volt or not? If they do, will you buy one, or will you wait and see how the rest of the market shakes out?

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