Answering readers questions on the Volt

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The other day Sebastian put up a post wondering what questions you the readers would pose to GM about the Volt and here we have some answers. One reader wrote in explaining that he lives outside of Denver and commutes 66 miles round trip to work alone in a GMC Heavy Duty Diesel truck at highway speeds but would love something like the Volt for a commute vehicle.

Before responding to questions about the Volt itself it is necessary to respond to this situation. Why would anyone commute so far alone in a heavy duty truck, even a diesel and why wait for the Volt. There are plenty of far more efficient and practical vehicles on the market right now. If you need a truck like the Sierra for hauling or towing there's nothing wrong with that but as a commuter, especially going so far solo it's just silly. Go buy a Honda Fit, Toyota Yaris, Chevy Cobalt or Ford Focus. Even a larger car like a Saturn Aura or Ford Fusion would pay for itself in fuel savings pretty quickly.

Now, on to the questions after the jump
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1) The Volt looks like a 4-seater. Will they have an option for a two-seater with greater range (meaning swap the rear seats for more batteries)? How about a convertible to drop weight (and increase range)?

Yes, the Volt is a four-seater but switching to two seats and a larger battery would increase the range at significantly higher cost (the battery will already be by far the most expensive component in the car) and reduced utility. GM wants to sell lots of E-Flex vehicles and as the EV1 and Honda Insight already demonstrated, a two-seater of this type has limited appeal. As for a convertible, that would increase the weight and aerodynamic drag. Taking the top off a unit body car requires extra structure elsewhere. Compare the weight of any coupe and convertible and you will see the open top car is always at least 100-150+ pounds heavier.

2) Will they make this car reasonable in price and stay with their target price or are they going to pull an "SSR", meaning an initial advertised price at $25K, then $32, then finally sell it at $45 (like they did with the SSR)?

Unlike the SSR, the intent of the E-Flex design was always to create an affordable, high-volume electrically driven vehicle architecture. The SSR was never more than a small niche product. GM knows if they can't sell the Volt profitably for a price under about $30K, the whole project will never work.

3) I see some interesting three-wheeled "cars" coming in the same timeframe as the Volt - why would I pay more for the Volt for seats I'd almost never use, especially if the Volt can't go more than 40 miles on a charge?

The three-wheeled EVs like the Zap Xebra are configured that way because they are classed as motorcycles rather than cars. That means they don't have to meet any automotive safety requirements or crash tests. Crashing something like that into even a Smart ForTwo would not be pleasant for the occupants of the three-wheeler. As for the range, the Volt can keep going well past the forty mile mark thanks to the range extender. If each leg is less than forty miles you can plug-in and keep going on battery power.

4) Can they get the electric-only range up to 100 miles, in any temperature (120 to minus 20 F), at 75 mph?

Getting the battery range up to 100 miles would require a significantly larger battery at much higher cost and weight. The battery in the Tesla Roadster should have a range of 200 miles in a two seater and reportedly accounts for over $40,000 of the cost of the vehicle. Sacrifices have to be made. For the foreseeable future, no one will be getting 100+ miles of battery range, four seats and a sub $30,000 price tag and safety. As for temperature that's one of the robustness issues that GM and other car-makers are focusing on right now.

5) I'm a GM Guy - but there's nothing in their line-up I want. Are they going to be true to this concept or bias it (like they normally do) towards the masses (and profit) and water-down the concept?

Any production vehicle will invariably change from the concept design. We won't know for at least a couple more years what the production version will look like, although again GM has indicated it wants to carry over as much of the look of the concept to production as practical. GM is a mass market manufacturer and they need to make a profit to survive just like any other company.

Now on to questions from other readers

Q. Can people pre-order a Volt?

A. There are always dealers who are more than willing to take your money in exchange for a promise to provide an early slot for an as yet non-existent product. That is however no guarantee that you will ever get anything for your money. Put your deposit money in CD or some other savings for a while until we know more.

Q. Are you going to build it before Toyota does it?

A. All indications right now are that Toyota is lagging on LiIon development at the moment, but until anything is announced officially we won't know.

Q. I would like to know if the Volt could be used as an emergency standby generator/power supply for my home in case of an emergency, for power at my jobsite or while camping. I also want to know if Vehicle-to-Grid capability will be built into the electronics as standard equipment.

A. GM and other carmakers are investigating vehicle to grid but nothing has been decided at this point. Generator capability of some kind is likely since it will have an onboard inverter and is already operating at more than 110V internally.

Q. What I would like to know is why they claim no adequate battery technology exists for a touted 40-mile electric range, when there were BEVs getting twice than that 10 years ago (never mind those from 100 years ago), and battery technology has been improving at about 7 percent a year since then.

A. No one has claimed that technology for a forty-mile range doesn't exist. The problem is the robustness and durability of batteries to operate in conditions from -30 to 120 degrees for 100,000 miles without losing too much of that range.

Q. Assuming Toyota adds plug-in capability to the Prius by 2010, what makes the Volt competitive?

A. Toyota has not indicated that they are not planning a series hybrid in that time frame. A parallel hybrid plug-in will probably only have a range of 10 miles at best.

Q. Why is it that GM is touting the Volt in DC and yet opposing Congress' legislation to increase CAFE standards?

A. The problem here is that the mainstream media relies on sound bites. If you read what we have reported here and all of what the carmakers say, they actually are not opposed to 35mpg. They want something done on the demand side to ensure that when they build these vehicles people will actually buy them. If fuel prices fall, most people will jump right back into their gas guzzlers. If something is done to ensure a minimum price for fuel there will be a demand for efficient vehicles and the car makers will have no complaints.

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As always we'll be keeping on top of the news from GM and other companies about their next generation of vehicles.

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