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Efficiency is the new black for automakers and consumers alike. Even Porsche customers can get their gas guzzling Cayenne fix in a more efficient hybrid now or diesel soon, which is why it might come as a surprise that two new fuel-efficient guppies in the veritable ocean that is the U.S. car market seem to be floundering.
The Fiat 500 and Chevrolet Volt are both reaching the end of their first fiscal year with disappointing numbers compared to their manufacturer’s forecasts. That outcome could be a bit of a puzzler, given that the 500 starts at $15,500, offers two more seats and, what some would say, stylish alternative to the Smart FourTwo for about $3000 more.
The same fate befell the Volt, which takes a practical approach to the burgeoning plug-in market. Rather than relying totally on a battery charge. Chevy’s iteration on the new trend borrows power from a teensy 1.4-liter gasoline engine and achieves a sky-scraping 94 mpg average with a starting price of just over $39,000 before tax incentives. Those incentives bring the car closer to $30,000, though other government subsidies for things like home charging stations disappear this year.
It doesn’t take a particularly good periscope to see above the water and realize why both these cars were slow sellers, consumers are often risk averse and both cars proved to be sketchy choices by year’s end.
The Volt will fall short of GM’s projected 10,000 unit forecast by at least 25 percent thanks in part to an NHTSA investigation surrounding spontaneous combustion of the lithium ion battery after severe crashes. The car was supposed to be Chevrolet’s poster boy for the future, but instead the crucial first year will be marred by shaky consumer confidence and questions about safety.
The Fiat 500 might have escaped that fate, given its quirky styling and heavy re-engineering for the North American palate, but poor sales proved otherwise.
It also suffered from a sales-scaring three out of five star safety rating by the NHTSA this month. Even without that damning verdict, the hatchback wouldn’t have met the projected 50,000 sales figure— as of November Chrysler’s parent company had managed to squeak out a dismal 17,444 units, with little promise of breaking the 20,000 mark by December 31.
[Source: Edmunds Inside Line]
In a very ironic story, battery maker A123 Systems Inc. has admitted to a potential safety issue in batteries it supplies to Fisker Automotive. What’s the irony in that? Well, General Motors, which is currently dealing with a fire safety issue of their own with their Chevy Volt, will be turning to A123 Systems’ batteries for their upcoming plug-in electric Spark rather than continuing to use their current Volt supplier, South Korea’s LG Chem.
A123 is reporting that the batteries supplied to Fisker had misaligned hose clamps, part of the internal cooling system, that can cause coolant to leak. The coolant leak could lead to a potential electrical short circuit. A123 also did express that only about 50 vehicles are impacted by this and fixes are already underway.
Though not as bad as a potential fire hazard, GM’s Volt issue is also being centralized around a coolant leak that causes the fires after the battery has been severely damaged.
[Source: Detroit Free Press]
Last month, GM and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration announced the Chevy Volt’s fire hazards after the electric vehicle suffered collision. As investigations continue, GM’s Opel react by announcing the delay of Ampera deliveries throughout Europe until a solution to the defect is found.
An Opel spokesman explains that Opel is, “not currently delivering the cars to customers while we set up the process to deal with these highly charged batteries to make sure they are safe.” The Opel Ampera and the Chevrolet Volt are built alongside one another in the Hamtramck, Michigan assembly plant and share the same electric and battery technology.
However, there has been no word yet as to how long the delay will last or whether the number of Ampera deliveries in France, Germany, Switzerland, Belgium, and Holland will be eligible for vehicle buy back.
Meanwhile, a spokeswoman of Vauxhall confirmed that there will be no delays for its version of the Volt and the first examples of Vauxhall’s electric car will be delivered to customers by May.
In the 1960′s there was the muscle-car wars, and in the 1980′s it was all about who can sell the most minivans. Now its time for the green-car wars, to see who can sell the most plug-in hybrid or fully electric cars.
The two biggest rivals at the moment are the Nissan Leaf and the Chevrolet Volt. While the Leaf is a fully electric vehicle, the Volt in a plug-in hybrid, so when the battery dies, you can still keep moving, provided you have some gasoline in its tank.
These two vehicles have been going head to head all year, and in America, it is the Leaf that is winning by quite a margin. Nissan has moved 8,720 Leafs thus far, while Chevy had moved just 6,142 Volts in the U.S.
North of the border, there is a different story developing. The Volt is actually outselling the Leaf. Chevy has moved 243 Volts thus far, while only 111 Leafs have found homes in Canada.
Part of the reason the Leaf is having a harder time selling in Canada is because there are only 27 Leaf Certified Dealers in the country, and even they will only sell a car to someone who lives within 42-miles from one of those dealers. The Volt on the other hand is sold through all Chevrolet dealers.
Chevrolet has been dealing with a lot of negative publicity regarding the Volt in recent weeks due to its battery issue, which could result in a fire. This little sales victory in Canada might give the bow-tie boys something to cheer about.
[Source: Auto North]
In light of the Volt post-crash fire disaster, GM announced that they are seeking out batteries that are less volatile for their upcoming 2013 Chevy Spark electric car. GM will be switching to a phosphate-based lithium ion battery from A123 Systems Inc. that are less likely to burn than other lithium chemistry, according to the companies.
It’s a testament to how quickly the battery technology is evolving for hybrid and electric cars, with just a two year gap since the Volt was first introduced. Currently GM and other companies are developing future vehicles with lithium phosphate technology because they’re safer and last longer. And why didn’t they do this sooner? Battery manufacturers weren’t ready to mass-produce them until recently.
It’ll be interesting to see if GM will ever get over this hump with the Volt and if sales of future electric cars will be impacted. Some could even argue that GM “jumped the gun” on electric vehicles when they knew better technology was around the corner. More interestingly however is that Jay Whitacre, assistant professor in materials science at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh declared, “Safety isn’t the first reason carmakers are selecting it,” Whitacre said. “The batteries have a longer life. A123′s battery will outlast LG Chem’s battery.”
It is worth mentioning that the Volt investigation right now centers around the battery’s pack design and not its chemistry. They believe that any fix will involve the pack.
GALLERY: 2013 Chevrolet Spark
[Source: Automotive News]
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is flatly denying any wrongdoing around the time it took to release data suggesting the Chevrolet Volt might catch fire.
Earlier this week reports surfaced that Volts suffering severe crashes might be at risk of catching fire. GM hasn’t released an official statement explaining the phenomenon, but information leaked from unnamed sources suggesting it might be the liquid cooling system for the car’s lithium ion battery. The fires weren’t even the most disturbing part of the story. It seems the NHTSA actually knew of the defect last May.
By Wednesday U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa, a Republican congressman from California along with two other U.S. house members aimed accusations at the NHTSA, saying in a letter that they “deliberately suppressed public knowledge of the safety risk posed by the Chevrolet Volt’s lithium-ion battery system.”
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood responded today saying the accusations were “absolutely not true.”
“We have opened an investigation into battery-related fires that may occur some time after a severe crash,” LaHood said. “Chevy Volt owners can be confident that their cars are safe to drive.”
For now, Chevrolet is doing damage control with the car they otherwise used as a PR poster child. So far they have offered to buy back Volts from any owners who feel unsafe and offered loaner cars to those who simply want the defect fixed.
It won’t be clear what that fix will include until later in the week when GM expects its engineers to arrive at a solution, but speculation thus far suggests it may include a strengthened housing around the battery as well as laminating the battery itself and measures to protect against coolant leaking after a crash.
Other cars like the Nissan Leaf use air in place of liquid cooling systems, meaning they aren’t subject to the same potential hazard.
“As soon as we have additional information on our testing and on our investigation, we’ll disclose it,” LaHood said.
[Source: Automotive News]
General Motors is moving closer to a solution for the fires that occurred in Volts after crash testing earlier this year.
Fox News reported yesterday that, according to an unnamed source, fires sparking inside Chevrolet‘s lauded green car might be caused by coolant crystallizing on the car’s battery after a crash, leading to a short circuit.
Since then, Reuters reported that GM is moving towards a set of dealership-implemented fixes to ensure post-crash safety in the cars, though the solution isn’t finalized.
“To the best of my knowledge, we’re not discussing exact solutions at this point,” GM spokesman Rob Peterson said.
Despite that, rumored solutions continue to surface by unnamed sources. Among those unofficial fixes, it seems that GM might laminate the 400-pound battery pack as well as strengthen the casing around it. They may also take steps to better protect against coolant leakage after a crash.
While those possibilities aren’t certain, GM senior management expects a solution by the end of the week. Barring demand by U.S. safety regulators for a deeper-reaching solution, the fix is expected to cost less than $1 million, or roughly $1000 per car.
GM is also offering current Volt owners loaner cars to drive until their vehicle is bolstered against the potential disaster. The aggressive repair policy signals how serious GM is about making the Volt their symbol of future progress.
As far as the EV market is concerned, others are on the way, but for now the Volt’s sole competitor is the Nissan Leaf. The key difference between the two is that the Leaf runs solely on battery power, whereas the Volt has a 1.4-liter gasoline engine that extends driving range. The Leaf didn’t experience the same problems after crash tests, possibly because it doesn’t a use liquid-cooled battery.
Last week GM CEO, Dan Akerson told the Associated Press that GM plans to buy back Volts from any customers concerned about the cars catching fire. He also maintained that they are safe to drive and that owners shouldn’t worry about the issue.
“I think it behooves everyone including General Motors and all of our competition, but more importantly our customers, that we get it right,” Akerson said.
Getting it right definitely involves fixing hazardous issues, but how right is it that GM knew about the problem as early as May without making the public aware? In an earlier story, we reported that it’s possible both GM and the NHTSA knew about the problem but failed to disclose it until last November.
The buy back statement originally came from GM CEO Dan Akerson, but GM’s PR department stepped in by backpedaling on that offer. Nonetheless, after receiving a couple dozen inquiries on the buy back program, GM says that they’ll ultimately buy back the Volts from any unhappy customers. Meanwhile, they’ll continue to urge current owners to take advantage of their loaner program.
The investigation into the fire is still ongoing, but neither GM nor NHTSA have reports of fires from actual customers. We’re still happy to see that GM’s actions will continue to be guided by their customers’ satisfaction.
[Source: Detroit News]
General Motors is clearly taking the initiative in doing damage control with their Chevrolet Volt, first offering free loaners to Volt owners during the NHTSA investigation, and now offering to buy back Volts from any concerned owner. GM reassured that the cars are safe, but will have no reservations in purchasing back the vehicles.
They also reiterated that once the investigation is over, they will recall all of the 6,000-plus Volts on the road in order to repair them once the cause of the fires are determined.
Unfortunately all the negative media surrounding the fire risk doesn’t really emphasize that they occurred in extreme testing situations – situations that could probably cause traditional gasoline-powered vehicles to burst into flames. Nissan‘s Leaf has not had any post-crash fire incidents due to its battery being air-cooled rather than liquid-cooled.
GM did announce that 16 current Volt owners inquired about the loaner car program but only two have taken advantage of it.
[Source: Associated Press]
GM set a lofty goal of selling 10,000 Chevrolet Volts in 2011 and has finally admitted that they won’t be able to hit their target sales mark this year and probably won’t be achieved until sometime in early 2012.
Through the first 11 months of the year, Chevrolet has successfully moved 6,142 Volts while their main competitor, Nissan‘s Leaf, has sold 8,720 vehicles.
But nothing is stopping GM from being optimistic for its Volt from now and beyond. By expanding sales to more states, GM enjoyed its best Volt-sales month in November, moving 1,139 units. They’re hoping by year’s end the plug-in hybrid will be available in all 50 states. For 2012 however, GM looks to be even more ambitious, telling CNBC last month that they hope to move number 45,000 Volt by next year.
Here’s to hoping this goes away quickly, eh GM?
[Source: Left Lane News]
Some good news for Chevrolet‘s Volt has hit the news today, with Consumer Reports saying that the electric car has the single highest rate of owner satisfaction of any car this year.
CR did also mention that the survey was conducted prior to the media’s reports of the battery-pack fires, but it appears that the majority of Volt owners aren’t bothered by those reports and stand by their eco-friendly investments.
According to the survey, an overwhelming 93-percent of Volt owners say they would purchase the vehicle again. The next two cars on the lists were Porsche’s 911 and Dodge’s Hemi V8-powered Challenger. To us though, these survey results should have an asterisk beside them. Most consumers investing into a vehicle, especially an electric one, will always reassure themselves that they made the right decision. Making the leap to get a first-generation Volt automatically makes you a rabid fan of the vehicle, and even if yours was on fire and melting down in your driveway, you’d still love it.
[Source: Green Car Reports]
Despite the NHTSA stating that Chevy Volt owners do not have a reason for concern, just yet, General Motors is providing loaner cars to any worried drivers during the investigation. GM will begin to contact every Volt owner in order to clarify their concerns and each owner should receive a letter within the next few days.
There’s a bit of irony in GM’s strong stance that the Volt is safe to drive, yet they’re willing to offer loaners to customers that are overly concerned. But clearly GM is in full damage control mode right now, having delivered 5,329 Volts – every one of them that has the potential to catch on fire after a major accident. We are curious as to what vehicle GM is lending to Volt owners for a comparable savings in fuel efficiency.
[Source: Left Lane News]
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has released an official statement in regards to the post-crash fire risk of the Chevrolet Volt. As a result of a fire that occurred at the NHTSA’s facilities, they will be opening a formal safety defect investigation in order to determine the fire risk of Volts after a major accident.
It’s worth noting that the Volt isn’t entirely the target of the investigation, but rather the potential of a fire in any electric vehicle following a crash. After the initial fire caused from a side-impact test, NHTSA conducted a trio of tests on the Volt’s battery pack, each involving damaging the battery and rotating the vehicle to simulate an accident and rollover. In the second test, the battery pack caught fire a week later, while the third test the pack began to smoke and spark almost immediately.
NHTSA did also announce that they are not aware of any roadway crashes that have resulted in battery-related fires in the Chevy Volt or any electric vehicle for that matter. They also wanted to assure that Chevy Volt owners whose vehicles have been in a serious crash do not have a reason for concern.
In the meantime though, the agency is working with all vehicle manufacturers to ensure there are safety protocols in place for post-crash incidents involving electric vehicles. These protocols include an attempt to discharge a propulsion battery, not storing the vehicle after a major accident in a garage or near other vehicles, and emergency responders to check if a vehicle is electric-powered after an accident.
GALLERY: Chevrolet Volt
As Chevrolet continues to expand its lineup into Europe, both the Malibu and Volt received top ratings in the European New Car Assessment crash tests. Both sedans got five stars in all categories and also made the Volt the first U.S.-branded electric car that’s rated with Euro NCAP’s top assessment.
“The Chevy Volt will be sold in Europe as an Opel Ampera and the Malibu’s appearance is its first in the European market.
The results confirm that both vehicles meet today’s highest safety standards. The Volt’s safety performance and propulsion concept highlight the reliability and practicality that is inherent to this outstanding design,” said Wayne Brannon, president and managing director of Chevrolet Europe.
In the case of a fire in the garage of a North Carolina home where a Chevrolet Volt was being charged at the time, the Volt has been proven – not guilty.
When news first came out regarding this incident, many believed the culprit behind this fire could be the Volt, but Iredell County chief deputy fire marshal Garland Cloer says; “the source of ignition seems to be from outside the area of the vehicles.”
This fire attracted investigators from many companies to come forward to access the cause of the blaze. These included representatives from Nissan, Chevrolet, Siemens, Duke Energy and the homeowners insurance company.
The reason there were so many investigators is because at the time of the fire, the garage housed a Nissan Armada, the Chevrolet Volt, a Siemens 240-volt recharging station, and many miscellaneous items such as a electric cars for kids, not to mention gasoline and other hazardous materials.
The fire marshal said that fire usually follows a “V” path as it spreads, and according to their findings, the fire originated from another source, not the cars. Cloer said that when a fire originates from the car, things like its seats, carpets and rubber hoses are not left intact, but they were in this case, another indication the Volt was not guilty.
Total damage to the house is appraised at $800,000.
[Source: Green Car Reports]
Would you trust new technology with your life? One Chevy Volt owner did, and walked away from a rather serious smash-up mostly unharmed.
A forum user on GM-Volt.com posted pictures recently of his totaled Volt on the New Jersey Turnpike. The car (number 187) became a martyr after a nasty highway collision.
“Except for some back and neck pain for my wife and I, it was a miracle that there wasn’t any more injuries. The car is rock solid, that’s for sure. I’m going to miss that car,” the owner said on the thread.
According to the driver, a Ford Taurus veered into their lane and caused them to hit an oncoming school bus. Contents from the trunk flew into the back seat where the driver’s three-year-old and 15-month-old children were sitting.
This might be the first reported write-off of the new Volt, which garnered the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s top safety pick and a five-star rating by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Safety features on the car include front, side, knee and ceiling mounted airbags as well as electronic stability control. Volt owners also get a 3-year subscription to OnStar’s Directions and Connections Plan including Automatic Crash Response, stolen vehicle assistance and connected navigation.
GALLERY: Chevy Volt Wreck
General Motors has probably put more effort in the Chevrolet Volt project than in any other car they have produced in recent times, and they are adamant about turning it into a success.
The goal is simple, to sell 10,000 Volts this year alone. Till the end of October, GM has sold just 5,003 Volts, so they have a big task ahead of them to reach their goals in just two-months time.
One way GM will get closer to this goal is by allowing its dealers to finally sell their Volt demo vehicles. At launch, GM had mandated that all its Volt dealers would have at least one Volt on hand as a demo, to educate customers on this new product. Now the dealers are allowed to sell everything they got, including the demos. This opens up about 2300 – Volts across the nation.
According to GM spokesman Tom Henderson, 72% of customers who would like to buy a Volt were turned off by the lack of availability. Perhaps these extra demo units will put more people into the driving seat of this innovative new car.
[Source: Automotive News]
While the Toyota Prius has long been the automotive ambassador of the green movement, Pike Research conducted a Cost of Driving test to find out whether the all new 2012 Toyota Prius Plug-in can trump the Chevrolet Volt. According to its findings, by first establishing the price for every gallon of gas at $3.50 and every kilowatt-hour for 11 cents for the test, the Volt earned a more economic and cost effective result than a Prius Plug-in for trips under 70 miles.
For the first 15 miles of the graph, the lines are not visible because both vehicles will be capable running full electric. By 30 miles, the Volt’s cost for every mile gets significantly more expensive until it eventually crosses over Prius’ costs at 70 miles of driving.
Of course, if pricing parameters on gas and electricity were to change, then a different result would surface. All in all, customers should consider their driving routines day to day. When trips taken are no longer than 70 miles, as is often the case in urban regions where electric vehicles are popular, then a Volt proves to be more appealing.
GALLERY: Toyota Prius Plug-in & Chevrolet Volt
[Source: Autoblog Green]
General Motors has announced its decision to delay the addition of a second shift for the Chevy Volt assembly plant.
Intended to meet projections for the Volt to double its production by 2012, the second shift is no longer necessary as a plant overhaul conducted this summer plus a modest addition of 300 workers working in one shift is sufficient enough to meet GM’s 60,000 unit production target. GM’s move will dramatically reduce cost by improving upon the assembly plant’s efficiency.
As a matter of fact, earlier forecasts for Volt’s 2012 production were a more conservative 45,000 units, indicating a better reception towards the EV than GM expected. As Volt demand continues to increase and a next generation Chevrolet Malibu will begin production at the plant next year while a new Chevrolet Impala will arrive for 2013, GM still intends to launch a second shift to meet demand, providing jobs for hundreds of more workers.
George McGregor, president of UAW Local 22 and the labor representative for the workers of the plant, says that the second shift will begin sometime in 2012.
[Source: Automotive News]
If you’re eagerly awaiting a more family friendly Volt, or a more luxurious and sporty one, you’ll have to be patient. According to Nick Reilly, the head of GM Europe, the automaker isn’t planning to release any Volt spin-offs until 2015.
The reason for the date is that that’s when the current Volt’s life-cycle is up and GM is currently focused entirely on making the Volt a success. GM doesn’t want to split its attention on other models, and with the high price of the Volt’s high-tech components, future generations of the technology should be more affordable.
Two models currently being considered for production are the Volt MPV5 Concept, based on the Chevy Orlando platform, as well as the Cadillac ELR Concept.
GALLERY: Chevrolet Volt MPV5 Concept
GALLERY: Cadillac ELR Concept
[Source: AutoNews via CNET]
GM has long intended to bring their Chevrolet Volt over to the Chinese market. It’s both the largest and the fastest growing market for automobiles and only within a few short years smog pollution has increased exponentially among China’s booming cities. To alleviate the headache, China will offer automakers planning to sell electric vehicles in their country a substantial subsidy of as much as $19,300.
But there’s a catch. GM is faced with a negotiation that risks handing the Volt’s proprietary technology over to the Chinese government. In order for GM to be eligible of the subsidy, the automaker is required to disclose one of Volt’s three main innovations — either its electric motors, the control system, or the batteries.
GM is understandably reluctant. Executive director of electrification strategy at GM China, Raymond Bierzynski, intends to have the Chinese officials allow Volt to qualify for the subsidies without the technology transfer and will, “… Bring it up in every conversation we have.” In addition, GM plans to import the Volt from Michigan instead of establishing a factory in China.
An obstacle not faced by GM alone, Nissan Leaf’s unavailability in China is likely rooted from the same problem. Nissan did not confirm nor deny this.
According to international trade experts familiar with the demands, China may be violating World Trade Organization rules, certainly teasing its the boundaries, by imposing this requirement.
GALLERY: Chevrolet Volt
[Source: Autoblog Green]
NASCAR big boys, Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon attended a Chevrolet Volt Homecoming Parade in metro Detroit on August 18 as a part of the festivities surrounding the annual Woodward Dream Cruise.
Over 50 owners from 12 different states attended the even, with both Johnson and Gordon included in the pack as actual Volt owners. In pure racing fashion the duo waved flags to mark the start of the parade. Both NASCAR drivers spent plenty of time talking up the electric Chevy crowd at the parade.
“These cars are just another step in the right direction of going green. Hopefully the Volt will provoke more thought and change,”said Jimmie Johnson.
As for Jeff Gordon, he touched on how Chevrolet is always pushing the envelope in the right direction. “With Chevrolet celebrating its 100th anniversary this year, I can’t think of a better vehicle to show off the brand’s heritage and where it’s headed.”
Check out the video after the jump!
A new Harvard study has found that electric vehicles won’t be accepted by the American public until gas hits $4.50 per gallon. The study also found that surprisingly, over the life of the car, plug-in hybrids like the Chevrolet Volt cost $5,377 more than gas powered cars. The story is the same for the Nissan Leaf which is $4,819 more expensive.
The aim of the study was to determine if Americans will buy electric cars and the study concluded that the answer was “yes-but only if the electric vehicles are competitive with conventional cars on cost, range and fueling convenience.”
The U.S Energy Information administration is predicting that gas in 2012 will cost around $3.65 per gallon and that $4.50 per gallon is not a likelihood in the near future.
The study was released just before President Obama is to outline higher fuel economy standards. Ultimately, the standards are expected to reach 54.5 mpg by 2025. White House spokesman Jay Carney said the following on the White House website, ”This program, which builds on the historic agreement achieved by this administration for model years 2012-’16, will result in significant cost savings for consumers at the pump, dramatically reduce oil consumption, cut pollution and create jobs,”.
[Source: Edmunds Inside Line]
Nissan sold 3,875 Leaf units in June while GM followed behind with 2,745 vehicle sales. Tony Posawatz, vehicle line director for the Chevy Volt said, that while Nissan accelerated production faster than GM, the Detroit automaker will outstrip its Japanese rival and make 5,000 Volt vehicles as quickly as possible for January. Posawatz also said that GM will quickly expand output towards the goal of selling 10,000 Volts in the U.S annually.
“This is very much about supply constraints as opposed to a sales race,” Rebecca Lindland, an analyst with IHS Automotive, a research firm based in Lexington, Mass. “Next year will really show true demand for these kinds of cars and which one wins.”
[Source: GM Inside News]