Friday, December 03, 2010

GM's Misleading Volt Launch

There was a fair amount of media hype over GM's launch, earlier this week, of its Volt automobile. Coverage ranged from the expected to the ridiculous.

The latter, of course, featured former GM exec Bob Lutz crowing about how wonderful the Volt was to drive, and how profitable it would be. When asked about the latter topic, Lutz first cited his lack of current information about it, then proceeded to assure the reporter that he was sure that all the key component costs would decline with volume, and the vehicle would make tons of money for GM.

Bob curiously- or not so- failed to mention those hefty federal government subsidies for buying a Volt. Without which, demand would likely slow to a trickle.

Seeing videos of the car, I'm struck by its ugliness, if not plain design. Like so many GM vehicles, it fails to excite. Nobody, including Lutz, has discussed various features or interior details which are always the subject of reviews of other new cars. I have this sense that the Volt is a sort of electrically-powered equivalent of a Volkswagen, i.e., simple and relatively spare. Nothing to write home about.

Except the currently-chic electric power thing.

On that note, a pundit on CNBC weighed in on how poorly-prepared the US electrical grid is in the major cities in which the Volt might actually make some sense. With a fully-charged range of about 40 miles before resorting to the gasoline engine to charge the electric batteries to run the motor, the guy pointed out that the car is truly practical only in the larger US cities with fairly dense populations. As such, he noted that few had power grids and capacities which could take a hefty dose of Volt users.

And, of course, there's the embarrassing fact  that most of that juice comes from coal. So all that good feeling of avoiding burning gasoline is offset by the reality that the Volt owner is causing more emissions-creating coal to be fed into power plants in his city.

Lastly, the GM CEO who gave a CNBC interview was largely incapable of explaining his rather stratospheric claims of something north of 200 MPG for the car on a cross-country road trip. He boasted that you could drive the car across the US like any conventional gasoline-powered vehicle, then botched a simple explanation of how, with an 8-gallon gas tank, that would work. I'm still a bit unclear myself.

So much for marketing. But, then, this is GM. They haven't done effective marketing since Alfred P. Sloan left the company, have they?

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