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Apr 27, 2012

RMI Visits Volt Factory for “Glimpse of the Best and Latest” in U.S. Auto Manufacturing


Detroit, Michigan—Don’t write the obituary of the Chevrolet Volt just yet.

After a one-month shutdown of the Volt factory that ended in mid-April and after months of flawed criticism of its extended-range electric car, General Motors is encouraged by a record sales month in March and California rules that allow solo Volt drivers to use the state’s high-occupancy vehicle lanes.

“We’re just getting started,” GM spokeswoman Michelle Malcho said during a tour of the Volt factory by a Rocky Mountain Institute team that is studying advanced vehicle technology. “People need to see them in their neighborhoods” to drive interest and adoption over time, she said.

RMI this week visited Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly, which used to build Cadillacs and other luxury cars and now is home to a 516-kilowatt solar array and a solar-powered carport to charge EVs. The visit was part of RMI’s continuing effort to “drive a transitional pathway toward a new paradigm” in automaking that leads to dramatically lighter, more-efficient vehicles, said RMI consultant Greg Rucks.

“The Volt plant provides a glimpse of the best and latest manufacturing technologies currently in use by the U.S. auto industry,” Rucks said. “Given our goal of facilitating a move toward a new manufacturing paradigm based on lightweighting and advanced materials, we'll have to thoroughly understand the existing technologies that have benefitted from over a century of investment and refinement.”

RMI, a proponent of lighter cars made of advanced composites such as carbon-fiber, hopes to break barriers to building lighter vehicles at scale, partly by recognizing and accommodating the intricacies of the existing system—in some ways represented by the 3,780-pound, steel Volt. “What better way to gain appreciation for those intricacies than to see them firsthand,” Rucks asked, “and what more appropriate vehicle to see them applied to than the halo car of the world's largest manufacturer?”

The Volt has been something of a political punching bag, incorrectly attacked as a government project pushed on consumers.

But Bob Lutz, a retired GM executive who pushed the Volt, has been fighting that criticism, including with an emerging argument of electric vehicles as a tool to fight terrorism by relieving America’s oil addiction. “Of all the forms of alternative energy under development for the transportation sector in the U.S., using natural gas for heavy-duty trucks and the electrification of light-duty vehicles hold the most promise,” Lutz wrote for Forbes.

Reinventing Fire, Rocky Mountain Institute’s blueprint for a business-led transition from fossil fuels to efficiency and renewable energy by 2050, shows how vehicles made from ultralight, ultrastrong materials can provide radically improved fuel efficiency without compromising performance and safety. It shows electric vehicles’ potential to store energy and feed it back to the electric grid to help equalize power generation from renewable sources, further moving us away from fossil fuels toward a cleaner environment. The U.S.-engineered Volt is one of many EVs on the market that hold this potential, but has the highest profile because of GM’s marketing efforts and the vocal criticism.

As gas prices rise (yet again, as they will periodically do as long as transportation remains dependent on oil), consumers will take growing notice of the Volt, other electric vehicles such as the Nissan Leaf, and other fuel-saving technology.

And at Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly, located in the historic cradle of the American auto industry just 4 miles from where Henry Ford launched the assembly line, workers will continue to be justifiably proud of their role in helping advance America’s transportation future.


Showing 1-2 of 2 comments

May 5, 2012

My Volt is still on the tank of gas which the Dealer installed. I have used only 1/4 tank. I bought the car in December... loved the heated seat option which made using the car heater pointless (In Colorado at 6000 ft elevation). I get 46 to 51 miles per charge (before the generator starts). The EPA number is 35 miles. So I am terribly pleased with the range as well as the economy. Of course, I love the feel of the drive - like a sports car (I have had 6 Vets and a Porsche over time so I do know a sports car feel). It seems like I can probably get 5000 to 6000 miles per tank with my driving. I get 4.6 to 5 miles per KWH ... and I charge it for free from my Photovoltaic Panels on my roof. It seems like I drive a Sunbeam!
When folks (who have listened too much to Limbaugh or watched too much Fox News) are negative to me about the Volt I really set them straight. If I bought the power at Public Service rates I would be paying about 2 to 2.2 cents per mile - versus 13 cents for gasoline cars. I would be using some coal based power - but with a far smaller carbon footprint than a gasoline car. As it is, my carbon footprint is ZERO per mile. It is Zero per 100 miles.... up to the 46 or 51 miles of my electric range. This is a great range for me - but I like to know that I have the "Extended Range" feature - which means that I can be worry free when it comes to a road detour... extending the mileage of my trip.

May 5, 2012

The Volt is a transition car. Mercedes is set to produce a model much more in tune with the RMI lightweight concept as it was designed for carbon fiber from the ground up. The result is that they save over 1,000 lbs of weight. That weight savings results in mileage exceeding 100 on a battery pack the size of the Volts. Only when heavy steel is replaced will cars become about transportation instead of business protection. A steel car requires $5,000,000,000 for a new car company to start up. Plastic fiber electric cars require $500,000. Welcome to the new vehicle era.

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