When the Volt concept was first debuted it caught the world by surprise and was cause for inspiration. Sure there had been the EV-1 and the Tesla Roadster was in prototype stage, but most of the US population was not well exposed to the idea of electric cars.
Since the Volt subsequently garnered so much attention and good will, it has undoubtedly contributed to most of the major automakers announcing their own electric car programs, and launching marketing machines to match.
Some such as Nissan with its LEAF EV are particularly promoting pure electric cars. This could affect potential Volt buyers.
As an example, I was speaking with a well-educated and knowledgeable friend who currently drives a Camry hybrid. He explained to me that he wouldn’t want a Volt because of its 40 mile range. I of course explained the virtues of the car, the ability to drive limitlessly when needed, and the ability to avoid range anxiety.
He replied, “Yes but I don’t want to use any gas at all.”
Though he has a good point, the infrastructure doesn’t exist yet to drive electric cars exclusively and the Volt is an effective solution to begin weaning the country off of oil at this time
Yet it has dawned on me that all the marketing being done by those companies who are planning pure electrics without range extenders maybe having a negative effect on perception of the Chevy Volt.
I had the chance to discuss this with GM’s Director of EVs and Hybrids, Bob Kruse.
In bringing the Volt to market, despite all these years there are still people focused on range and I wonder if the carmakers going with pure electrics are making it harder to market the Volt?
Let me give you some perspective. In battery electric vehicles we talk about range anxiety. Voltec was done to mitigate that. We were able to do that with conventional technology. 78% of the US population drives less than 40 miles per day. Competitors are talking about pure battery electrics with a hundred of miles of electric range. Pick any technology and I can assure you several things. A 200 mile battery will cost more than a 40 mile battery, a 200 mile battery will weigh more than a 40 mile battery. When you’re balancing a vehicle you want to optimize around a particular solution. So heavier vehicle needs more chassis structure, bigger brakes, etc. We say mass begets mass. We have optimized the Volt and the Volt’s battery around this 40 mile promise. That’s with the assumption that the vehicle is going to be connected to the power grid once a day. Remember the first brick cell phones? One of the things that enabled cell phones to get smaller is battery technology. These all had NiCads at the time. You charge your phone once a day. You could buy a phone that you only had to plug in once a week, but you have to carry around this brick. Would you make this trade off? First generation technology is very expensive so why would you want more battery than you are going to use once a day? Why would you want to carry around and push around more battery than you need once a day.
Could people be misled about the Volt by looking at the marketing of the other carmakers pushing pure electrics and just focusing on range. I’m wondering if GM has a mechanism to educate people?
I’ve had this conversation with lots of reporters. Its analogous to a flat screen TV. What is the diagonal? 52 inch. It replaced something with a 25 inch diagonal. So if you spent all this money on a flat screen television could you imagine only using a quarter of it and displaying a 25 inch picture on it? If you buy a 200 mile range electric vehicle and your only going to drive 40 miles a day that’s the equivalent of watching a 25 inch picture on a 52 inch TV.
Its important as we look to moving to vehicles that don’t use petroleum and with the convenience of refueling in your garage. Part of the reason our gas cars have 400 mile range tanks is that its inconvenient to go to a gas station. With a Volt you don’t have to go to the service station and many will never go because they can have their needs met by plugging in once per day.
Part of what we have to do with the Volt is we have to balance being innovative and first to market with the expense of first generation technology. Could we have put a bigger battery in the Volt? Yes. Would it have cost more? Yes. Would it have weighed more? Yes. Would it have helped 78% of the customer who drive less than 40 miles per day? No. Its very important as we regularize electric vehicles that we balance them properly. You’ve seen and driven some of the west coat start up EVs with more EV range than the Volt. You recognize what those cost. We’ve not announced the price of the Volt but there’s orders of magnitude between them. As we’re trying to regularize and make these available to larger and larger consumer groups this is a very key point.
Maybe we will be judging this wrong and people will brag ‘I have a 200 miles EV and you only have a 40 mile EV’
What if people look at it at the surface and they miss GM’s message?
This is perhaps one of the disadvantages of talking so much about this so early, but the other thing I think you will find is that the consumer is really smart. They do make trade off decisions in fuel economy and the cost of the vehicle. Look what happened to hybrid sales when gas was $4 or so a gallon versus when it was $1.50 a gallon. That’s the marketplace working.
This entry was posted on Monday, August 10th, 2009 at 6:44 am and is filed under BEV, Competitors, E-REV, Marketing. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.