Archive for the ‘General’ Category

 

Jun 15

Contrary To Musk’s Suggestion, NHTSA Did Not Call Tesla Suspension Complaints ‘Fraudulent’

 

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Despite tweets last Friday by Tesla CEO Elon Musk implying federal regulators have dismissed allegations that Model S suspensions have design defects, this is not the case.

The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) actually said last week it is looking further into concerns initially raised by writer Edward Niedermeyer in the Daily Kanban, and is contacting consumers and reviewing complaints it has on file.

But the tweets by Musk seemed to put a close to the media firestorm that flared after Niedermeyer’s story likened Tesla’s actions to GM’s cover up of its ignition switch scandal. On that news, TSLA stock dove 4.6 percent, or about $1.5 billion in valuation, sending the company into damage control mode.

Musk’s tweets also followed a simultaneously defensive and counter-accusatory June 9 Tesla blog post outlining its assertion that it makes the safest cars in the world, and Musk’s words could have been interpreted to mean NHTSA was moving on.

“NHTSA confirmed today that they found no safety concern with Model S suspension and have no further need for data from us on this matter,” tweeted Musk on Friday, June 10.

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That is technically accurate; so far NHTSA has found no safety concerns, but NHTSA has not declared it is through looking for them.

“To date, NHTSA has not identified any safety issue with Tesla’s suspensions,” said NHTSA Director of Communications, Bryan Thomas on Friday, while saying also that NHTSA is for now satisfied with info provided which it is still examining.

On Monday this was verified by Thomas, who reiterated statements made last Thursday and Friday that NHTSA is in a “screening” phase of its standard protocol of examining safety related concerns in its role as guardian of the public safety.

SEE ALSO: Tesla Ranked Global 10th Most Valuable Brand; Now Tops Lexus

If it finds more, it may escalate things to a full recall, or it may choose another action, or simply drop it after it has finished going through info supplied by Tesla, consumers, and other sources.

“NHTSA is examining the potential suspension issue on the Tesla Model S, and is seeking additional information from vehicle owners and the company,” Thomas had said June 9 prior to Tesla’s compliance with that initial request.

“NHTSA’s review of the Tesla Model S suspension is a routine data collection. Tesla has fully cooperated with our requests for information, and NHTSA’s examination of the data is underway,” said Thomas on Friday June 10.

A salvage Model S  with rear wheel torn off.

A salvage Model S with rear wheel torn off.

Led by Musk, some peoples’ attention was diverted away from Thomas’ words that Tesla was not out of the woods quite yet. While Thomas had said NHTSA’s “examination of the data is underway,” a seemingly relieved Musk emphasized NHTSA had been satisfied and went on to allege potential conspiracy and fraud against Tesla.

“Of greater concern: 37 of 40 suspension complaints to NHTSA were fraudulent, i.e. false location or vehicle identification numbers were used,” said one Musk tweet.

“Would seem to indicate that one or more people sought to create false impression of a safety issue where none existed. Q is why,” said another tweet.

Again, Musk is partially correct. More than 30 complaints were indeed posted with federal authorities by one man, Keith Leech of New South Wales, Australia. Leech’s activism has been an order-of-magnitude more provoking than Niedermeyer who never named him, but who was nevertheless part of the background that led up to the Daily Kanban’s article.

Musk may be aware of this also as he alleged malicious intent, but NHTSA has not called complaints filed on SaferCar.gov “fraudulent” in any public statement it has made. Nor have filings by Leech been removed or refuted thus far by the agency.

On Monday, June 13, a NHTSA hotline representative further confirmed it does permit non-U.S. citizens to make complaints about U.S. cars that they do not own, indicating nothing would be out of order with such filings.

NHTSA’s consumer tip hotline is not intended to suppress consumer concerns, and even allows for anonymous tipsters.

Tesla on the other hand was corrected by NHTSA for seeming to impose non-disclosure agreements in exchange for “goodwill” repair service at its service centers. These may involve a favor negotiated by Tesla with those who may be out of warranty, or think a claim should be covered when Tesla might have disageed.

“NHTSA learned of Tesla’s troublesome nondisclosure agreement last month,” Thomas had said June 9. “The agency immediately informed Tesla that any language implying that consumers should not contact the agency regarding safety concerns is unacceptable, and NHTSA expects Tesla to eliminate any such language.”

The federal agency also cited Tesla’s answer to it.

“Tesla representatives told NHTSA that it was not their intention to dissuade consumers from contacting the agency,” Thomas continued, “NHTSA always encourages vehicle owners concerned about potential safety defects to contact the agency by filing a vehicle safety complaint at SaferCar.gov.”

Tesla’s aforementioned blog post further sought to allay concerns by NHTSA and the public.

“Tesla has never and would never ask a customer to sign a document to prevent them from talking to NHTSA or any other government agency,” said Tesla’s blog post signed by the Tesla Team. “That is preposterous.”

Tesla did however agree to amend its wording of future Goodwill Agreements following the federal rebuke.

Open Questions Remain

At this stage, while the jury is most definitely out on several questions, a brouhaha accompanied by several accusations in the media, by Tesla, and others, may only be a byproduct of a still-learning Tesla as it seeks to grow into a mass-market automaker.

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It is unclear if Musk merely assumed certain filings on SaferCar.gov would be called “fraudulent,” however a request to shed light on the matter was denied by Tesla.

“Thanks for checking with us on these [questions]. Most of the questions you asked have been addressed on our blog, and via tweets from Elon which have also been posted to the blog (at the bottom of the post),” said Tesla representative Keely Sulprizio yesterday. “In addition, it sounds like you already have the statement from NHTSA, which addresses your question about our Goodwill Agreement. This is the extent of the information we’re sharing right now.”

Innocent Until Proven Otherwise

At issue have been concerns raised over aluminum suspension components and steel control arms that have allegedly worn out much too soon, with potential to suddenly fail.

Niedermeyer, who writes also for Bloomberg View and is the former editor of The Truth About Cars, connected the dots from forum posts and other related information. His story cited a Model S owner who posted to the Tesla Motors Club forum that Tesla agreed to pay half of a $3,100 repair bill if he agreed to keep the arrangement confidential.

Tesla’s blog post, titled, “A Grain of Salt,” was so titled because it insinuated the “gentle soul” Niedermeyer was someone with a grudge against Tesla since 2008 and that he might possibly be trying to game the stock price to make an unethical profit.

Peter Cordaro, who said he has driven on dirt roads no more than 10 times, has been accused by Tesla forum posters of "off road" driving because he went to pick mushrooms on a dirt road with his Model S. Tesla's blog post said he "lives down such a long dirt road" but he actually lives on an asphalt road in a suburban neighborhood. Noteworthy is Tesla seeks to benchmark its resale value and quality against Mercedes-Benz which for decades has prided itself on selling cars in markets where there are no roads. Daily Kanban's Editor Bertel Schmitt wrote June 12 Tesla's largest markets themselves contain over 4 million kilometers of dirt roads.

Peter Cordaro, who said he has driven on dirt roads no more than 10 times, has been accused by Tesla forum posters of “off road” driving because he went to pick mushrooms on a dirt road with his Model S. Tesla’s blog post said he “lives down such a long dirt road” but he actually lives on an asphalt road in a suburban neighborhood. Noteworthy is Tesla seeks to benchmark its resale value and quality against Mercedes-Benz which for decades has prided itself on selling cars in markets where there are no roads. Daily Kanban’s Editor Bertel Schmitt wrote June 12 Tesla’s largest markets themselves contain over 4 million kilometers of dirt roads.

“We don’t know if Mr. Niedermeyer’s motivation is simply to set a world record for axe-grinding or whether he or his associates have something financial to gain by negatively affecting Tesla’s stock price, but it is important to highlight that there are several billion dollars in short sale bets against Tesla,” said Tesla. “This means that there is a strong financial incentive to greatly amplify minor issues and to create false issues from whole cloth.”

Tesla provided no evidence of financial incentives to Niedermeyer. And, in response Niedermeyer and Schmitt have been writing defensive reports to potentially damaging and defaming words by the influential, and well-regarded Tesla. Both affixed their names to sworn statements on their site that denied they had financial motives in critical reporting.

“I, Edward Niedermeyer, never did own, nor do I own, nor do I plan to own, Tesla Motors shares, puts, calls, or any derivatives that would gain in value through price swings in Tesla Motors stock. I never did short, nor do I currently short, nor do I plan to ever short Tesla Motors stock. I have no financial interest whatsoever in the success or failure of Tesla Motors.”

SEE ALSO: Times Answers Tesla Point-By-Point

Some online posters have reacted by siding with Musk, passing along the critical wording of Tesla’s blog post against Niedermeyer, alleging it as fact.

A tow truck driver picks up a Model S. Journalist John M. Broder and Elon Musk exchanged words over this incident in 2013.

A tow truck driver picks up a Model S. Journalist John M. Broder and Elon Musk exchanged words over this incident in 2013.

Others have stood back, observing a similarity of tone Tesla has previously uttered in going on the attack, as it did on February 2013 with New York Times journalist John Broder who Musk alleged faked a run-out-of juice scenario.

Drama of a Different Sort

Niedermeyer’s story focused on a Pennsylvania Tesla owner, Peter Cordaro whose Model S ball joint popped out inducing him to begin posting his interactions with Tesla and NHTSA on the TMC forum.

The person Niedermeyer avoided naming is the Australian, Leech, who’s been vocal while getting himself banned from forums while sticking to his position.

Keith Leech has speculated about “green scams,” and is going with his gut on Tesla. He’s made controversial speculations about SpaceX and Solar City as well.

Keith Leech has speculated about “green scams,” and is going with his gut on Tesla. He’s made controversial speculations about SpaceX and Solar City as well.

Leech – who also goes by pseudonyms, including Keef Wivaneff (like Keith, with-an-“F”) – is a retired mainframe computer engineer and a electronics sales engineer who now describes himself as a citizen activist – albeit not a U.S. one.

He said in response to queries by HybridCars.com that he does not own a Tesla, is not against green energy or EVs, and aspires to get a plug-in car as he already lives off grid via solar energy, but has detected a trend with Tesla accidents that alarm him.

Leech said he started noticing on car auction sites and elsewhere salvage Teslas with wheels broken off. In certain cases, Leech said he believes some photos show no evidence for why a wheel would snap off.

Leech said he started noticing on car auction sites and elsewhere salvage Teslas with wheels broken off. In certain cases, Leech said he believes some photos show no evidence for why a wheel would snap off.

“I was watching Tesla closely and started to notice all of these cars that had missing wheels coming up on Google,” said Leech saying “crashed Teslas” was one of his keyword searches. “That then led me to the [salvage car] auction sites and I became really alarmed by the number of cars that had the same sort of failures.”

His concern – and why he’s been a thorn in the side to online posters along with his Flickr page of crashed Teslas and Google+ Tesla protest page – went beyond Cordaro’s issues.

“Peter Cordaro’s rusted ball joint was the first failure of that component that I have seen,” said Leech. “It concerns me less than the fractures of the alloy front steering knuckle and rear suspension.”

Leech observed too many Teslas for his comfort have wheels broken off. It has been suggested some unsolved accidents may have been caused by suspensions failing at a critical moment. Proving this would be another matter, but Leech said NHTSA should perform a thorough investigation. Some of Leech’s critics have countered by saying similar auction searches for other brands of cars would lead to similar pictures of broken suspension parts. Leech observed too many Teslas for his comfort have wheels broken off. It has been suggested some unsolved accidents may have been caused by suspensions failing at a critical moment. Proving this would be another matter, but Leech said NHTSA should perform a thorough investigation. Some of Leech’s critics have countered by saying similar auction searches for other brands of cars would lead to similar pictures of broken suspension parts.

Leech observed too many Teslas for his comfort have wheels broken off. It has been suggested some unsolved accidents may have been caused by suspensions failing at a critical moment. Proving this would be another matter, but Leech said NHTSA should perform a thorough investigation. Some of Leech’s critics have countered by saying similar auction searches for other brands of cars would lead to similar pictures of broken suspension parts.
Leech observed too many Teslas for his comfort have wheels broken off. It has been suggested some unsolved accidents may have been caused by suspensions failing at a critical moment. Proving this would be another matter, but Leech said NHTSA should perform a thorough investigation. Some of Leech’s critics have countered by saying similar auction searches for other brands of cars would lead to similar pictures of broken suspension parts.

Leech continued.

“The front steering knuckle has been redesigned at least once and possibly twice but I am still seeing cases where the tip has snapped off or it has broken halfway,” he said. “The rear suspension has been ripped completely off in many cases without any collision damage that would account for it. I believe that the front steering knuckle is too weak and in some accounts of the accident circumstances it seems that it has failed under emergency braking.”

Leech said he is persistent because he thinks Tesla led by Musk has a culture of denial, and even cover up, as Niedermeyer’s post also alleged.

“Many of the wrecked cars have gouges in the tire or the rim that looks as though it happened while the car was still rolling forward. There are pictures and forum reports of bolts coming loose which may be the cause of such damage,” he said. “Unlike most other cars the important nuts are not secured with Nyloc nuts or pinned nuts but instead rely on use of Loctite and felt pen markings to detect movement. That is not good engineering practice.”

One of numerous complaints. Leech says these are not fraudulent and he is attempting to raise awareness via channels. NHTSA's site imposed the ALL CAPITAL LETTERS style.  "NHTSA always capitalizes the whole thing," said Leech. "And then I get yelled at for shouting :-)"

One of numerous complaints. Leech says these are not fraudulent and he is attempting to raise awareness via channels. NHTSA’s site imposed the ALL CAPITAL LETTERS style. “NHTSA always capitalizes the whole thing,” said Leech. “And then I get yelled at for shouting :-)”

Tesla’s reply yesterday saying it had no further comment, was in response to questions about Musk’s allegations that claims were “fraudulent,” about its NDA wording amendment, and these same statements by Leech printed above.

SEE ALSO: Consumer Reports Downgrades Tesla Model S To ‘Below Average’ Reliability

Leech has indicated he’s willing to take issues to the proverbial mat, and last decade as an Australian TV news report shows, Leech won a defamation suit over an alleged solar scam. This weekend he threatened to also take Musk to court over his tweets if he does not apologize for what he considered Musk calling him a liar and fraud.

His agenda, he said, is to raise attention loud enough to provoke NHTSA to more-closely examine Tesla’s suspension design.

“I’ll leave the detailed analysis to the experts but I have seen enough photographs of failed parts to be pretty certain that there is a weakness that should be investigated,” said Leech who also says he has mechanical know-how. “All I’m saying is that common sense and mechanical expertise suggests that there is a problem and that there should be an investigation.”

“They should buff right out,” said Leech in a characteristic snarky comment that has made him unpopular in some circles. On a serious note, the Model X shares design elements with the S, and these photos he supplied show something else he sees as characteristic – wheels breaking off either by impact, or in cases, without impact.

“They should buff right out,” said Leech in a characteristic snarky comment that has made him unpopular in some circles. On a serious note, the Model X shares design elements with the S, and these photos he supplied show something else he sees as characteristic – wheels breaking off either by impact, or in cases, without impact.

His confrontational style has also seen Leech called a “troll” by commenters online, who have questioned some of his other speculations as outlandish. One example is his assertion that SpaceX faked its initial Falcon 9 first-stage rocket return landing. Leech however said Tesla fans have at times bullied and sought to marginalize him even when wasn’t reaching for high-flying levels of speculation.

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It is at least clear his anxiety over what he sees as too many wheels breaking off has led him to personally mock Tesla and Elon Musk, which wins him no friends in that community. This he is willing to do, he said, if only he can get the cars checked in order to “save lives.”

Tesla’s Statements

Although Tesla denied further comment, it did refer to its blog post, and Musk’s tweets.

Tesla has unequivocally said there is no problem, and if there were it would know about it and fix it.

“First, there is no safety defect with the suspensions in either the Model S or Model X,” said Tesla’s blog post.

“Whenever there is even a potential issue with one of those parts, we investigate fully. This, combined with extensive durability testing, gives us high confidence in our suspensions,” said the automaker.

“Tesla’s own actions demonstrate just how rigorous we are about bringing issues to NHTSA’s attention,” Tesla said. “Not only do we regularly meet with NHTSA, we have also shown that we won’t hesitate to conduct proactive and voluntary recalls even when there is only a slight risk of a safety issue.”

The blog post cited a Model X seat recall done voluntarily.

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“There is no car company in the world that cares more about safety than Tesla and our track record reflects that,” said Tesla.

And, Tesla said, the Model S has a 5-Star safety rating in its crashworthiness in every category and subcategory, and the X is expected to receive the same rating.

NHTSA’s Responses

After several inquiries on Friday and Monday, NHTSA did reply via phone and e-mail. The short answer is it’s in process of further examination, said Thomas, but it prefers not to share any more details.

“This issue is in the screening stage (or as we referred to it in the statement, as routine data collection),” said Thomas, who otherwise referred to previous statements on file as the agency continues to see if there is anything more to be concerned about.

This article appears also at HybridCars.com.

 

Jun 14

Future Mercedes EV Aiming for Supercar Acceleration

 

By Jon LeSage

TecDay Road to the Future – Drive Train

Mercedes-Benz revealed its next-generation electric car platform which will follow Tesla’s lead on battery placement and high-powered torque.

The German automaker held a tech briefing this week at its headquarters in Stuttgart, Germany, to explain its “multi-model vehicle architecture.” It will be previewed as a concept vehicle at the Paris Auto Show in late September, but isn’t scheduled to roll out as a production version until later in the decade.

While it’s been assumed that the first of these new Mercedes electric cars would be an SUV similar to the GLC, it may be a sporty sedan according to what Motor Authority has been hearing. It could be similar to the next-generation CLS, and may look like the Intelligent Aerodynamic Automobile concept unveiled at the 2015 Frankfurt Auto Show.

The new platform follows Tesla’s lead on placing a flat battery in the vehicle floor to maximize interior space and a low center of gravity. It will be joined by an electric motor at either axle, which will enable all-wheel drive. The design is “multi-modal” enough to offer various bodystyles. It’s expected to be versatile enough to bring out four new electric models – two sedans and two SUVs.

Mercedes-E-Class-668x409

Like the Tesla Model S and Model X, it is expected to have acceleration similar to supercars. That comes from the low-end torque of electric motors, which make Tesla models even more attractive to car shoppers. One Mercedes executive at the tech brief described the next-gen electric cars as being capable of offering performance on par with Mercedes-AMG cars for off-the-line acceleration.

SEE ALSO: New Mercedes-Benz Electric SUV to Preview in Paris: Chasing Tesla Model X

Mercedes says that it will be producing its own batteries through fellow Daimler subsidiary Deutsche Accumotive. That Daimler division already offers home energy storage in some markets, and is currently expanding its factory in preparation for the new electric cars.

Mercedes is going with lithium-ion batteries initially but it also exploring next-generation battery solutions, which the company calls “post-lithium-ion systems.” Mercedes says that lithium-sulphur could be the choice since it has the potential to double the energy density of a similar sized lithium-ion battery while halving the cost.

Motor Authority

This article appears also at HybridCars.com.

 

Jun 13

Musk says ‘fraudulent’ customer complaints spurred apparently open and shut suspension QC concerns

 

It was a strange week last week for Tesla. A blog post based on info supplied by a Model S owner alleged Tesla might be covering up problems with a criminality likened by that post’s writer to GM’s ignition scandal. That set Tesla off which personally called out the writer of that blog post as it sought to set the record straight.

But like a flash in the pan, concerns by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) aroused by the to-do seemed to be also dismissed. What happens this week will remain to be seen, but don’t be surprised if any more twists or turns happen. Here’s the latest, and by the way “NHTSA,” (pronounced nitsa), is simply called that, and not “the NHTSA.” Some journalists have not picked up on that, so you’ll see reports of “the NHTSA,” and that’s today’s trivia.

tesla-model-s

A brief but drama-laden media firestorm over allegations of ethical breaches by Tesla, and potentially faulty Model S suspension has reportedly been extinquished.

At least its case would seem to have been nullified, as Tesla CEO Elon Musk tweeted that 37 out of 40 supposed consumer complaints about suspension issues were found to have been falsified.

The drama was ignited with a June 9 post by The Daily Kanban which was re-reported by numerous outlets, including this one, and which prompted a counter blog post by Tesla.

On Friday, June 10, the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) did not reply to a request by HybridCars.com for more in-depth questions to be answered, but issued a brief statement at the end of the day.

“NHTSA’s review of the Tesla Model S suspension is a routine data collection. Tesla has fully cooperated with our requests for information, and NHTSA’s examination of the data is underway,” said Bryan Thomas, Communications Director, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. “To date, NHTSA has not identified any safety issue with Tesla’s suspensions. NHTSA has also confirmed that Tesla has clarified the language in its Goodwill Agreements in a satisfactory way, resolving the issue.”

This statement followed one from June 9 that came as the agency was fact finding.

“NHTSA is examining the potential suspension issue on the Tesla Model S, and is seeking additional information from vehicle owners and the company,” said Thomas.

“NHTSA learned of Tesla’s troublesome nondisclosure agreement last month. The agency immediately informed Tesla that any language implying that consumers should not contact the agency regarding safety concerns is unacceptable, and NHTSA expects Tesla to eliminate any such language. Tesla representatives told NHTSA that it was not their intention to dissuade consumers from contacting the agency. NHTSA always encourages vehicle owners concerned about potential safety defects to contact the agency by filing a vehicle safety complaint at SaferCar.gov.”

With that statement of “troublesome non-disclosure agreement,” as well as other statements made by the agency over the allegations, numerous mainstream reports were made of what this could mean for Tesla.

For its part, Tesla agreed to amend its NDAs, and said it never meant to thwart customers from reporting issues to the government.

A trail of tweets following relay Musk’s sentiment that false accusations suggest a person or multiple people sought to create the false impression of a safety issue when none existed.

Musk_tweets

This article appears also at HybridCars.com.

 

Jun 10

Why The New Chevy Volt’s Sales Are Only So-So

 

2016 Chevrolet Volt

Some have hoped the revised Chevrolet Volt’s sales would break through a glass ceiling this year, but with 2016 nearing the halfway point, indicators are it will be fortunate to exceed the original Volt’s best sales year in 2012.

The first-generation extended-range electric Volt was launched late 2010 for model year 2011 and sold just 7,671 units during a protracted rollout. Its peak sales in 2012 amounted to 23,461 units. In 2013, sales were flat with 23,094 units; in 2014 they dropped to 18,805 units, and in 2015 as word of the pending second-generation Volt spread, sales were just 15,393.

Flash forward to today. The second-generation Volt is here in all its anticipated glory. It is altogether improved, and there’s been half a decade for the general public to have gotten the memo on the Volt’s value to them.

SEE ALSO: 6 Ways the 2016 Chevy Volt Has Been Improved

That said, Michigan-based automotive analyst Alan Baum projects 23,000 units for this year, and so far he is basically on the money.

From January though May 2016, Chevrolet reported 7,871 U.S. sales. Contrast that with sales through May 2012, when the first-generation Volt documented 7,057 U.S. sales. That’s just 814 more sales spread over five months, or a mere 11-percent increase over how it did four years ago.

The new Volt is now already into the 2017 model year. It had been first revealed in January 2015 and last fall Chevrolet chose again a staged rollout to 11 states following California’s zero-emission rules.

Considering pent up demand, just in those states last fall it did relatively well with sales in the 2,000 range per month, plus or minus a bit.

ChevroletVoltReveal03

National rollout began early this year, and historically low January plug-in sales did not disappoint with only 996 Volts sold. In February 1,126 were delivered. From March forward, Volt sales revived to last fall’s levels hovering within 100 units of 1,900 monthly sales.

In response to how the Volt is doing however, Chevrolet Communication representative Fred Ligouri accentuated the positive.

“Volt sales are up 79 percent for CY 2016 versus the same time period in 2015,” said Ligouri. “That’s great momentum and we’re still in launch phase for the all-new Volt. Both existing and new Chevrolet customers are taking note of the 2017 Volt and visiting our strong network of Chevrolet dealerships to see it for themselves.”

SEE ALSO: Four Years Later, the Chevy Volt is Still the Most Fuel Efficient Car

The best month in the Volt’s history was August 2013 when it sold 3,351 units, but if things don’t change, it will not do that again this year, and Baum projects just 21,000 Volt sales for 2017, representing a decline.

Some Perspective

The year 2012 was as pivotal for the Volt as it was for the country as a whole. In fact, the Volt’s reputation was caught up in this nation’s politics, and experienced collateral damage by Republican campaigners attempting to smear Barack Obama’s policies.

A fire following a side-impact crash test in 2011 by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) also did nothing to help its public perception. The feds had the bright idea to park a Volt with a ruptured battery without discharging it, and more than a week later some crystallized coolant caused a short, and a smoldering fire. This plus false reports of potentially explosive li-ion batteries added to concerns about the battery dependent, taxpayer-dollar supported car.

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With all this ammo, a cottage industry of screed artists and self-appointed guardians of the truth made a sport of bashing the Volt. It was enough that former GM CEO Dan Akerson decried its treatment as a “political punching bag.”

Countering all the flak was a small but outspoken retinue of raving fans plus a laundry list of awards for the Volt’s new technology poised to lead America into an emerging industry, wean the country from its “addiction to oil,” and more.

Four years later, a car that once offered 35 miles all-electric range is now rated for 53 miles. The 2016 model also runs on regular gas instead of premium, gets better mpg, opened up the back seat theoretically for a fifth passenger, and is altogether better.

It’s again prompting a wave of positive reviews and acknowledgements but the status quo has not changed on that bottom-line measurement of success: sales.

So What’s The Problem?

Analyzing a macro-sized phenomenon can at best look at several factors that play into the whole picture.

The knee-jerk answer from the mainstream media may be the Volt is a victim of unexpectedly low gas prices, or it still costs too much at $35,000. These do likely play a part, but the $7,500 federal tax credit can make a Volt net within Toyota Prius territory, and gas prices may not matter as much as some think.

2016-Chevrolet-Volt-031

In sit-down interviews with General Motors, we’ve heard its top marketers and engineers say fuel prices are less of an issue for Volt owners because the goal in day-to-day driving is not to use gas at all. Further, for “green cars,” other intangible psychographic factors come into play, and in a word, Baum cites branding.

“They have failed to establish the Volt as a ‘brand name’ for PHEVs,” observes Baum. “Toyota has done that with the Prius for hybrids. Toyota has taken advantage of its branding to have products in a variety of mini-segments with the c, v, PHV/Prime. The Volt has not done that presumably because the hybrid technology is a more significant strategy for Toyota in its corporate positioning than the PHEV/BEV technology is to GM.”

Another example of branding is Tesla which just pushed Lexus out of the world’s top 10 most valuable brand list. Tesla has an undiluted message and sells its $67,000-$160,000 products in higher numbers than GM’s $35,000-$45,000 car. While people do buy the Model S or X to save gas, these are not poor folk trying to save a buck on their monthly bills.

The 2016/17 Volt is updated inside as well, and considered a technological halo for General Motors.

The 2016/17 Volt is updated inside as well, and considered a technological halo for General Motors.

Summing things, GM has yet to hit stride in creating excitement for its relative bargain of a car that is nonetheless high tech, well-engineered, has a good track record, and can run gas-free for average daily trips.

“They tried mass marketing in a variety of ways and it did not work well.” said Baum. “So they have gone to targeted marketing via social media, reaching out to groups interested in the vehicle or segment,”

GM also has sent mixed messages. HybridCars.com broke a story in early 2014 that Chevrolet had quietly ceased advertising the Volt outside of California and tech fairs where it said people could comprehend and appreciate the Volt.

Today Chevrolet is also finding its way as it seeks to motivate a dealer network of independent third-party franchises.

“Approximately two-thirds of our Chevrolet dealers are licensed to sell Volts, and their staff receive special training to communicate the benefits of the EV lifestyle, while having the experience and expertise to assist with all other aspects of the sales experience,” said Ligouri. “We welcome all customers in the market for any new car to our Chevrolet dealerships to see and learn more about the all-new Volt.”

At these dealers however, salespeople are not typically compensated for what may be a much more complicated sale. Although Chevrolet has dedicated dealers, a litany of anecdotes has trailed shoppers telling of salespeople steering them toward other models when they came in for a Volt, or not knowing much about it.

Erick Belmer of Ohio has driven more than 300,000 miles, and over 100,000 of them were all-electric. His battery still holds essentially the same charge as when new.

Erick Belmer of Ohio has driven more than 300,000 miles, and over 100,000 of them were all-electric. His battery still holds essentially the same charge as when new.

But while GM has heard from dismayed plug-in fans for being somehow under-committed, a phenomenon transcending the Volt is widespread lack of consumer comprehension and awareness. A survey in May by Consumers Union and the Union of Concerned Scientists found more than four out of 10 drivers (42 percent) in the Northeastern U.S. were unaware that plug-in electrified cars were even offered for sale by major automakers such as Ford, GM, or Nissan. Even in California, more than one-third (34 percent) did not know major automakers sold plug-in cars.

Not to be underestimated therefore is the plug-in car value proposition has fallen on deaf ears – and not just by many of the people charged with selling them, but also those who might buy them.

SEE ALSO: Chrysler Introduces America’s Most Fuel-Efficient Minivan – Just Don’t Call The Pacifica A Plug-in Hybrid

A tacit admission of this was by Chrysler, which is releasing the world’s first plug-in hybrid minivan, but calling it only the “Pacifica Hybrid,” because plug-in hybrids are deemed too confusing.

Also doing nothing for Volt sales in top state California is that solo access to HOV lane privileges have ceased. Talk this year was of increasing them, but so far, this perk has not been extended.

Also doing nothing for Volt sales in top state California is that solo access to HOV lane privileges have ceased. Talk this year was of increasing them, but so far, this perk has not been extended.

Factor this with myriad reports that can smear the facts against plug-in cars, and numerous other issues, and you have a veritable invisibility factor that’s been documented by consumer awareness surveys over the past five years.

It is an awkward spot Chevrolet is thus in, and while critical voices have offered from their armchairs how GM can fix the situation – or alleged conspiracy theories that it does not want to sell the Volt, uncertain issues not entirely in its control do remain.

SEE ALSO: Are Consumers Being Manipulated By Anti-Electric Car Propaganda?

For his part, Baum suggests GM is not willfully sabotaging its own sales for reasons such as preserving federal tax credits for the upcoming 2017 Bolt EV, or because the Volt is unprofitable as some have alleged.

GM has said the Volt is now in much better position, and the company would like to sell them, it has said, while not pinning a hard estimate on what is possible. The last time it did that in 2011 it was stung when it missed targets, so while Elon Musk is wiling to call 500,000 sales for 2018, any specific Volt sales projection is now verboten for GM.

But that does not mean it does not care, or is not committed.

“The Volt and Bolt are important to GM to show that they are technical leaders and they have been successful,” Baum said. “This is also part of the message to the technical and financial community that GM is an advanced player in PHEVs and BEVs. But the connection to customers is different and less easy to manage.”

To get the word out now, GM is doing more marketing, has said it is rethinking its strategy. Old school gee-whiz TV spots just never got through to the American public in a significant way, though the record shows GM tried many times over.

“As noted they have not been consistent in their mass marketing for the Volt and consumers do not understand the capabilities of the vehicle,” said Baum. “Nissan has had similar issues with the Leaf with the polar bear commercial followed by more general marketing. However, Nissan has made more of an effort with their dealers to reward them for the effort required to sell the Leaf.

“Establishing the Malibu and Cruze has been critical for GM and they have been successful at those tasks – albeit more difficult now as small cars have been a tougher sell,” Baum continued. “This is far more important to GM (domestically and globally) than sales of the Volt.”

Nor is there a supply problem for the car built in Detroit. There have been months where there were shortages in California and sales struggled, but that is less of an issue now than in the past.

“They could produce far more (true of Bolt and Volt) but it is a chicken and egg situation. Until the marketing improves, the sales will not, nor will production,” said Baum. “When they have increased production, they had to increase incentives which did not meet their goals.”

In short, wheels turn slowly. The Volt is the best selling plug-in gas-electric car, has been on the market the longest, and the only one to receive a full redesign.

Its critical EV range is nearly double the next-nearest competitor, and supporters yet hope that as the car itself has improved, sales will also.

This article appears also at HybridCars.com.

 

Jun 09

2016 Volt ‘Best Green Car’ for families, says Parents Magazine

 

Eventually mainstream America will get the message, won’t they? …

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Chevrolet’s fully revised 2016 Volt is the best green car for a family according to a recent assessment of all cars out there.

The results of a joint effort between Parents Magazine and Edmunds.com, the’ 10 “Best Family Cars of 2016″ list appears in the July issue of Parents Magazine.

The “extended-range electric” Volt is a compact-class car that’s unique in offering the highest range of pure electric driving, and surpasses all competitive plug-in hybrids by nearly twice the range or better.

SEE ALSO: 2016 Chevrolet Volt Review – First Drive

Its 53-miles EPA-rated electric range surpasses the next-nearest 27-mile estimated range Hyundai Sonata Plug-in Hybrid and pending sibling Kia Optima Plug-in Hybrid. When the battery depletes, the car seamlessly switches to being a hybrid and gets 42 mpg combined, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Both the Korean cars as well as the Ford Fusion Energi are midsized, have more back seat space than the Volt, but the Volt can keep off of gas longer per battery charge, which is the goal of plug-in hybrids.

Parents Magazine’s criteria in assessing vehicles weighed subjectively that a car is an extension of the home and “the place where we rehash our days, eat on-the-go meals, and spend quality time together,” said Parents Editor-in-Chief Dana Points.

Other factors are safety, and that a car offers a fun ride and relaxing environment for all family members.

The list of all 10 “Best Family Cars 2016” Follows:

• Best budget vehicle — Kia Soul ($15,800)
• Best green car — Chevrolet Volt ($25,720; after $7,500 federal tax credit)
• Best hatchback — Mazda 3 ($18,545)
• Best small sedan — Honda Civic ($18,640)
• Best sedan — Kia Optima ($21,990)
• Best wagon — Subaru Outback ($24,995)
• Best crossovers — Hyundai Tucson ($22,700) and Nissan Murano ($29,660)
• Best minivan — Toyota Sienna ($28,850)
• Best SUV — Honda Pilot ($30,145)

Consumer Affairs, Thanks to Bro1999.

This article appears also at HybridCars.com.

 

Jun 08

5 Basic Facts About Electric Cars Many Consumers Are Still Fuzzy About

 

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If it is true that “ignorance is bliss,” with regard to plug-in electrified vehicles, there could be a statistically significant number of ecstatic folk out there.

With offense meant to no one, at least true is following last month’s results of yet one more consumer survey yielding too-many cringeworthy answers, PEV advocates are again saying there is need for more consumer “education.”

According to the survey by Consumers Union and the Union of Concerned Scientists quizzing licensed drivers in nine Northeast states and California, responses to easy-peasy questions produced questionable results.

Why does this matter? Electrified vehicles are internationally acknowledged as possessing potential to go far beyond cliched thoughts surrounding them. The U.S. government, and other global governments have beaten the band that aside from environmental benefits, they stand to improve aspects of national security, geo-political/economic stability, health for future generations, and more, but somehow PEVs are still skipping below the radar.

SEE ALSO: 7 Reasons Why Automakers Are Electrifying Their Cars

This is true even though major manufacturers have been selling PEVs in America long enough for someone to have had a child and see it off to first grade by now, but alas, some consumers still have not learned their ABCs of EVs.

skateboard

But consumers can be forgiven if they know more about other subjects than electric cars. The market has been small, published info has at times been contradictory making consumers shut down to the prospect for now, and PEVs are a qualified decision even for those who do know all about them. But with the world now approaching 1.5 million PEVs on the road, there has been progress all around, the message is getting through, but advocates say more work is needed.

5 Basic Facts About Electric Cars Many Consumers Are Still Fuzzy About

Northeast states polled by the the CU/UCS survey were: Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Vermont, New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania. These were treated as one group, and Californians were treated as another in the same survey.

Following are five statements a significant percentage of respondents were still fuzzy about. Potential answers were “agree,” or “disagree,” or “don’t know.”

PEVs reduce oil use

oil-wells

So, what do you think? Does a car that radically reduces or eliminates reliance upon gasoline or diesel reduce oil use?

SEE ALSO: IMF Paper Reportedly Estimates 2015 Global Fossil Fuel ‘Subsidies’ At $5.3 Trillion

The CU/UCS poll found more than 34 percent of respondents in the Northeast said they did not know the answer, and 32 percent of Californians answered they also did not know.

In the Northeast also, almost 9 percent said they disagree – so that means PEVs increase oil use in their minds. And in California, 11 percent disagreed PEVs reduce oil use.

Correct answer: The PEVs are acknowledged to reduce oil (petroleum) use. That is why the federal government, as well as those in Europe, Asia, and elsewhere are on board. Even the Saudis recognize PEVs reduce oil, and they ought to know.

PEVs are often cheaper to operate than gasoline vehicles

Photo credit: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images. Aside from reduced fuel costs, PEVs typically also require less outlay for maintenance.

Photo credit: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images. Aside from reduced fuel costs, PEVs typically also require less outlay for maintenance.

This speaks of energy costs. Plug-in hybrids use both electric power and gas – which helps explain why some are still confused about them. Pure battery electric cars use just electricity.

So the question could be rephrased: in an apple-to-apple comparison of same miles for comparable cars, are PEVs more or less expensive to operate?

In the Northeast, almost 45 percent said they did not know. In California, over 38 percent also said they did not know. Among these same respondents, almost 19 percent in the Northeast said they disagreed, which would mean they think gasoline vehicles are cheaper to run. In California, almost 20 percent also sided with this view.

Correct answer: In an overwhelming majority of cases PEVs are less costly to operate. Their electric motors use energy with upwards of 90-percent efficiency. Electricity costs vary across the country, but even with $2 gas, PEVs in electric mode operate with efficiency potentially good enough to cut costs by better than half this much, according to the U.S. EPA.

Pure EVs by average national energy costs might return efficiency equal to getting gasoline for 70-80 cents more or less per gallon. In the case of plug-in hybrids, they offer the energy benefits of pure EVs while running on electricity for 11-53 miles depending on make and model, and on gas, their fuel efficiency is from high 30s to 50 mpg. 

The trick with plug-in hybrids is to get one with enough EV range to avoid gas for most average driving needs which can be less than 40 miles per day.

PEVs can be recharged from a regular home outlet

 EVs like this Leaf recharge much quicker with higher voltage and amperage from more-powerful EVSE.

EVs like this Leaf recharge much quicker with higher voltage and amperage from more-powerful EVSE.

Can a car like a Nissan Leaf, Chevy Volt, or Tesla Model S be charged from the wall socket at a residence?

Granted the bigger-battery EVs from Nissan and Tesla can take prohibitively long to recharge from just 120-volt, relatively low amperage current, but the question is can it be done?

In the Northeast, more than 34 percent said they did not know, and in California, just shy of 29 percent also said they did not know.

How many disagreed and effectively said PEVs cannot be plugged into a wall? In the Northeast it was over 17 percent, and in California it was over 20 percent.

Correct answer: All PEVs can be plugged into an ordinary 120-volt household outlet. As noted, cars like a Leaf can take day and night to replenish an empty battery, and a Model S could take even longer, but it can be done.

Plug-in hybrids can also be plugged into the wall, and many owners never bother installing 240-volt level-2 electric vehicle supply equipment (EVSE) as a recharge can be done in several hours or overnight when the car is not in use anyway.

PEVs reduce climate emissions compared to an average gas-powered vehicle

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Perhaps reflecting the fact that PEVs are often emphasized for their climate-improvement potential, not as many people missed the mark.

In the Northeast over 20 percent said they did not know, and in California, nearly 20 percent did not know.

Among those who said they disagreed, implying PEVs worsen climate change emissions compared to an average gas-powered vehicle, in the Northeast almost 6 percent signed on to that list, and in California it was 7 percent.

Correct answer: PEVs are widely acknowledged by scientists and government bodies the world over as cleaner cradle to grave than comparable internal combustion vehicles. That means their manufacture, lifetime operation, and post-consumer existence yields fewer overall greenhouse gas emissions.

Many major automakers (e.g. Ford, GM, Nissan) offer at least one PEV

2017-Chevrolet-BoltEV-0042-668x409

Would you think a lot of people would get this one right? If so, you would be incorrect, as a large percentage of the survey respondents did not know the answer.

In the Northeast, more than 42 percent did not know that any plug-in electrified cars were offered for sale by major automakers such as Ford, GM, Nissan, etc.

In California – the plug-in car capital of America – over 34 percent of respondents answered they did not know if major automakers sell PEVs.

Those who disagreed that major carmakers sell PEVs amounted to over 10 percent in the Northeast, and more than 11 percent in California. This would mean around one-in-10 people deny major manufacturers sell any plug-in cars.

Correct answer: Major manufacturers do produce and sell plug-in electrified vehicles. To be fair the Northeasterners, several automakers refuse to sell some of their PEVs there, and offer them only in states meeting California zero emission rules. That said, every state has at least some PEVs from major automakers available.

SEE ALSO: May 2016 Sales Dashboard

In the U.S. the total number of plug-in hybrids now for sale is 14, and there are 13 battery electric cars.

Manufacturers selling PEVs include Audi, BMW, Chevrolet, Cadillac, Fiat, Ford, Hyundai, Kia, Mercedes-Benz, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Porsche, Tesla, Toyota, Volkswagen, and Volvo.

Source: UCS

This article appears also at HybridCars.com.

 
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