Just Car Blog
|Fisker Automotive Lays Off More Staff||
The bad news just keeps coming for luxury electric automaker Fisker. First there were a series of recalls relating to the extended-range-electric Karma’s battery pack and controller software. This was followed by news that Fisker’s Department of Energy loans had been dramatically cut for missing key milestones. Then came layoffs, at exactly the time Fisker should have been ramping up staffing to build the Atlantic sedan (formerly known as “Project Nina”) at its plant in Delaware.
Now comes word from Autoblog that Fisker has again made staffing cuts at its Delaware facility. Gone are 12 additional employees, including engineers, business development managers and maintenance workers, leaving only a skeleton crew to maintain the former GM plant now owned by Fisker.
Assuming that Fisker works out its current conflict with the DOE, the issue of where the Atlantic will be built appears to be very much up in the air. The Karma is currently built under license by Valmet in Finland, so it’s entirely possible that the Atlantic could be off-shored, too. Fisker isn’t clarifying the situation just yet, saying only that a decision on the Atlantic’s production facility won’t be made until late in the third quarter.
|GM Counters Chevy Volt Fire Fears By Offering Loaner Cars||
There’s been a significant amount of coverage in the news lately about post-crash fires in Chevy Volt extended-range EV’s, likely as a result of an NHTSA investigation into the car. While there have been no documented cases of an undamaged Chevy Volt causing a fire, GM is erring on the side of caution and offering free loaner vehicles to any Volt owner who has concerns about the fire risk posed by the car.
The president of GM North America, Mark Reuss, stressed the company’s emphasis on safety in a recent press release, saying, “Even though no customer has experienced in the real world what was identified in this latest testing of post-crash situations, we’re taking critical steps to ensure customer satisfaction and safety.”
Those critical steps include arranging loaner cars for Volt owners concerned about safety, and Reuss commented, “A vehicle loan program of this nature is well beyond the norm for a preliminary investigation, and it underlines our commitment to the vehicle and its owners. These steps are the right ones to take regardless of any immediate impact on our operations.”
GM is also working on the issue of how to deal with Volt battery packs following a severe crash. This issue applies not only to the Volt, but to any other electric car or plug-in hybrid on the market, since all could potentially pose a fire risk following severe damage to the battery packs. GM is working with the Society of Automotive Engineers to develop post-crash protocols on draining battery packs to prevent future incidents.
|Confirmed: Cadillac Will Build Converj, Call It ELR||
Just last week we told you that, like zombies and politicians, the Cadillac Converj electric car concept had risen from the grave. Now GM is confirming those rumors, admitting that development work is underway for a car it’s calling the Cadillac ELR. The name ELR (“Electric Long Range” is our guess) befits the car’s electric propulsion system, and ties in with the brand’s three-letter naming convention.
Like the Volt, the ELR will be powered by a lithium-ion battery pack powering an electric drive unit. When the batteries are depleted, a range-extending generator will kick in, giving the ELR the benefits of an electric car around town, with the range of a conventional, gasoline-powered car for longer trips. GM isn’t releasing any details on the ELR just yet, but Green Car Reports says it will be built around the Voltec 1.5 drivetrain; in other words, it will be more advanced than the current Volt, but not yet up to the specifications of the next-generation Volt.
The two big unknowns are performance and price. The current Volt has a battery range of around 35 miles, under “normal” driving conditions, but it’s tuned to limit acceleration to achieve this range. Cadillac buyers will likely expect better performance from the ELR, so some range will need to be sacrificed in the name of acceleration. Balancing the two will take a significant amount of work, as well as a significant amount of market research to determine what buyers want, and what they can live with.
Then there’s the issue of price. The Cadillac ELR will clearly sell above the Volt’s $40k price point, but will be better-appointed and more luxurious. It’s rumored that GM still loses money on each Volt sold, and they can’t afford to do the same thing on two cars across two divisions. To be profitable with the ELR, GM will need to contain the production cost, which all-too often means reducing interior content. If the ELR stickers for $15k more than the Volt (and we’re just guessing here), consumers will expect that much more performance and that much more quality.
We’re fans of the Volt, but we’re bigger fans of the Voltec drivetrain’s potential. Cadillac has done well with their CTS and SRX models in recent years, so it knows a thing or two about building cars that the public wants to buy. We’re guessing that Cadillac will be successful with the ELR, and we can’t wait to drive one.
|Report: Cadillac Converj Electric Car Rises From The Dead||
When Cadillac showed their Converj extended-range electric concept at the 2009 North American International Auto Show, it was a huge hit with both the public and critics alike. The futuristic coupe was unlike anything Cadillac had styled to date, and the car’s lines foreshadowed the CTS Coupe, released in 2010. The Converj project got the green light, and by January 2010 the Converj had even been approved by GM’s management.
Then, without warning, GM killed the project in March of 2010, saying only that the program had not reached a point at which “development would be occurring in earnest.” While vaguely ambiguous, the statement meant that GM couldn’t make a profit on the low projected sales volume of the Converj, and they couldn’t find a way to blend luxury, range and performance in a way that would suit Cadillac customers.
Now that GM’s had some development, production and sales experience with the Volt, the automaker is willing to take another shot at the Converj. Green Car Reports has learned that the car is back in Cadillac’s product plan, and will likely launch in 2013 as a 2014 model. It won’t get the next generation Voltec powertrain, which isn’t due until 2015, but it will get an updated version of the system used in the current Volt.
Today’s Volt is capable of substantially more performance than it delivers, but improving acceleration greatly reduces range. The Converj will need to balance the acceleration and handling that Cadillac customers have come to expect with a reasonable battery range. In the process, the car’s content and comfort can’t be sacrificed, and that’s no easy task for engineers.
It’s far too early to speculate about what the Converj will cost, but it will have to cost more, possibly much more, than a fully loaded Volt. If you check all the option boxes on a 2012 Volt, it comes to $45,270, which means the Converj will likely start north of $50k. Whether or not that’s too much money depends on the car’s content and performance, as well as Volt sales and reputation over the next 2 years.
If GM has again given the Converj program a green light, it means that they’ve figured out a way around the obstacles that killed the car back in 2010. Let’s hope that’s the case, because we’d love to see a performance oriented Cadillac extended range electric car on the roads.
Source: Green Car Reports
|Fisker Karma Production Begins||
The Chevrolet Volt will soon relinquish its title as the sole production serial hybrid automobile, as Fisker has announced the start of Karma production. The cars will be built by manufacturer Valmet Automotive, the Finnish automaker who produces the Cayman and Boxster under license from Porsche. Plans are to launch the car simultaneously in the U.S. and the E.U., with initial deliveries beginning in April. To ensure consistent quality of production models, Fisker will ramp up the manufacturing volume slowly; in fact, only 7,000 Karmas are expected to be delivered worldwide in 2011.
The stylish sedan starts at $88,000 in the U.S. market, but has more than good looks to back up the asking price. Like the Volt, the Karma is considered an “extended range EV”; in other words, when the 20 kW lithium ion batteries are depleted, an on-board gasoline engine fires up to power a generator and provide additional range. Power goes to the dual electric motors mounted in the rear of the car, which are good for a combined output of 403 horsepower. The Karma has a battery-powered top speed of 95 miles per hour, and does the zero to one hundred kph (62 mph) sprint in 7.9 seconds. In Hybrid Sport mode (which presumably supplements power from the batteries with power from the generator), the zero to one hundred kph time drops to 5.9 seconds, with the top speed improving to 125 miles per hour. The combined battery and generator range is said to be 300 miles, based on a full battery charge and a full tank of gas.
|The 2011 Chevy Volt Is As Good As The Hype – Chevrolet Volt Full Test Drive||
‘The 2011 Chevy Volt Is As Good As The Hype’
There appear to be two camps when it comes to the Chevy Volt; on the one hand, detractors cry, “it’s just another hybrid”, while discussing conspiracy theories about government subsidies for electric vehicles. On the other hand, those who’ve driven it, myself included, come away pretty damn impressed. How impressed? Motor Trend just named the 2011 Chevy Volt the “Car of the Year”, and not two hours later Automobile magazine followed up with the “Automobile of the Year” award. I’ll tell you flat out: the Chevy Volt is perhaps the most significant automobile of the past 50 years, and it’s the launching pad for a whole new generation of high-tech vehicles. You can love it or you you can hate it, but you certainly can’t ignore it.
Before I tell you about my own experience driving a Volt from NYC to Detroit, here’s a little background on me. I grew up as the son of a mechanic and garage owner, and learned to spin wrenches at an early age. I’ve got 10w40 in my veins, and I consider the hybrid and the CVT to be among the worst inventions of mankind. Really, in my book both rank up there with bubonic plague and telemarketing, since they are diametrically opposed to everything that makes a car fun to drive. Give me superior handling with reasonable horsepower and light weight, then let me row my own gears. Don’t give me a power train that combines the worst of a low-power internal combustion engine with the inefficiencies of battery power, and don’t give me a transmission that thinks it’s smarter than I am but sounds like a slipping Powerglide. When the decline of Western Civilization is said and done, history will mark the rise of the hybrid and CVT as the beginning of the end, I’m sure of it.
Biases aside, I was willing to give the Volt a fair shot at impressing me. It is, after all, an extended range electric vehicle, a term that I find much more palatable than “serial hybrid”, which is how the Society of Automotive Engineers defines the Volt. My trip began under less than ideal circumstances, since a breaker had tripped in the hotel parking garage overnight, leaving us with a battery range of just six miles. Had we been driving an EV from the competition, we would have checked back into the hotel, then gone out drinking for the day. As it was, we soldiered on through the wet streets of Manhattan, pelted by a wintry mix of rain, sleet and hail.
In traffic, the Volt takes some getting used to. It’s utterly silent and vibration free until you step on the gas. Do so, and you’re magically thrust forward (the maximum torque of an electric motor coming at zero RPM), accompanied only by the click of some relays and the hum of the motor. Braking takes some getting used to, as the Volt uses both regenerative braking and conventional braking. A light brake pedal effort slows the car, while slightly more effort seems to induce a negative-two-G panic stop. You get used to it quick enough, but I don’t recommend taking your first Volt test drive with a cup of hot coffee in your hands.
The transition from battery power to gasoline generator power is seamless and transparent to the driver and occupants. Tax the depleted batteries by climbing a pass or accelerating hard from a standing start, and the Volt’s 1.4 liter gasoline engine will rev to redline. It’s OK, since it’s supposed to do this to generate sufficient power for the batteries and motors. It’s an odd sensation to be at a partial throttle setting and hear the engine at redline, and I’m sure Chevy will get a few phone calls from customers concerned with slipping transmissions (relax, since the Volt really doesn’t have a transmission). You won’t hear the motor unless it’s at full song, which means that the Volt’s normal soundtrack consists of wind noise and tire noise. Even that is muted, thanks to the Volt’s slippery aerodynamics and low rolling resistance tires. In fact, the most remarkable thing about the Volt is what you don’t FEEL; since there’s virtually no vibration from the drivetrain, even long days behind the wheel are relatively fatigue free. I’d equate eight hours behind the wheel of a Volt to about five hours behind the wheel of a conventional car, and that’s no minor achievement.
I was prepared to like to Volt, but I was astonished at how much I wound up liking it. It’s not a sport sedan, so get that idea out of your head. With that clarified, the Volt will still run from zero to sixty in under 9 seconds, and will pull reasonably hard up to it’s mechanically limited top speed of 100 miles per hour. On the road, it feels like a real car, not some science fair experiment, and that’s another major plus. Steering is nicely weighted, and turn-in at reasonable speeds is crisp. Push the Volt hard in a corner, and it reminds you that 3,800 pounds worth of motors, engines and electronics on skinny 215/55-17 tires won’t win you any SCCA Solo championships. Understeer is the order of the day, but it’s easily controlled and I couldn’t get the platform to exhibit any quirky handling traits, though not for lack of trying. The Volt is no BMW 3 Series, but it’s no worse than any other front drive family sedan on the market.
The Volt is a remarkably comfortable car for long distance travel. The leather seats are supportive and even feature seat heaters, should you wish to tax the Volt’s battery-only range. My co-driver was six foot four, and he had no problem getting comfortable as a driver or a passenger. My five foot, ten inch frame fit just fine in the back seat, which is also all-day-long comfortable. Drop the twin rear seats (the battery pack splits them and precludes a three passenger bench seat) and cargo room is ample, with a rear hatch allowing easy loading. The Volt gives you the hauling ability of a small SUV or crossover, adding to its do-it-all versatility.
It’s not perfect, since there are a few things I’d change before taking the Volt to market. The center stack is poorly designed, and contains controls for the nav, HVAC, audio system and information displays. There’s no color coding, so figuring out which button controls which function is like learning to fly a 747 without instruction. Worse, the buttons are touch sensitive; brush the wrong one and you lose the map, change the radio, reset the temperature or call up some obscure display showing the Volts “electrons per furlong” usage. Another gripe was the interior graphics: unless you’re going for the Fisher Price set, squiggles and random geometric patterns do not make for a peaceful, relaxing cabin. One of the Volts we drove had a fluorescent green interior, with a graphic pattern reminiscent of the microorganisms that cause dysentery. I offered to fix this, at my own expense, but the GM engineers wouldn’t let me stop for a roll of masking tape and a rattle can of paint.
After two long days behind the wheel, that was the extent of my complaints, which makes the Volt a huge achievement in my book. Our fuel economy of 38.8 mpg on batteries and gasoline-fired generator will only serve to give critics another rally point, but you’ve got to remember that we were auto journalists let loose on the highways of America. It was our moral obligation to test things like acceleration, top speed and whether or not we could beat an Acura TL in a 70 to 85 mile per hour roll on. We did, but that’s beside the point. The remarkable thing is that three adults drove a Volt some 700 miles in supreme comfort and reasonable style, stopping only for lunch, bio breaks and (occasionally) gas. Had we driven like normal, responsible adults (and had we started both days with fully charged batteries), I’m certain our fuel economy would have been better.
That the Volt is a supreme cross-country vehicle is vaguely ironic, since it was never designed for that purpose. The Volt is a commuter car, designed to carry the 90% of American workers who live within 20 miles of their office to and from work on battery power alone. Unlike other EVs, you can hop in a Volt and drive cross country tomorrow without stopping to recharge the batteries at 100 mile intervals, which makes the Volt the first practical electric car to come on the market. I’d call that revolutionary, not just evolutionary as some critics have claimed.
It’s not perfect, but it’s a damn good first attempt. You need to drive one when you have a chance, because this is the start of a whole new breed of automobiles. If the future is as promising as the Chevy Volt, there may be hope yet.