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GM Doubles Down On “Moon Shot” Volt EV

GM is throwing down a cool $449 million for an upgrade of its Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly and Brownstown Battery Assembly plants, and that’s good news for anybody who wants to wrap their hands around a next-generation Volt EV, which company officials have hinted is a “moon shot” compared to the current model.

The Hamtramck plant is the manufacturing home of the Volt as well as the Cadillac ELR. The upgrade, along with the hinted-at technology leap for the Volt, puts GM in a position to compete with Tesla in the market for a $30,000 EV with a 200-mile battery range.

next generation Volt concept car

Next generation Volt concept car (cropped) by Ross M. Karchner.

A New Home For The Volt And Two Mystery Products

The infusion of cash will mainly go the Hamtramck plant, with $384 million for a number of upgrades including new Body Shop tooling and equipment.

Along with the next-generation Volt, GM hinted at “two future products” that will be manufactured at the upgraded facility.

The rest of the pot goes to revamp the Brownstown Battery Assembly plant. If you recall the “web” of advanced battery plants funded by the Recovery Act that we wrote about back in 2010, that included the Brownstown facility.

Also worth noting about the two facilities, Hamtramck is the site of a 516 kW solar installation that can charge 150 EVs daily, and Brownstown is a landfill-free operation.

We’re also guessing that both plants were, or will be, upgraded to a new energy-saving operating model that GM developed a couple of years ago in partnership with GE, in which conveyors on the assembly lines are synchronized with lights and other equipment.

Advantage, Volt?

That 200 mile mark is quite a leap for the Volt, which is currently designed with both a short-range battery and a gas tank for extended trips. The car always runs in electric drive even when the gas tank is in use.

The concept of an all-electric drive with full gasoline backup is a straightforward solution to the “range anxiety” issue. Hesitant EV buyers get to experience the quality of an all-electric drive while riding on a cushion of gasoline, which could soften them up for eventually buying an EV with no gas tank.

That gasoline cushion is especially important for car owners in traffic-congested areas, where unexpected delays are the occasion for all sorts of anxieties let alone range anxiety. The owner of this Volt we spotted on a crowded Los Angeles freeway last month certainly didn’t seem anxious.

Chevy Volt on LA freeway

GM Volt on LA freeway (photo by Tina Casey).

As expected, many Volt owners are keenly aware of the savings from using the battery and have modified their driving habits to use as little gasoline as possible. The company also reports that avoiding the wait at gas stations is an added incentive for owners to favor the battery over the gas tank.

Volt is also being marketed as a straight-up American car for everybody, which could help it win the popular vote when compared to Tesla, which is also an American car but — perhaps unintentionally — is drifting toward the Google Glass crowd.

All else being equal, the next generation Volt could give Tesla a run for the money.

Moonshot, btw, is the historic program that vaulted the US over Russia in the race to put a man on the moon. No word yet on whether or not GM plans to put a Volt on the moon but stay tuned.

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Written By

Tina specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.


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