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Volt to List at $41,000: GM Says Unrealistic to Compare It With $32,780 Nissan Leaf


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Volt to List at $41,000: GM Says Unrealistic to Compare It With $32,780 Nissan Leaf

By Scott Doggett and John O'Dell

San Jose, Calif. - After months of suspense and speculation - most of it wrong, it turns out - General Motors finally has let the cat out of the bag: The 2011 Chevrolet Volt extended range plug-in hybrid will carry a base price of $41,000.

There had been plenty of guesstimating that the General, faced with a weak economy and competition from Nissan's battery-electric 2011 Leaf for at least some Volt shoppers, would bring the Volt in at around $35,000 before any federal, state or local incentives.

The Leaf, which seats five versus the Volt's four-occupant capacity, carries a base price of $32,780, jumping to $33,720 for the upgraded SE model, before any incentives.

GM executives, meeting with select automotive writers last night, said there will be three trim levels for the Volt, with prices ranging from $41,000 to $44,600 before incentives, but they emphasized that even the base model would be packed with amenities worth thousands of dollars and typically offered as extra-cost upgrades.

GM's strategy is a bold one that will reward the company if it works because it means the Volt likely will be sold for something close to what it costs to build and won't be straining GM's red-ink supply.

If consumers reject the idea of a $41,000 Chevrolet four-seater - even one with stellar fuel efficiency and next-generation powertrain technology - GM will have spent more than $750 million (that's the development cost it gave Congress in is post-bankruptcy business plan) on a losing bet.

The failure would damage its reputation and endanger its financial future by putting it years behind the competition in coming up with a marketable fuel-efficiency play.

General Motors, however, says that it doesn't consider the Leaf, with its 100-mile range on a battery pack that must then be recharged - a process that can take from four to 10 hours, depending on the voltage available - to be any competition for the Volt.

No Competition

"There is no competitor," said Tony J. DiSalle, director of product marketing and communications for the Volt, insisting that the model is neither a conventional hybrid nor a battery-electric vehicle but a represents instead a new class of powertrain.

The car, which is about the size of a Chevy Malibu (and looks a lot like one, some critics say) was developed over the past three years in an intensive effort by GM to restore its green credentials after the much-criticized decision to kill the EV1 battery-electric car program.

Unlike a "pure" electric car that uses only power from its rechargeable batteries and has no tailpipe emissions, the Volt uses a small four-cylinder gasoline engine to generate electricity following the 16-kilowatt-hour battery pack's initial charge from the commercial power grid.

The Volt's wheels are driven only by the car's electric motor, but after the battery is depleted - it can deliver up to 40 miles of all-electric driving at relatively low city speeds - an engine-generator kicks on and the Volt burns gasoline to supply more electricity, emitting CO2 and the various pollutants associated with gasoline.

MPG? What MPG?

GM created a media furor early on by claiming that the Volt would obtain an EPA rating of 230 miles per gallon in city driving when the combined all-electric range and gasoline consumption of the engine-generator were factored together.

The EPA, however, has never supported that claim and GM now says the agency - which is recalculating how to compute fuel economy for mixed-fuel vehicles such as the Volt - has told the automaker not to provide a fuel-economy figure for the vehicle pending the EPA's estimates for city, highway and combined driving.

We're betting on an EPA rating somewhere in the 60-70 mpg range.

GM says it is confident the Volt's pricing won't hurt sales and leasing because the car comes with tons of standard equipment and is, in the words of Joel Ewanick, GM's vice president of marketing for North America, "the real deal."

"It's a real car that just happens to be electric," he told the autowriters and nine other GM employees who were on hand. "It's not something that's a unique little niche vehicle. This is something that 75 percent of Americans can use for their daily commuting needs, but yet if they need to they can use it for an extended range."

Meaning, they can travel to and from work using only electricity (up to and possibly exceeding 40 miles on a charge) before the gas-powered engine-generator would be needed.

An 'Unreal Car'

Battery-electrics such as the Leaf (right), Ewanick said, aren't full-service autos that can be purchased to be an owner's primary vehicle. Range in the BEV is limited and heat, cold and harsh driving conditions such as steep terrain can dramatically reduce range and impact performance.

Unlike the Leaf's battery pack, the Volt's will be kept within a temperature range using various heating and cooling devices that will help with its longevity, DiSalle said.

Picking up on the thread laid down by Ewanich, DiSalle said GM is confident that the Volt will be seen by consumers as a "real" car that can climb mountains, run in snow or in the desert and get people where they need to go without long delays to recharge.

While recharging the Volt's battery when it is parked is advisable to maximize its electric-drive benefits, you don't have to worry about running out of fuel as long as there's a gas station around," said Ewanick.

Without mentioning the Leaf by name, he said, "Nobody likes to drive on red. ... If you're driving a pure-electric vehicle, you're always going to be in that zone. You're always going to have that anxious moment. For a small group of people, that's OK." But, he said, with the Volt GM is "making a volume play."

Warranties Galore

The Volt will come with an 8-year, 100,000-mile warranty on its 16 kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack; a 5-year, 100,000-mile "limited" warranty on the engine-generator; a 6-year, 100,000-mile corrosion warranty; and a 3-year-, 36,000-mile bumper-to-bumper warranty to cover everything else, the company said.

In another bit of news, DiSalle said the Volt can reach 60 miles an hour from a standstill in a respectable 9 seconds and has a top speed of 100 mph. While refusing to discuss the size of the model's on-board gas tank, he said the Volt will be able to go about 40 miles on electricity followed by about 300 miles on gasoline for a 340-mile range between refueling.

When Green Car Advisor told Volt Vehicle Line Director Tony L.Posawatz that a lot of people will immediately think of the much-lower Leaf price when they learn the price of the Volt, he grinned and said: "I just want to know who's going to pay for the Leaf battery when it needs to be replaced. Is that in the price or not? I don't know how long those batteries are going to last [Nissan has not announced its battery warranty yet] and you've got to factor that in.

"We know my battery is designed to last 10 years or 150,000 miles, and it's warrantied eight years in the initial version. So we just want to understand when you cycle a battery very deeply - 85 percent - without liquid cooling it [like the Volt's battery], who pays for that replacement? And is that factored into the cost of the car?

"The other thing I want to know is, 'How much does the 340-mile-range Leaf cost?' " he said sarcastically with a smirk. "If they can answer those two questions, I'm good."

'Standard Equipment'

One of the big pieces of standard "equipment" GM will be pushing is a fully-paid 5-year subscription of the top level "Direction and Connection" package of GM's On-Star telematics service (a $1,500 value for free) as well as a suite of mobile applications that work with various smart phones, including Apple's iPhone and Motorola's Droid.

Among the applications: You can be in your office and instruct your Volt's air-conditioner to come on, cooling the car while it's still plugged in. That way the vehicle is cool and fully charged when you leave the office a short time later.

Other standard equipment includes a Bose premium six-speaker audio system, Bluetooth connectivity, XM Satellite Radio for three months, a 30-gigabyte hard drive for music downloads, two LCD screens, a touch-sensitive control panel on the center stack, a 120-volt travel charger, and a 7-inch navigational screen with turn-by-turn directions (a $1,500 value).

There's plenty more standard stuff. Indeed, there's so much that the upgrades are limited to: Polished aluminum Tomahawk wheels; a leather interior package (think leather seats, leather-wrapped steering wheel, leather door trim); premium exterior paint ($495 for red tint coat; $995 for either of two tri-coat colors); and, rear camera and park assist. The top price for a Volt, which includes all of these upgrades, is $44,600 before incentives.


Now that price presumes dealers don't engage in price-gouging. But with more than 600 Chevy dealers participating in the initial Volt roll-out alone, there shouldn't be any of that nonsense.

As for the roll-out, the latest on that is from a conversation DiSalle had with us last night: The Volt will be available in limited numbers throughout California, New Jersey, Connecticut and Washington, D.C. starting the last quarter of this year; in Texas starting in Austin first, then expanding to other cities toward the end of the first quarter next year; in New York, Manhattan first, then expanding throughout state toward the end of the first quarter; Michigan will start to see some Volts the first quarter of next year.

Those are the initial seven markets. The rest of the nation won't start seeing Volts in dealerships until the end of 2011 till the middle of 2012. Why, oh, why? you might wonder.

Although DiSalle said demand is expected to exceed supply and the wait time from order to delivery will be two to three month initially, GM isn't going to rush things."There's a lot of innovation in this and that's why we're building just 10,000 units through the 2011 calendar year," he said. "We just want to make sure we do this in a very high-quality fashion."

While GM doesn't want to put the Volt on the same shopping list with the Leaf, we believe a considerable number of consumers will.

Lots to Compare

What they'll see in comparing the two is that the Leaf also offers some pretty impressive standard equipment to go along with its lower price, including on the base Leaf SV model: navigation, remote start and remote charging operated through a smart-phone application or laptop computer, LED headlamps, Bluetooth connectivity, Intelligent Key for ignition and locks, vehicle dynamic control, traction control, six airbags, XM Satellite Radio and 3 years of roadside assistance.

For an additional $940, the Leaf's SL trim level adds a rear-view camera, a solar panel spoiler that provides a trickle charge for interior cooling fans, a cargo cover, automatic headlamps and fog lights.

In comparison, the base Volt comes with all the stuff we mentioned above plus the multiple warranties (arguably needed to inspire confidence in people who, likely, have never considered buying a Chevy sedan, least of all one priced like a Cadillac); plus, as Posawatz so delicately put it, the ability to keep going (albeit using gasoline) when the electrons are used up.

But the comparisons don't stop there. GM also will offer a lease plan for the Volt: 36 months for as low as $350 a month with $2,500 due on signing. Nissan will offer a three-year Leaf lease for $349 a month after a $1,999 up-front payment. Ah, who doesn't like a little competition?

One big difference between the two automakers is how they intend to sell their cars. Whereas Nissan has relied heavily on the Web thus far, Chevy is counting on dealers to sell its Volts.

Ordering Process

Chevrolet will encourage the Volt buyer to go to getmyvolt.com to locate the Volt dealer nearest him or her, then contact the dealer by email, phone or in person. After that, the buyer and the dealer will come to terms in the traditional manner. Once a sale is made, the dealer will place an order.

Soon after, the buyer can expect to be contacted by a Volt representative, who will offer instructions on how the buyer can go online and track his or her vehicle through production.

"You can actually track the status of your car. You know what's going on with it. Because we're really concerned about consumer expectations," Ewanick said.

Yes, it does sound a lot like tracking a Fed Ex or UPS parcel. But hey, if you're spending more than $30,000 for a car that's "in the works," you'd probably like to know exactly where in the works it is.



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