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GM aims to win over EV1 fans on Chevrolet Volt consumer panel

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GM aims to win over EV1 fans on Chevrolet Volt consumer panel

BY CHRISSIE THOMPSON

FREE PRESS BUSINESS WRITER

Kris Trexler cried when he had to turn in his EV1. Bob Shafron, another EV1 driver, swore he'd never buy another General Motors vehicle. Chelsea Sexton, who had leased EV1s, doubted GM's ongoing electric vehicle plans for years.

But as GM inches closer to launching the Chevrolet Volt extended-range electric vehicle, the automaker is trying to win over the hundreds of drivers it alienated when it took away their EV1 pure electric vehicles early last decade.

Some, such as Trexler, plan to get a Volt because of its gasoline engine that takes over when battery power runs out after 25 to 50 miles -- a feature some requested on the EV1 that's absent from the upcoming Nissan Leaf all-electric car.

"I only want one car, and unfortunately, the Leaf cannot be my only car," Trexler said.

Others are undecided but could change their minds after extended test-drives. Some former EV1 drivers are part of a consumer group that will get to drive preproduction Volts from late October through the end of January to give GM feedback. They met Tuesday in metro Detroit to prepare.

But for EV1 driver Doug Korthof, the Volt isn't an option. The 25- to 50-mile battery range is too short, he said. And the $41,000 pre-tax-credit price is too high.

"The Volt is a hoax," Korthof said. "It's not what we wanted."

Kris Trexler needed only one drive to decide to give the Chevrolet Volt a shot.

Trexler, a Los Angeles film and video editor who got an EV1 the first day the electric car was available for lease, had already signed up to buy a Nissan Leaf pure electric car when, in April, General Motors gave former EV1 drivers a chance to drive preproduction Volts.

"I made up my mind on that day that I was interested in getting one," Trexler said of the Volt.

In July, when GM announced the Volt's lease price -- as low as $350 a month for 36 months after a $2,500 down payment -- "I said there's no way that I'm not going to get one," Trexler said.

Other former EV1 drivers haven't made the decision as quickly. But most say they've gotten over their initial skepticism about GM's plans to build the Volt. Some of them, including Trexler, have agreed to join the consumer group testing the Volt.

Nine of the 15 testers convened Tuesday in metro Detroit for training on the Volt, a tour of the Hamtramck plant that builds the car and a test-drive at GM's proving grounds in Milford.

Former EV1 driver Colin Summers, an architect from Santa Monica, Calif., said the test-drive proved GM has created a Volt with better steering and a nicer interior than the ones the EV1 group drove in April. But Summers, who calls himself a skeptic, says his decision-making will happen at home.

"In real-world use, during my regular driving, errands, dropping off the kids, do I stay within the battery range?" he said of the Volt's 25- to 50-mile battery capacity. "I don't want to burn any gas" -- except for on long trips.

At least one GM executive can understand Summers' skepticism. Andrew Farah, chief engineer of the Volt, had managed development of software controls for the EV1's battery and motor.

When GM offered him his current job, "My first response was, 'Not interested,' " Farah said. " 'I've been there before. ... What's going to make this one a success over the last one?' "

But senior leaders were committed this time, Farah said. Another former EV1 engineer, Jon Bereisa, who had led the discontinued car's propulsion engineering, had met with executives to make sure the Volt fixed perceived problems with the all-electric EV1, which GM built from 1996 to 1999. The EV1 had missed its mark, GM felt, in its high cost, its 140-mile battery range, and its complicated charging system.

"The concept that I brought was just enough of an electric vehicle to make it affordable, just enough battery that 85% of the time people could use it as an electric, and a motor generator so they could have basically unlimited range," Bereisa said. "You ought to be able to use it as your principal car." The battery should be able to be charged in a standard outlet.

To convince former EV1 drivers -- several of whom were featured in "Who Killed the Electric Car?," the unflattering movie about GM -- the automaker had to work a little harder.

Many say they didn't believe the automaker would actually build a car until they saw the production model in 2008. GM thinks those in the test launch group will talk up the car, spokesman Dave Darovitz said.

Chelsea Sexton, who drove EV1s in her job leasing the car to customers, still hasn't decided whether to buy a Volt or a Leaf, which costs $32,780 before tax credits and has a lease that barely undercuts the Volt's. But she says the Volt is the more fun of the two cars, and she may bring her test fleet Volt by skeptic and former EV1 driver Doug Korthof's house.

Korthof is on the waiting list for Nissan Leaf, since he's satisfied with the estimated 100-mile range the Leaf's battery gets. He calls the Volt's battery range "basically a joke."

Fellow EV1 driver Bob Shafron says he wonders whether GM could let the Volt battery have a longer range. That's one reason he's not buying a Volt right away. But he says he feels GM has listened to many EV1 owners' concerns -- especially with the gasoline engine. "We asked for that," he said. "So the Volt, in a sense, is a son of the EV1."

link:

http://www.freep.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20100929/BUSINESS01/9290379/1331/GM-aims-to-win-over-EV1-fans-on-Chevrolet-Volt-consumer-panel&template=fullarticle

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I'm skeptical GM will be winning over many EV1 fans after that debacle. GM should have just sold the cars to the owners and made them sign legalese releasing them from any liability... and liability would have gotten shifted of to Liquidation Motors anyway...

I didn't own an EV1, but I feel for the EV1 drivers...GM's heartless actions just go to show that they our out of touch with the the attachment between driver and car, and this was one of the episodes that lowered my loyalty to GM.

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I thing most of the stable ones will take to the Volt pretty well.

Lets face it they will be able to get a fully developed car that can really be used vs a incomplete car like the EV1 was.

The EV 1 did what it did on electric but not much else. No cargo room, little people room, poor handling, limited range that could only be used in warm climates, crazy cost if they had to pay for it in full and the list goes on.

With the Volt they can do anything the EV 1 did and more. THey no longer will have to drive a unfinished car.

GM needs to worry more on the average joe who could care less about electric cars and convince him this could work for some of them.

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Oh geez. Just give one to Ed Begley to drive around in and ask him to do a short infomercial on them.

I think actually the right mix of celebrities to promote this car would be good. For example, Ed Begley is inoffensive outside of his green thing. What is fine with me about Ed Begley is he really believes in the green, and isn't a political c--t about everything else. At least he is a mature individual without a huge sense of entitlement or attention whore about himself.

I would never give that -------Oprah one of these for example.

Likable celebs, preferably in California mostly, who may have some prior allegiance with the EV1 or promoting green cars without them being jerks of society otherwise. Neutral people politically and culturally who are just interested in the science and technology.

I wouldn't give Brad and Angelina one for example.

Maybe people like Tom Hanks (don't know if he is into green). I would not let Mel Gibson have the keys.

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