Leftlane sits down with Tony Posawatz, Vehicle Line Director for the Chevrolet Volt
While in town for the Los Angeles Auto Show, Leftlane was able to lineup an interview with Tony Posawatz, Vehicle Line Director for the Chevrolet Volt. As the Volt's Vehicle Line Director, Mr. Posawatz is responsible for pretty much every aspect of the program, from engineering to marketing.
The title of Vehicle Line Direct also puts Mr. Posawatz squarely in charge of GM's global E-Flex platform, including the recently debut Opel Flextreme. Although the Flextreme shares the same platform as the Chevy Volt, the Opel version uses a diesel engine to recharge the car's batteries. When asked about the difference in engine types, Mr. Posawatz chalked up the variation to acceptance and cost. It's no secret that diesels are much better received in Europe and and he explained that the cost and complexity of a 50 state legal diesel to recharge the Volt's batteries doesn't make much fiscal sense since a small, three or four-cylinder engine could actual perform the job quite economically, especially when forced induction is added to the equation. Mr. Posawatz stopped short of disclosing which engine GM has planned for the Volt, but did indicate it would be an existing design. However, a diesel engine remains a possibility for the Volt, just not within the first few years of production.
Mr. Posawatz also indicated that several variations of the Volt could be in store for the future. Not only is the Volt platform being engineered to accommodate a hydrogen fuel-cell powertrain in the future, but interchangeable bodies remain a real possibility. Since the hydrogen layout keeps every component in the same location, it makes it possible for GM to design different body styles -- such as a sedan or van -- that can be placed on the platform. This versatility means your Volt could be an SUV one day and a two-door coupe the next.
Future variations of the Volt and other E-Flex vehicles could also see customers tailoring the vehicle to their particular driving style. For example, if the car's 40 mile electric range exceeds your needs, it would be possible to buy a vehicle with a lesser battery -- saving on the purchase cost. Similar options on the car's hydrogen fuel capacity could also cut costs. While not in the cards for the first-generation of the Volt, look for such option to available on later iterations.
When the Volt finally does switch over to a hydrogen fuel-cell setup, look for GM to heavily market the car in developing regions. Mr. Posawatz explained that since those areas don't have much of a fueling infrastructure right now, it would make the transition to hydrogen much easier. Instead of the huge shift in fueling that would be necessary in developed nations such as the U.S., hydrogen fueling stations could simply be build in place of their oil counterparts.
But in addition to just future speculation, Mr. Posawatz also gave us an idea of what to expect from the Volt when it makes it debut sometime in 2010. While GM previously predicted first year sales as high as 60,000 units, that number could be much lower. Concerns over the reliability of the Volt's lithium-ion batteries could mean production numbers in the thousands or even hundreds. Until GM is certain that all the bugs are worked out, production will be kept down so that quality and safety are guaranteed.
Despite the possibility of lower-than-expect volume, GM is planning to roll out the Volt -- or at least an E-Flex vehicle -- on three different continents. While specific countries remain unclear, developing nations such as India and China seem likely.
As for the launch here in the U.S., GM will use a regional roll-out strategy. Both coasts will definitely be a main focus, but the much ignored mid-west is almost guaranteed a Volt at launch. Mr. Posawatz told us that he expects "a few Volts buzzing around the Detroit area." This is good news for green consumers living in the mid-west that always miss out on electric or hydrogen vehicles.
The Volt program seems to be well on its way but still has some major hurdles to overcome before it becomes the savior of GM. But thanks to the hard work of Mr. Posawatz and the rest of the E-FLex team, the Volt seems on schedule for its 2010 launch and its future is already looking very bright.