Monday, June 8, 2009

Chevy Volt cost expected to rise

Expensively redundant power features will likely be reworked for later models

The first Chevy Volt electric cars scheduled to reach showrooms in late 2010 will probably cost about $35,000 US in the United States, not the $30,000 US General Motors had hoped, the company says.

GM has found it can't re-engineer features such as windshield wipers and high-powered audio systems fast enough for the all-electric car, so it will be forced to put expensively redundant systems into the first-generation Volt.

The redundant systems will be eliminated later, probably in the second generation of the Volt, after engineers have had time to rework them for the new world of electric propulsion.

"It's starting to look like it's going to be close to $35,000," Dee Allen, a spokesman for GM, said of the first-generation Chevy Volt.

"Because we're going as fast as we're going to get this to market, some of the systems will have to be redundant," Allen said at the Chicago Auto Show.

The redundancies will add cost, but only temporarily, to buy engineers more time to solve the new challenges posed by electric propulsion.

In gasoline-powered vehicles, windshield wiper motors are powered directly off the engine. Audio systems have become enormous power hogs in recent years, with consumers demanding seven or nine-speaker sound in their cars, powered by 200-watt and even 500-watt amplifiers.

Those kinds of "parasitical" power losses are tolerated in gasoline-powered vehicles because they don't cost much or reduce mileage significantly.

But in a car with an electrical propulsion system, like the Volt, such wasted power means would mean greatly reduced range per charge.

"What we've ended up doing is having to re-engineer things most people take for granted," Allen said. The engineers have no doubt they can rework the electrical utilities of the car to meet modern demands, but not in the timeframe given to them by GM vice-chairman Bob Lutz to bring Volt to market, he said.

Lutz, GM's product boss, has pledged to have the Volt in showrooms by late 2010, if at all possible.

If that deadline doesn't prove feasible then the Volt it will reach market in the spring of 2011 -- which still doesn't give the engineers time to re-invent the windshield wiper.

"The second generation will be more refined," Allen said of the Volt, adding that some of the work-arounds devised by GM engineering so far are "elegant," while others are less so. The Volt will move under electrical energy alone, stored in lithium-ion batteries which can be plugged in.

A one-litre gasoline engine on board will power a generator to replenish the batteries when the charge is depleted during extended trips.

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