HardKnocker wrote:The Volt is a political statement not an economic statement.
Moneywise it's a big loser. Sooner or later GM will pull the plug. Perhaps the knowledge gained will emerge in another, more financially do-able vehicle.
There's not a whole heck of a lot of evidence it is a 'big loser'. In that, as a new vehicle technology, it will not fully amortize its development costs. First-Of-A-Kind (FOAK) never do. Prius certainly did not.
Consider where you are as the Board of GM back in the early 2000s. Toyota has this Prius. Toyota therefore has a car for a very different world (one where energy security and environmental issues are paramount). If GM does not develop the technology, and that world takes place, then GM is finished.
One could not then have predicted the demise of GM, the world's largest car company (and at one point the most profitable). Of course the signs were there, but a more nimble management might have deflected doom.
Roll forward until now. The US is not alone in having ambitious automotive efficiency targets. GM is a global car company that will be competing in China, Europe and Emerging Markets where it will have to meet those standards. Companies in those markets will be exporting to the USA-- strong analogies to the way Detroit ignored small and fuel efficient cars until it nearly finished them off. God does not ordain that Americans should pay $2/gallon for gas when everyone else pays $5. Volt is there and it works and it points towards achieving those standards.
GM has also commented that the buyers they see in the show rooms for Volt are buyers that GM dealers have not seen in a generation. Environmentally conscious professionals, some of whom are opinion formers. 'Leading edge' early adopters. Such people can have a disproportionate impact on the style and consumption choices of a society. The sort of people who might never buy a Toyota Prius, but would surely buy a hybrid Lexus (google the Dani Minogue ads for the CT200h in the UK-- they are on Youtube 'Lexus: the quiet revolution').
It's been a long time since a GM car attracted early adopters. This car is a bridgehead into demographic groups and communities where North American manufacturers have been absent for decades. (I always remember the off-colour on percent cars US vs. Japanese by state-- Vermont and New Hampshire were coloured 'neither' because of the fondness for Saabs and Volvos
). People are going to wake up and find out their neighbour bought a GM, where a GM car (if not SUV or truck) has not been seen in years.
Think of Cadillac. A dying luxury brand-- uninteresting to the people who once craved to buy it. And now? Maybe it should have been 'the Cadillac Volt'
. I keep thinking of that Superbowl ad (Clint Eastwood for Chrysler) and the tag line 'Imported from Detroit'. *I* felt patriotic, and I'm not an American
. (And our one GM car, a 1978 Pontiac Lemans, was a total disaster-- AMC Rambler, Dodge Dart, Pontiac Lemans (rhymes with 'Lemon'), Chrysler Le Baron then no less than 3 Honda Accords, almost the archetype of the loss of the 'middle market' professional as car buyer).
Strategically the world's car manufacturers are in a tough place. Environmentally and in terms of energy security their products are Public Enemy Number One (two, after coal-fired power stations). Cars (ie traffic accidents) kill over 1m people a year in emerging markets. And in developed markets, traffic congestion and other factors seem to mean the younger generation just does not identify with cars and car ownership the way its parents and grandparents did-- new models like Zipcar may come to dominate, having $30k of capital sitting unused 90% of the time is just not efficient). And in Emerging Markets, there are new competitors coming up the track very quickly-- look at the success Tata has made with Jaguar Land Rover, a basket case under Ford.
All they can do (besides investing in Emerging Markets) is to design cars that meet the demands of the 21st Century (basically the functionality of the 20th century car, but with lower resource use). Things like robot navigation on freeways etc. are to come (and will, no doubt).
It's like the Apollo Space program. We got to the moon. Once there we found nothing but rocks. But we got Velcro.
Beware reasoning by false analogy:
- Apollo was 100% government funded. It was always about national prestige when the US saw itself as being in a 'to the death' competition with Soviet communism. it was like a major weapon system which is constructed and then never used (one could name 100s, but the US nuclear arsenal comes to mind). There was not a significant private sector content (except as contractors). Volt is a private sector car, with state subsidies for purchasers (I presume GM got tax breaks on R&D).
There's no doubt it succeeded on the prestige front-- the United States is the only country that has put a man on another world, still. Most of us who were alive then remember Neil Armstrong and that day.
- Apollo was always about pure scientific knowledge and discovery. In which it succeeded immensely, I would argue. To the extent that we think the Moon is boring now-- the focus of interplanetary exploration has moved to further worlds. Robots have, so far, done that more cheaply, and the pace of robot technology has outpaced our ability to put men and women on far worlds. In a very real sense, the human race has spawned its first children, and they have begun to explore the universe on our behalf.
I also remember Chinese history too well. In the 1300- 1400s China was ahead of Europe in exploring the coast of Africa. We could have arrived there in the 1400s and 1500s and found the Chinese Empire well entrenched, thus rewriting 200+ years of Western depredation on China and India (google 'Opium Wars' for a feel). But the fleet was ordered home, and the Admiral was told to destroy his charts.
Civilizations that stop reaching outwards, upwards, higher have a historical tendency to stagnate and die. Along with the creation of great buildings, art, music, I would argue that the essence of civilization is a drive for 'useless' knowledge.
On the commercial side Apollo could never be commercial. But the spinouts of the US space programme, notably in computers, but also in aerospace generally, materials science etc, have been huge.
I look at Apollo the way I look at major wars. They accelerate technological development hugely. Apollo was a war in which nobody got killed, except in accidents. It's a lot less painful to commemorate the Gemini Astronauts than however many died in Normandy, Italy, North Africa, South Pacific....