Friday, October 23, 2009

A Ride in the Volt - A shocking Tale!

i wrote this a few weeks ago...just now getting around to posting though.

Well, not literally shocking. I mean, the car didn't zap me or anything.

But as a gearhead who is a firm believer that you can never have enough horsepower, what i found shocking was how much i liked the car. Before going into details..a few disclaimers.

1-i was unable to drive it. Mel brought home an IVER (development vehicle) and as such, she's the only one allowed to drive it.
2-The IVER is, naturally, a pre-production vehicle. This one had so many wires and test unit's hooked up that the back seat was hardly visible!

Other than that though, this was more or less a production intent vehicle with most parts being off tool (to my untrained eye anyway). I had an appt. for a brain MRI last night so Mel offered to deliver me to my appt. in the volt and show off what she's been working on over the past year and a half.

A few impressions,

Styling-wise the car has been watered down significantly since it's concept debut. that's unfortunate, but not unexpected given the aerodynamic driven design convergence of today's high mpg cars (in particular). It still looks good though and is distinctly Chevrolet. The tail lights weren't of the final design nor were the headlights but even with those two issues and the flat grey paint, the car looked good. It'll be nice to see a few cars with color on them as surely that will only improve things. My mind kept envisioning the car in dark blue for some reason. The hatchback opens up to an enormous amount of space, particularly with the seats down. You could easily put ski's, a bike, a few dogs...maybe even a supplemantal 350 ci chevy in the back. Just saying...

On the inside i was immediately drawn to the IP (instrument panel). It is awesome. The two displays are large, colorful, crisp....really cool stuff. (most of) The buttons function like those on an ipod..there's no physical movement but rather the activation is by way of capacitance. They essentially sense the presence of your finger. This IP is a big departure for GM, and a huge step in the right direction. This is the interface for the ipod generation. there seemed to be a lot of room inside and it was proportioned well. The shift mechanism was a bit odd, no doubt it's a concession to those drivers that expect to have a clunky shifter to move the vehicle from Park to Reverse to Drive. In this car, little more then a toggle switch should be needed since no physical drive mechanism is actually connected to the shifter.....but perhaps consumers aren't quite ready to take that leap yet.

Riding impressions

Things were a bit cramped given all the equipment in the car, but that was quickly overlooked as we started moving. Despite GM's efforts to make this car feel as "normal" as possible, its difficult to overlook the fact that this is a vastly new type of vehicle. Backing out of the driveway, virtually silent, and then heading down the street, again, virtually silent, is a unique experience. Without the engine noise masking so much of the NVH you would think all sorts of new squeaks and rattles would be heard. And they probably were there, to start. But GM is well on it's way to providing a vehicle that runs silent. There were a few whines and whistles as various pumps, servo's etc. did their job, but overall the vehicle is very quite in EV mode.

The power is adequate. Not overwhelming, but adequate for this type of vehicle. And unlike an engine, the power is very linear. There's no sense of any sort of power band. It's a cool sensation.

But what does the engine sound like? Well, it's not silent, thats for sure. With the radio off the engine could be heard coming on quite clearly, but that's not to say it was overly loud. given that the engine operates more like a generator then a direct source of propulsion, it's noise is not dependent on speed. That takes a bit of getting used to. The best comparison i can make is that it sounded like a very muted turbo prop airplane engine. There's a low level "drone" of sorts that comes to life as the engine hit's it's operating speed(s). If the radio was on i think it would be virtually un-noticable. There was a vibration that could be felt, but that was very subtle. When the vehicle stops the engine goes into auto-stop.

We didn't drive it long enough to confirm the 230mpg number, but i didn't expect to. As an engineer, i don't doubt that 230mpg was arrived at via some legitimate calculation, i just wonder under what real world conditions that could really be achieved. But I'll give GM the benefit of the doubt until proven otherwise.

plug in charging

Mel showed me how the plug works and it's pretty simple. if you can plug in a toaster, you can plug in a volt. It would be nice if the charge port door could be opened from outside the vehicle (there's a button inside right now), but i understand that's probably not preferable for security reasons. Maybe that functionality is on the keyfob?

A few suggestions, though admittedly these may already be on someone's open issues list,

-Fix the blinkers! they blinked too fast and seemed to operate at 2 different intervals (maybe just teething problems at this vehicle level?)
-Remove the gloss coating above the drivers IP screen. the reflection was annoying...
-Do something with the door panels! the funky design looks awful

Anyway, i hope i don't get Mel in trouble for writing all this! Even though the car is not completed yet, the vehicle i saw is a massive achievement and in it's current state, quite impressive. As launch approaches and the car is refined further, i think we can expect to see an even more impressive vehicle take shape. Given that the world seems to be moving from combustion engines, GM needs to start transitioning drivers to a new set of expectations regarding noise, feel etc. the volt seems to be a good first step in that direction. It operates close enough to a normal vehicle to not scare off drivers but provides enough of a different experience to help bridge the gap to the next generation of technology. This vehicle is a bridge for GM. To where?...that may not be clear right now, but this is GM's first major attempt at changing consumer expectations for the driver's experience and in that i think it will be a major success.

2009 09 The Volt

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

How many vehicles does one man need?

You may think the answer is 1...but no, it's actually 4.

I've always been a truck person. I tried to fight it when i leased my audi, but it caught up with me. 2 weeks ago i bought a 99 silverado z71. You may think it's difficult to fit 5 cars in the driveway (incl. mel's), but it's surprisingly cozy! I got a great deal on it, i just need(ed) to do a little maintenance work (brakes, u-joints, etc). The real reason i bought it is that i have to haul my race car around to a few different places this fall and to borrow a friends truck once is one thing...but 4 or 5 times is a bit much. so what the hell.

Here's a pic...but now the hard part.

....What color truck nuts do i buy...