San Diego -- Californians will likely be able to get a $5,000 discount on their Chevy Volts after all.
General Motors will come out with a version of the plug-in hybrid that will qualify for the state's generous tax rebates in 2012, Tony Posawatz, vehicle line director for the Volt, told us during a meeting at DistribuTECH taking place this week in San Diego. Most of the work is done on the California version of the car, but some software coding and other technical assignments remain.
Still, General Motors won't exactly be placed on an equal footing with electric car vendors like Nissan and Mitsubishi because of a wrinkle in state law. To qualify for the state rebate, GM has to meet the standards of the Advanced Technology Partial Zero Emissions Vehicle (ATPZEV to his friends) specifications. Those specifications state that cars in this category have to warrant that the battery will last for ten years and/or 150,000 miles. The idea behind the law is to prevent companies from trying to game the regulations by putting out a car with a small battery or a battery that may not last.
Do manufacturers of purely electric vehicles have to meet this standard? No. In fact, they don't have to place warranties on the life of their batteries at all.
The Leaf retails for nearly $33,000 and the Mitsubishi i will sell for $30,000 when it comes out later this year. The Volt sells for an MSRP of $41,000. All of these cars qualify for the $7,500 federal tax credit, but right now the all-electrics get the additional $5,000 California credit. Thus, the Volt, which is larger than the other two cars, will cost more, but not as much as it does now.
Posawatz also gave us other comments and updates on the Volt:
--GM has shipped around 1,200 Volts so far. Approximately 600 Chevy dealers have Volts. Traffic at those dealerships, he added, has increased since the Volt has come to town.
--By the end of 2011, GM will begin to take the Volt nationally. It will also start to ship Volts to China and Europe. Both right- and left-hand drive versions of the car will get shipped to Europe, so expect to see sales in Britain. (In Asia, cars in Singapore and Japan drive on the 'wrong' side of the road.)
--Some of the early Volts have gone to potentially influential customers such as Felix Kramer, the head of CalCars, and Silicon Valley execs.
--GM hasn't made commitments to all-electric cars or different versions of the Volt. Nonetheless, rest assured that other models of the Volt family and electric cars are under consideration.
--The company hasn't ruled out parallel plug-in hybrids either. The Volt is a series hybrid: the gas generator exists to charge the car's batteries and does not directly propel the car forward in the vast majority of situations. A parallel hybrid is like a regular hybrid with more batteries: both the electric and gas motors drive the car.
"We are working on generation two technologies, and we are looking at all kinds of variations," he said. Still, Posawatz noted that series hybrids can provide a better driving experience. (Ford will concentrate on parallel hybrids, in part because they can cost less to develop. It should be interesting to see how the philosophical difference plays out in the market.)
--The Volt actually uses around 10 kilowatt-hours of its 16-kilowatt-hour battery pack when driving, more than the 8 kilowatt-hours earlier stated. Why not use the whole thing? Restricting battery capacity in this manner gives the battery a longer life. Three or four years out, Volt drivers will experience less degradation in driving range than drivers of cars with other types of battery packs, he said. "We can guarantee a more constant EV range," he said.
--And what sold GM management on the Volt in the first place? "It's all modular," he said. The basic series hybrid architecture can accommodate a flex fuel engine, or an engine that runs on biofuels. Bigger battery packs? Sure, it's possible. The fact that the car could be tailored for different markets meant that the investment in development could be amortized fairly broadly.