Tag Archives: Chevy Volt

Episode 5 of the Clean Break Podcast

In Episode 5 of the Clean Break podcast, host Tyler Hamilton, returning after a long break (hey, it’s cottage time), discusses Ontario’s heat wave, applauds record Chevy Volt sales in Canada, and wonders why a small slice of EV purchase incentives don’t go to the auto dealerships that sell the cars. This shorter-than-usual podcast concludes with an interview with Phil Abrary, president and CEO of Vancouver-based Ostara Nutrient Recovery Technologies, one of Canada’s most successful pure-play cleantech companies.


If GM Volt is in such low demand why is it so hard for people to get one?

By now most people who follow green technology developments know that GM has temporarily suspended production of its Volt plug-in hybrid.  Specifically, production will be shut down for five weeks so that GM can “align production with demand.” A post-crash-test battery fire with the Volt last year (which was overblown, but nonetheless probably turned off many consumers) and the vehicle’s high price have been cited as main reasons for slower-than-expected sales and the resulting production re-alignment.

As Lacey Plache, chief economist for the auto information site Edmunds.com said, “The fact that GM is now facing an oversupply of Volts suggests that consumer demand is just not that strong for these vehicle.” Electric-vehicle haters have eaten up the news, and are actively blogging away about how the Volt is a failure.

Gimme a break.

The biggest mistake here is that GM — and Nissan for that matter — was far too aggressive with its sales projections. The Volt’s success, given its initial price point, was always going to be limited to early adopters during its first few years of availability. It’s doing no worse than the Toyota Prius did during its first couple of years in the U.S. market, and the Prius had the advantage of already being available in Japan three years earlier.

So no, the Volt is not a market failure or a failure of technology. The temporary production stoppage is a problem with GM and its inability out of the gate to manage consumer (and market) expectations.

But what really boggles the mind about this story is the claim that there’s not enough demand to meet supply. Anton Wahlman of The Street seems to be confused about this as well. He writes that the average number of Volts at dealerships is quite low (often just two) compared to other vehicle models, and this appears to be the case across the United States — New York City, Washington, D.C., and San Francisco included.

Oh, and Canada as well. I received an e-mail today from Milfred Hammerbacher, CEO and president of solar panel maker and installer Canadian Solar Solutions. The Toyota Prius he has driven for many years is getting old and he explained that he was interested in replacing the Prius with a Volt. He inquired about availability at his local dealership in Waterloo, Ontario, and was told he’d have to wait 18 months to get the car! They told him demand in Canada is quite strong.

“If truly the market is hot in Canada, why can’t they figure out how to ship these cars into Canada?” Hammerbacher asked. “It doesn’t make any sense.” But the solar executive isn’t willing to wait 18 months. “I’ve gone ahead and ordered a new Prius.”

I relayed this story to a spokesperson at GM Canada and this was the response I got: “He should not have been told he would have to wait 18 months. If he placed an order today we would expect the Volt to be delivered in mid-summer.”

That works out to early August — so about six months.

Okay, fine, even if that dealership in Waterloo had the wrong information, why does a customer have to wait six months? That’s how long you’d wait to get an MRI scan in Ontario. Perhaps long wait times is part of GM’s problem, at least in the Canadian market. But given the limited inventory that appears in U.S. dealerships as well, it would seem GM’s problem isn’t necessarily poor demand as much as an inability to deliver a product when a customer wants it — i.e. as soon as possible.

Forced to wait, perhaps potential purchasers are opting for something else.

GM to sell “Bullfrog Edition” of Chevy Volt, a $198 upgrade offering 2 years of green-certified electricity

Toronto-based green energy retailer Bullfrog Power is teaming up with General Motors Canada to offer what Bullfrog CEO Tom Heintzman is calling a “Bullfrog Edition” Chevy Volt. This edition of the Volt would be available via all GM dealerships across Canada and would come at a $198 premium. In return, the customer gets a Bullfrog Edition plaque on the vehicle and two years of green (incl. nuke-free) electricity from Bullfrog, based on average customer electricity consumption. “It’s really trying to get people aware of the fact that just because you’re plugging into the wall doesn’t mean it’s emission-free,” Heintzman told me. “Electric vehicles ultimately need to be tied to renewable energy. This makes the link in a more tangible and powerful way.”

The deal is very similar to how many car manufacturers already offer satellite radio, or how some have offered a year’s worth or more of free gasoline. “It works out to 7.5 megawatt-hours of electricity over the course of the two years,” he said. I asked if this is an exclusive deal with GM, or whether Bullfrog is able to make a similar offer with other EV manufacturers. “It takes a while to put a program like this together, so we don’t anticipate anyone else coming aboard within the next year. At some point in time, we would hope that all EV manufacturers would begin offering it.”

Ignorance and the art of electric car bashing

There has been a lot of misinformed commentary, being passed off as fact, appearing in mainstream newspapers lately about the supposed “disaster” that is the electric vehicle. Much of it is appearing in the Ontario press, presumably to attack the current Liberal government’s supportive policies in this area in the lead-up to October’s provincial election. My Clean Break column this week in the Toronto Star offers a reality check:


Tyler Hamilton

There is a certain curmudgeonly segment of the population that seems to despise new, attention-grabbing technologies, particularly those that hold the potential to make the world a better place.

Electric vehicles fit all three categories, and this is probably why they have been criticized so much over the past two years – or past two weeks, for that matter.

The following points are almost always emphasized, and confidently passed off as “unwelcome facts” in attempts to prove electric vehicles are just a passing fad:

They’re too expensive and always will be;

They don’t drive far enough on a single charge and this will always be a problem;

They’re not really green if the electricity you charge them with is dirty;

Electric cars have come and gone in the past, and this time is no different.

Let’s start with cost. They do come at a premium and will for the next few years. But how is “premium” defined?

The roughly $42,000 (before rebate) price tag for the Chevy Volt plug-in hybrid or $39,000 for the all-electric Nissan Leaf is high when you compare it to a Honda Civic or Mazda 3, but not for folks who opt to purchase an Acura TL.

Why would consumers purchase an Acura TL when they could get a Honda Civic instead? I’m not sure, but they do. Maybe it’s faster, or has extra features that appeal to certain individuals.

Similarly, electric vehicles such as the Chevy Volt or Nissan Leaf will appeal to those who want the latest technology, better performance, place a higher value on clean transportation, and are tired of being gouged at the gas pumps.

The words “premium” and “expensive” are subjective, so to generally dismiss electric vehicles as too rich is disingenuous, particularly coming from folks who opt for marble countertops, high-end furniture and luxury SUVs.

Now, regarding the range of electric vehicles, there’s no question that all-electric cars aren’t ideal if you want to drive across Canada or to the cottage. Not yet, at least. They currently take too long to re-charge and there aren’t enough charging stations in existence today to support such a journey.

But automakers haven’t marketed them that way, so it boggles my mind when I read reviews that criticize the poor range of these vehicles. All-electric vehicles such as the Nissan Leaf are being promoted for urban driving, and will likely appeal to families with two cars or more.

The vast majority of people travel less than 50 kilometres a day to and from work, and millions of Canadian households have two or more vehicles in the driveway. This means that for a significant per cent of Canadian drivers an electric vehicle, even with current range limitations, makes sense.

They should be tested and reviewed in this context.

It should also be recognized that not all electric cars are created equally. The Chevy Volt, and other models likely to follow, comes with a gas-powered generator as backup. Range is not an issue, something critics of electric vehicles conveniently overlook.

Meanwhile, energy-storage technologies are improving – ask the engineers at Magna e-Car—charging speeds are getting faster, and costs are coming down. The vehicles will become more affordable to more consumers, but it won’t happen overnight. Nobody said it would.

It’s true, however, that electric cars are only as green as the electricity that goes into them. But even in jurisdictions still heavily dependent on fossil fuels, studies suggest the high efficiency of electric motors makes plug-in vehicles the slightly cleaner option.

Fortunately, the majority of electricity in Ontario comes from zero- or low-carbon sources. Without question, an electric vehicle charged in this province is dramatically cleaner than any gas-powered vehicle, particularly if it’s charged at night, which will be the case most of the time.

Let me make this final point: This is not a passing fad, nor can it be compared to past attempts at introducing electric vehicles or hydrogen fuel cell cars.

There has never been a time in history where most of the world’s major automakers have introduced, or have committed to introducing, a commercial model of a plug-in electric vehicle.

Never have there been more companies in the world working to develop and drive down the cost of supporting technologies, such as battery storage, charging infrastructure and electric drive trains.

Maybe electric vehicles won’t ever come to dominate the roads, or maybe they will. In the short term, even if they capture a few per cent of global vehicle sales over this decade it would be a major achievement – and this is entirely possible.

But to declare electric vehicles stillborn on the first year of their commercial introduction, as some observers have recently said, amounts to a stunning display of ignorance.

Tyler Hamilton, author of Mad Like Tesla, writes weekly about green energy and clean technologies.

Finally got a chance to test drive the Chevy Volt: A nice, smooth and quiet ride

The Toronto Atmospheric Fund (TAF) gathered several fleet managers from Toronto and surrounding areas this morning to test drive GM’s Chevy Volt, which isn’t on sale yet in Canada but should be by the end of this year. Through its FleetWise program TAF has launched its EV300 Initiative, which has a goal of getting at least 300 plug-in vehicles on Greater Toronto Area roads by 2012 so they can be monitored and studied. The idea is that any learning can be shared to help plan for and improve supporting EV charging infrastructure in the area. It’s also an opportunity for fleet managers participating in the initiative to compare notes and basically get a feel for how the cars behave in the real world. The Chevy Volt is one of several plug-in vehicle models expected to be added to fleets. The Nissan Leaf and I suspect the Mitsubishi iMiev will also be put to the test.

There were three Volts on hand this morning at the grounds of Toronto’s Exhibition Place. I’ve been in many electric vehicles and I have to say that the Volt was quite comfortable and ranked up there for having the best mix of smoothness, speed, space and comfort. I thought the car I was in had some tacky interior detailing, but fortunately that is optional. Near the end of our test drives, Steve Paikin, host of TVO’s The Agenda, coincidentally passed by en route to shooting one of his shows. The TAF folks convinced him to take a drive as well. (see pic top left… click on pics below for full view).