Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Chelsea Sexton Test Drives The Volt

According To Paul

Those of you who know Chelsea Sexton (the red head from "Who Killed the Electric Car?"), know she's a wealth of information on all things having to do with plug-in vehicles. Given her position as a senior advisor to VantagePoint Venture Partners, Plug In America's initial Executive Director and a consulting producer on Chris Paine's upcoming "Revenge of the Electric Car", she is privy to lots of the action happening with the various OEMs' plug-in vehicle programs.

Her history with GM's EV1 is legend, so when she was asked to test drive the Volt, she jumped at the chance. I've been bugging her to blog on her activities so we can get some of this great info out to those who crave the latest. Also, Chelsea always seems to be able to articulate things in a way that clarifies the reality without all the PR baggage the car makers or battery manufacturers bring to the table. So, today is the inauguration of Chelsea Sexton's blog.

Chris Paine and crew traveled to Detroit with her to record the event.

Chelsea writes, "Next to the car was Frank Weber, looking more proud and hopeful than I’ve ever seen. Self-described with the statement “I am German, I am an engineer- I do not feel”, Frank has always seemed pessimistic to me against the aspirational backdrop of the Volt team- but even he couldn’t completely disguise his thrill at finally having something functional to show after two years of talking. I’d had enough of the talking, myself- so with little fanfare, I was pointed toward the track and let loose. After the first few of many laps, Jim, “the Voltkeeper” who tended the car all day from a technical standpoint, asked if might stop smiling anytime soon. I think Frank just wondered if all EV people drive that fast…"

And for the naysayers who claim the Volt has problems with the range extender mode, Chelsea has this to say, "I also failed to talk the guys into letting me drive the Volt in range-extended mode- I’d really been hoping to put to rest all the conjecture that because no one’s been allowed to drive it that way, there must be something wrong with it. Alas, Frank was typically insistent that it just wasn’t ready. I persisted, assuring him I’m familiar with pre-production systems, but he remained stoic, until I finally pinned him- “what is so wrong with this car that you won’t let anyone drive it with the engine on?” He paused, and admitted almost sheepishly, “well, when the engine comes on, you can hear it.” I kept waiting for more, but that was it-the big mystery… you can hear the engine. I started to note how that would be, oh, I don’t know, standard for an internal combustion engine in any car and that some people prefer it that way, but I was chastened by my own admiration for the position he took. While there’s absolutely a point where you have to stop engineering and start building, Frank’s statement is indicative of the attention to detail being paid to the Volt."

And finally, she touches on the attitude of GM and their engineers, contrasting that with the horrible mistake of letting Bob Lutz get on the Letterman show last week and once again lie (my words) about the EV1 program: "Driving the Volt was a mix of experiences- it was a fun day, and it’s great to see spots of hope in Detroit from folks who are excited to be working on “something cool again” (their words). And let’s face it, it was also a relief- there were certainly some years there when I wasn’t sure they’d ever get even this far on a plug-in car again. But in the end, building the car won’t be their biggest challenge- it never has been. Whether they can get behind it effectively as it hits showrooms remains to be seen. And I remain repeatedly frustrated at watching them struggle to tell their own story, or when they allow, say, Bob Lutz to go on national television. I think they’re learning, but I wonder often if the wisdom will come fast enough- and at what cost.
I still don’t know that they entirely understand the nuances of passion people have for electric cars- but I do think that they understand just what’s at stake for this one. It is the end of the poker game for GM, and they’re all in.

There's lots more, see it here:



1 comment:

Kate said...

That was cool that they let her test drive the car before it was ready...although it seems like it would have been smarter to go ahead and wait until they had the engine thing worked out. I'm excited to see the final product.