In the news this AM, Chevy Volt, and a lesson in Value Engineering

March 2nd 2012 is a date to remember, the Chevy Volt Factory DID shut down Friday due to lack of orders. Government Motors simply missed the price point.   

All those Qued up orders from California, thousands upon thousands they told us,  and now we know the truth. Fact is, it’s pretty easy to say you’re going to buy something, but there’s a long tradition in the Car business of validating those potential orders for a reason.., and that’s exactly what Toyota did with the Prius. Yes, GM has even more history, and of course they know the game, this gives all the more credence to the story that GM was told they’d build this car… or else.

Where are the orders? Perhaps we’ll hear the Oil Company robbed all of them from the letter carrier that delivers to GM?

I reflect on a great article about VW, and their announcement that they would be making the ‘W’ engine, and potentially the W-12!  A writer for an Auto Enthusiast magazine thought he’d throw a jab at the VW Exec and said, “So why is VW building the ‘W’ Engine? The most brilliant reply was “because Dr. XXXXX wants to build it.”  I wish I remembered his name, but he was the head of engine development at the time.

Yes, the VW Exec understood, the W Engine may not be practical, and may not lead to additional sales, so why try to rationalize the effort?

There’s a post I made about the Smart Car, and what I thought of it. Yes the Engineers did  have a goal, they wanted to build a VERY small car and they have worked very hard to make their ‘tiny’ car as safe as the shape and size will allow within their budget.

You can review the post here, and no surprise, one person who bought the car likes it! Notice his mention of exotic materials and the many efforts made to make the car safe, and don’t we know there’s safe and safer.

smart-car safety

smart-car safety






Let’s look at the above drawings, to the left, we have the smart car, we do note the limited area between the bumper and the driver for crush zones and restraints. We understand that it’s all about restraining the body, and doing all possible to keep the body from experiencing G forces that detach retinas, or permanently damage organs.

If we look at the car design to the right, we see what I think will win the sales, a shape that can be more aerodynamic, perhaps deliver better highway mileage and can offer one of two things, an even safer vehicle than the smart car in a head on using their exotic materials,  OR the same crash performance for less money using the added space up front to slow the forward movement of the human body with less exotic materials.

As mentioned, the two back seats in cars that deliver even better mileage than the Smart car are mighty handy to bring home Groceries, stop by and pick up the kids from day care and many other things single commuters are occasionally asked to do. The Smart car owner is challenged to do more than find a place for a dozen donuts when it’s his turn to bring them  to a meeting at work.

There are places for speciality vehicles, we need consider the LOTUS 7, a true masterpiece of engineering, but hardly a car I expect to see in every other driveway.

The Smart car is an experiment, there are likely people in the bean counting department at MB, and value Engineers who have nearly lost their minds over this project. They were very confident the design would not lead to the sales the effort required, and they will be proven right at the end of the day. They are still asking, who really cares about owning the most tiny car on the block, certainly NOT potential customers we talk to.

The VW Exec said it all up front, we are building the W Engine, because our leadership wants to, it need not be the most rational move, it need not be what our customers are demanding.

If we knew the truth, the same is likely true of the Smart Car, it’s Something the Engineers wanted to do, and by some miracle they were allowed to do it.  One good thing that comes out of the exercise, is M.B. has learned how to get a level of protection out of the smallest space. I can only imagine seating the driver ahead of the bumper as being a larger challenge to the Engineers attempting to keep their crash dummies safe.

Here’s a lesson regarding the advantage of mass when it comes to a collision, you think you’re safe in an SUV? Well maybe so if you tangle with a smart car… but…


But, as I mentioned, this short and tiny car, what can we add to fuel economy simply by stretching out the nose a foot or two, and once we do, there’s no need for the expensive and exotic materials that have driven up the cost. The design of the car leaves the barn door wide open for the competition, after all, no one is fighting to build the smallest car, as there are so many in years past that were tossed on the bone pile.  The real market is in building cars people need and want to buy, and the Chevy Metro was one, and that Chevy Cruise will be another.

No doubt in my mind.. GM built the Cruise, and they did so based on what qualified buyers want to buy.

As for the Chevy Volt, I know the Car Business well enough to know that building the Edsel is all too rare, this is a Government Motors Car, and perhaps the Government would offer a 50% subsidy (which means the taxpayers pay half the car payments)… If they could get aways with it..

At the end of the day, there’s nothing wrong with building and selling Lotus 7s, Smart Cars, or even a Chevy Volt.., as long as we tax payers aren’t forced to help pay for them.

So as I Close, I think about those Volt owners out there, pretty small club, maybe even a collectors item!

check out this old video clip, always fun to review the past

George B.




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8 Responses to In the news this AM, Chevy Volt, and a lesson in Value Engineering

  1. Russell Furzer says:

    I’d sure like to have a Lotus 7 in my driveway (or even a Lotusoid). Perhaps one day one will coagulate out of the scrap storage area in the old shearing shed. Better to ask forgiveness than to seek permission!


  2. Pat Sweeney says:


    Thanks for your insightful posts.

    I’m one of the Lotus 7 owners, but mine is electric. I have been working on it for a couple years (yea building a car from the ground up is a daunting task) I’m not a ecology freak, I built it because I wanted it. I have a electric Pontiac Fiero that is my daily driver and a WVO powered VW rabbit for longer trips. Not because they save the planet but they are very economical to drive and they have a “cool” factor I just can’t resist. I believe that most people who want alternate fueled vehicles want them to be as convenient as gas powered cars. News flash, they aren’t I have to collect, filter and store WVO for the Rabbit. I have a range of 70 miles on my Electric Fiero and I have to plug it in for a few hours. Running the batteries completely dead would have a a serious economic result It damages the Lithium cells and they are not cheap. The average consumer is not willing to put up with the inconvenience. But they want to be cool and save the planet so they buy a Smart car, Prius, Mitsubishi i car or if they are really dumb the Volt. If Government Motors would resurrect the EV-1 I bet they would sell more than they could make and people would pay 40K for one!

    Enough of my rant, I have to get back to building my WVO powered 15KW generator.

    Pat Sweeney

    Lotus7 builder

  3. George B. says:

    Pat, what we both know… hands on projects get you in touch with reality in a hurry. There are two Greens, people like yourself, and the Gang Green crowd, they don’t know the difference between a BTU, and an IOU, but they feel they are fully informed, and need lecture you on how best to save the Earth. Ask them one technical question, and watch the haze in their eyes.
    Congratulations on the Seven build, a master piece in Kiss design.. Electric? I’ve seen some who fit that far sleeker Eleven body to their Seven for the purpose.
    Back to the Volt, I’ve written a number of articles about the effort, doomed from the very beginning, because no one bothered to qualify those who said they’d buy one as actual buyers. Car companies normally put a LOT of market research into focus groups of people to discover what percentage of the lookers are really buyers. I’m confident that we could put a questionnaire together and find that a good portion of the California Crowd who said they wanted to buy a Volt, also want to buy a copy of the Star Ship Enterprise when it comes out.
    As for the EV1, I think it may be a lot like the Vincent Black Shadow, a legendary design full of Mystique. If we owned the VBS, we’d be giddy about owning it.. but we’d know it needed a lot of design work to be practical or safe on the street.. brakes for one.
    Many of those who are fascinated by this EV1 vehicle think the Oil Companies managed to sabotage the project. It reminds me of the late 1950s when popular Mechanics touted the idea that Ford was soon to produce a Nuclear powered Fairlane 500, but didn’t ? Maybe the oil companies stopped that one? I don’t suggest you think that way, but I’d bet lunch if you had a copy of the EV1, you’d be hard pressed to sell it to anyone other than a collector, or a do it yourselfer technical type that could sort out the many problems you’d find.
    NO ONE on earth will keep the free market from developing and marketing good ideas. Governments have nearly destroyed the Solar Industry through their meddling, it was once a very stable growth industry and steady innovations were being made. A Florida company recently scrapped panels, as there is currently no market for them!
    If you want something to work, keep politicians away from it! There’s Financial disasters brewing in Washington State and elsewhere, the State Government has endorsed some real losers, easy to do when we are the ones to pay the price.
    We DIYers can and do make wind and solar work for us, other things too.. let Government touch it, and they’ll be sure to extract the life’s blood out of it!

  4. Elden says:

    I’ve followed with interest the discussion of the safety features of the smart car et. al. My late uncle, a former empolyee of GM who was very involved in the crash testing research there, often discussed the “second collision” of the occupants against the restraining system, steering wheel, dashboard etc. Hung on a wall in his department was the radiograph of a skull of a MVA victim with a radio knob embedded in the brain, as a reminder.
    Of course it’s important to have a rigid passenger compartment constructed so as to avoid encroachment and resultant injuries, and design the car to displace the engine some other place than the occupants lap in case of a head on, but observing the lack of encroachment leaves much of the story untold. What about that second collision? How much twisting and turning of the neck and spine occured? We need a substantial crumple zone to dissipate the g forces, or substantial internal injuries result, and believe it or not decelerating over 4 or 5 feet vs 1 or 2 can make all the difference.
    Finally there is the simple undeniable physics of a larger car. Hopefully none of you here has had the unfortunate displeasure of seeing a loved one involved in an accident. I was travelling behind my wife when she was “T” boned by a Firebird. Fortunately she was driving my Dodge Megacab pickup, and although there was substantial damage to both vehicles but she emerged unscathed. It was determined that there would have been substantial injuries had she been in a smaller lower car. If you think fuel costs are high, try medical bills. Forced governmental CAFE requirements must also take into account the increased death, suffering and medical costs that these requirements cause.

    • George B. says:

      Great post Doc, I did ramble some, but we both have the same picture, in the case of the smart Car, inches might double the crush zone up front and cut the G forces by a large percentage.

      added comment:

      If we think about collisions with other vehicles or obstacles, it is the relative speed we focus on, and the mass of the two things that collide. Elden makes several points, but the issue regarding mass of vehicles is note worthy, and we should have it in mind when we read how safe a smart car is. Smart realitive to what?

      If you collide with a far heavier vehicle, you can visualize the impact, the larger mass of the other vehicle forces you to take the brunt of the G forces as your body attempts to remain in motion at impact. Again, we can graph the G forces your body will be required to endure, and we can look up when permanent damage is likely to occur regardless of air bags.

      People who are aware of the basics of collisions, and who is required to take the brunt of the damage often put their loved ones in higher mass autos here in the USA. We have more room here for the moment, and this has been an affordable insurance policy, and a hedge against major medical and hospital bills, or at least one could rationalize same, Elden says it clearly.

      So, we are gambling that we won’t be in a collision any time we elect to drive the higher efficiency vehicles, we can say they’re safe, but we know the physics. Bring two vehicles together like a 1947 12 yard Kenworth Dump Truck, and a smart car. Where would you place your child, Choice ‘A’… in a car seat mounted in the passenger seat of the Smart Car, or Choice ‘B’ standing up with no restraints on the seat of the dump truck?

      Perhaps we pass a law that all vechiles are built to carry passengers with equal risk to the occupants? That way it’s a fair fight? I can see it now, a whole new department in the Federal Government called the ‘Department of Equitable Risk’, their charge will be to assure that all people regardless of whether they are here legally or illegally take only their fair share of G forces in a traffic accident.

  5. Bill Knighton says:

    I think gm designed for and got exactly what they wanted. Each time a hair brained high mileage(sort of) car fails it postpones the day when they will have to return to design and sales of actual high mileage small cars. When that happens the fleet price will drop a lot. What you have said about making a smart car a bit longer to solve several problems at once can’t be news to the designers and that is exactly why they did not do that. Parasitise sales of their more expensive cars with ones that are high mileage, useful and cheap all at once?

  6. George B. says:

    History tells all:

    What should be the goal of an automotive manufacturer?
    there’s really only one correct answer, and that is satisfying the stake holders, and that normally means that they will expect a profit, or at least not a loss over time.

    This is a time tested method, and those who have troubles with the direction of the company can sell their interests, and choose another investment.

    We will never see a time when people in Government don’t want to make choices for us, and the typical way they attempt to impose their will (at our expense) is through subsidies. Here’s where the battle lies, and this is what you need watch over the coming years. Subsidies force YOU to be an investor.

    It is the belief of many that Republicans and Democrats alike have done serious damage to the Alternative Energy Industry by providing subsidies that allow the transfer of monies from the taxpayer to other entities, and the equipment sold will likely never provide a return on the investment.

    If only those who forced us to invest were invested themselves you might say? This is EXACTLY it! Subsidies are power powerful tool , and the can be finely tuned to provide a windfall for the Politician and his friends.

    There a huge story in Amonix right today, and no one will touch it, are they afraid? Go to the Las Vegas Sun, enter Amonix in the search window, and read the glowing coverage of Amonix. You get the sense that it was all written for the Sun by marketers of the Gang Green Energy Funds, you visit the Amonix site, and notice that it seems void of technical information, and looks to be tuned for those non technical types who might invest.

    But… here we are in Harry Reid’s territory, he’s a Man whose has built considerable personal wealth through prudent investing he says. He demonstrates in Washington DC that he has not need for details, he doesn’t even need a budget, and he apparently doesn’t think this Administration or the nation does either..

    But here’s the point I attempt to make, have you seen even one follow up story in the Sun about the Amonix production facility in Las Vegas?

    Technical People know that the proof of Value is in the field. We read that Amonix is at the top of their game, that they have a wonderful product that they have successfully deployed

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