Auto Tech: Chevrolet Volt   the Book automotive technology car culture auto book reviews auto tech
Chevrolet Volt: Charging into the Future. Click image to enlarge

By Jim Kerr

January 7, 2007 was an exciting day in the evolution of the electric car: that’s when the Chevy’s Volt concept car was introduced at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. It was only 11 months earlier that Bob Lutz, GM’s Vice Chairman and Chief of Global Product Development, decided to build an electric concept car to showcase GM’s technology capabilities. GM’s experience with the EV1 electric car had given them a lot of insight into electric car development and technology, but it had also left a bad taste for many in GM and the public when the EV1 cars were removed from the road and destroyed. Lutz had his work cut out for him.

In hindsight, the EV1 used old technology and to support it for the future would have been cost-prohibitive. A new vehicle with the latest technology was the answer – hence the Volt. While Lutz had an electric car in mind, a conversation with Jon Lauckner, an engineer and GM’s vice president for global program management, convinced Lutz to build something more practical – an electric car with extended range. The concept for the Volt architecture was born: an electric car with onboard power generation to give it extended range.

Building a concept car is one thing. Building a production car is another, especially when some of the technology for the car, such as battery type and design, hadn’t even been invented yet. The normal process for any vehicle to be built within GM is to have all the technology approved before the complete vehicle can start beyond the concept process, but with the Volt, this authorization process not only had to be shortened to get the vehicle into production for the 2010 deadline, but some of the process itself had to be changed. One of these changes was to take two jobs, that of Chief Vehicle engineer and that of Vehicle Line Executive and give them both to one man – Frank Weber. Weber had the experience, passion and inspiration for the task, having restored antique cars while studying mechanical engineering. Skill alone wasn’t enough for the task. Weber also had a passion for making things better and a goal of leaving a better world behind us.