Handling Counts Too
To investigate the Volt's driving demeanor, I whipped in a few aggressive lane-change steering commands at cruising speed. The on-center feel was positive to my touch and the effort build was nicely progressive and more shrewdly weighted than I expected. Give the Volt an A for electrically assisted steering execution. With Posawatz's permission, I took a few hot laps around a traffic circle to explore the outer fringes of grip and control. The Goodyear Assurance 17-inch radials quickly wilt under cornering pressure but at least body roll is reasonably well restrained by the suspension. There's more than enough understeer and no hint of tail wag or wobble. While the Volt is definitely not a BMW in green garb, it is at least predictable and reassuring in its moves. The tree huggers will love its amiable attitude, quiet disposition, and low gasoline thirst.
Business Game Plan
To build and sell 60,000 Volts per annum, GM invested $336-million in its Detroit-Hamtramck assembly plant, originally Cadillac's home manufacturing base. While CEO Whitaker would love to see GM's can-do car on the road as soon as possible, there is engineering work left to be done, orders for the initial demonstration fleet to fill, and a production ramp-up to accomplish before you're likely to see Volts gracing Chevy showrooms. Unless you've got a deposit in place, you're unlikely to find one at retail before the clock strikes 2011.
The exact price is still unknown. Our guess-which is no better than the next-is that the sticker will start at $39,995 and a base edition will roll for about $32,495 after the federal government's generous $7500 tax credit is applied. In this area, the timing could not be better for GM. Toyota and Honda have both exhausted all their hybrid credits so Prius and Insight buyers now must pay full sticker (not counting state or local credits). Likewise, the applicable credits for Ford and Mercury hybrids expire March 31 of this year. This situation is sure to send shrewd green buyers straight to Chevy dealers once the Volt hits the market.
While it's too soon to say whether the Volt is the homerun GM really needs to buff its tarnished luster, we can conclude that the project is on track with better driving performance than we expected. This is definitely GM's best opportunity to show the world that it's alive, kicking, and still able to top the best imported technology.