Q A: Tony Posawatz, Vehicle Line Director for the Chevrolet Volt

Another auto-show season is upon us in Detroit, which means there’s another raft of announcements regarding the Chevrolet Volt. We sat down for a few minutes with the head of the Volt team to discuss the car’s rollout, pricing, and smart phone-based key fob.

Q: We’ve heard recently that the price of the Volt could be less than the oft-quoted $40,000 figure. Can you comment on that?

A: We won’t do the pricing until we’re launching the car later this year. What we do know is that … the launch communities go back and look at what they can provide customers relative to better electricity rates, special parking, charging at their workplace, maybe no sales tax, and other incentives. Ultimately, when the price of the car comes out, you’ll have the $7500 tax credit, plus you’ll have other things. So the net price, we think, will surprise people.

That’s one element. And there still are some interesting and innovative business models we’re looking at…

Q: How will the car’s ramp-up take place over the next few months? How will it differ from a standard vehicle launch?

A: Obviously, we’ve been a visible and transparent program, for a number of reasons. That will continue to a great degree in 2010. Later in the year, once we build real production vehicles out of a production facility off of production tools and parts, you’ll see a lot more vehicles, and we’ll do a lot of engagement with people so they’ll understand what it’s like driving electrically.

By the fall, we’ll be at the point where we’re building salable cars. By November, we’ll be building the cars to ship to the customer. The focus will be on specific regions first, because every region needs to have trained dealers and technicians, and has to have an interface with our particular utilities — and there just happen to be 3000 utilities in the United States — so we have to work with a select few to make certain their charging apparatus works.

The first model year will be very modest volumes, very focused. By the middle of 2012, we’ll be into tens of thousands of vehicles nationwide, and will add Canada, grow into China, and into both left- and right-hand-drive European markets. That also includes the Opel and Vauxhall Ampera.
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Q: Does the smart-phone application previewed at the Consumer Electronics Show actually work yet? Will it be available at launch?

A: I have it operational on my test car. Everything that we’ve said that’s in there we’ve already demonstrated and technically can make work, and we’ve got some other cool ideas we’re gonna add to it.

We still have some work to do to make this thing work really seamlessly. We want to add a few other phones and stimulate other apps. Couldn’t you imagine pushing a button to find the nearest charging stations? We believe it will be available at launch.

Q: Will we see this app on other cars? Even as a simpler key fob?

A: Effectively the mobile app can someday replace the key fob. The Chevy Volt will be the innovative lead to develop the ideas, and eventually it will roll out to other cars, though there haven’t been finalized plans yet.

Q: What about security concerns?

A: No one wants their car hacked into. OnStar, our telematics platform that will make this thing happen, has a strong record for safety and security not only for their customers, but also the safety and security of data. OnStar has a really robust firewall and system. Trust me, there’s been a number of folks who have tried to hack into OnStar.;

Q: Getting back to the car itself, what’s the biggest remaining challenge leading up to the launch?

A: Software. Everything works fine, it’s just finding all the bugs — like any piece of software you get, any device you have. This is a very, very smart car. It will be the smartest device on the smart grid. And you’ve got to remember, it’s in an environment that is quite harsh — your computer doesn’t sit outside, doesn’t get shook, doesn’t experience the extremes in temperature, dust, vibration, et cetera.; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ;