GM starts production of Spark EV electric motors in Baltimore

2014 spark ev

General Motors (GM) unveiled the start of production for electric motors that will be equipped on the 2014 Chevy Spark EV at the automakers' Baltimore facility in White Marsh, MD today.  (Ok, that is not technically Baltimore but it is close enough.)  This makes GM the first automaker to assemble and build electric motors in the US.  In addition the plant will also manufacture and assemble transmissions for the Spark EV.

The 2014 Spark EV will represent a big shift for GM.  While many point to the Chevy Volt's success, the company hasn't released a fully electric car that has been available to the public since the EV1.  We all know that the EV1 was a PR nightmare for GM and is it important to note that the EV1 was not available for the general car buying public to buy.  Oh, the times are changing though.

GM seems to be committed to building electric cars like the Spark EV and being environmentally friendly at the same time.  Not only will the GM Baltimore Operations be building electric car motors  and transmissions, but it also has a solar panel array on the Baltimore operations that generate 1.25 megawatts of electricity.  I was told this provides roughly 9% of the energy for the plant, which isn't a lot but that is not bad either.  The Baltimore facility is also 100% landfill free.  Materials are either burned for energy, recycled or reused for other projects.

Larry Nitz, GM's global electrification director, mentioned that the through the whole process of designing the Spark EV that GM was, and is, customer focused.  “Quiet, reliable, fun.” is how he described the Spark EV.

Having driven the Spark EV around the closed Baltimore operations facility, I do agree it is all three of those things.  It is surprisingly smooth and has good pick-up but certainly is not fast.  (Some fit and finish could use a some work though.)  It is hard to tell from a drive that only lasted 5-10 minutes and was not on real roads though.  As well you need to have a GM engineer making sure you aren't doing burnouts or anything.  That is something a particular auto writer might have suggested.

GM has not announced official pricing for the 2014 Spark EV but has said it should be under $25,000.  With a tax credit of $7,500 it should be affordable for the average consumer putting it right in the electric car market with the Nissan Leaf.  While the Spark EV seems like it will be fighter against the Nissan Leaf, Nissan has sold 50,000 Leafs since the car's introduction.  This makes the Nissan Leaf the best selling electric car of all time and most likely will be hard to catch-up with in terms of sales.  (The Prius does not count since it is a hybrid, which has a gas motor, in case you were thought “What about the Prius?.”)

GM has also not confirmed the exact date when the Spark EV will be available for sale.  Larry Nitz did say during lunch that only a select amount of Chevy dealerships will be selling the Spark EV.  This is the similar strategy that GM used for the Chevy Volt launch.  No word on how many GM expects to sell or what the electric motor output for the Baltimore plant is.  (I asked they didn't say or budge a bit.)

Since this was a big announcement for GM and the area as a whole.  Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley was on hand, as well Baltimore county executives, today to show his support for GM and the push to electrify the nations's vehicles.  Governor O'Malley even took a spin around in the Spark EV exclaiming as he got in, “I haven't done this in 13 years!”  I guess that shows how pampered politicians are! 🙂

You can see my video of Governor O'Malley taking the 2014 Spark EV for a spin.  I need to work on my video editing skills a lot though.  (Btw Windows Live Movie Maker sucks!)

One surprising guest I noticed at the event today was Debbie Phelps, Michael Phelps mom. I guess Debbie Phelps is now a celebrity in Baltimore so she gets invited to events like this Spark EV gathering.  My guess is that Michael Phelps, Baltimore's most famous and beloved athlete, could easily buy his mom a 2014 Spark EV (well probably like 20) without affecting his wallet too much.  She didn't drive a Spark EV, she just rode along in one, so I am unsure if she will be buying one in the future.

All in all it will be interesting to see what is next for the Baltimore facility in terms of manufacturing capabilities for electric motors and transmissions and if this will extend to other parts of the US.  As well what is next for GM and their electric car future.

Stay tuned for more articles about the Spark EV and Baltimore GM plant.

Washington Auto Show Presents Cool Cars, Concepts, Green Cars, and Policy

Yesterday the 2012 Washington Auto Show opened to the public. Definitely a great event to go to if you are a car lover.

I attended the Public Policy day, the day before the Washing Auto Show opened (January 26th), and got to see all the offerings on hand before the massive crowds. I bet you are wondering what some of the highlights of the show were.

My personal favorites would have to be the Lotus Evora and the Lamborghini Aventador. Lamborghini's are just so amazing, sexy, powerful, over-the-top, etc. Basically everything you want in a supercar.  I imagine this car is on the wall of many young children's rooms across the country. I talked with the salesman from Euro MotorCars, Jamie Gershowitz, about the Evora for awhile. I commented on how the body from from a distance looked like a Tesla. This is because Lotus makes the body shells and chassis for the Tesla Roadster. He told me how fun there were to drive. If I was a dog… I would have been drooling. (Alright, maybe I was drooling just a little bit.)

Definitely the most interesting car there would have to go Freedom Behind The Wheel and the converted Nissan 240SX race car they had on display. All the controls are done with the hands. It is specifically built for soldiers who have lost their legs, but still want to participate in racing. Ryan Downey, who built the car, seems to have refined the controls and cars to be ideal for racing. Best part about their display was they had a race simulator setup to try out the controls. I that that was pretty awesome. I was told I did fairly well.    Unfortunately you can only see this car at auto shows for now.

There were a few concepts on hand as well. “Hybrid” is the keyword and along with “electric” or anything green at auto shows now, and the Washington Auto Show is no different. Toyota NS4 Hybrid and Volvo's XC60 Hybrid were on display. I hope Toyota builds the NS4 Hybrid, because I think it looks super slick. Another concept on display was the Audi E-Tron electric car. Audi is testing a fleet of them in Germany currently, but it no word on when Audi will be testing their electric cars in the US.

Fiat had a little area for doing test drives with the new Fiat 500.  It seemed a lot of press people and government officials were happy to not just look at cars, but actually drive one.  Especially inside the Washington Auto Show.  I thought this was a good idea, but is not necessarily going to make me buy a Fiat 500.  I love the original Fiat 500, but the new one just seems too much of chick car.

The day I attended Senator Jeff Merkley (Oregon)gave a speech and talked about what the Senate was doing to try to reduce our dependence on foreign oil. Honestly his speech was pretty boring, but I listened intently anyway.  As well Mark Reuss, President of General Motors North American operations (GM), gave a speech at the show.  I guess he came to make sure all the politicians were happy with the job he was doing and what GM is doing.  As well pat himself on the back about making GM number 1 again.  (Just so you know you have natural disasters to thank for that!)

Ray LaHood, the secretary of transportation, was in attendance as well. Unlike Senator Merkley and surprisingly Mark Reuss, he is a good public speaker.  He spoke in the Advanced Super Highway section of the hall, which featured electric cars, hybrids, and other green cars from many different automakers.   “This great auto show features some of the best cars in the world” said LaHood about the Washington Auto Show adding “In this hall, you can see what is possible.” In his speech he stressed the importance of the auto bailouts. He claimed the government's actions saved our whole economy and over 1 million jobs. I didn't agree with most of his statements, since I am against bailouts, but whatever.

If you love cars, and are in the DC metro area, I would definitely go checkout the Washington Auto Show.  It runs from January 27th – February 5th, 2012.

Revenge is So Sweet; My Review of the documentary “Revenge Of The Electric Car”

EV1 at the Petersen Automotive Museum "Revenge of the Electric Car"

Whoever said, “Revenge isn't sweet?” has not seen, ‘Revenge Of The Electric Car‘ the new documentary directed by Chris Paine, which is the sequel to the 2006 documentary “Who Killed the Electric Car?” While Revenge Of The Electric Car is not flawless, the film provides a compelling tale of the resurgence of the electric car.

Revenge Of The Electric Car revolves around four men who have played roles in bringing electric cars onto our roads. Bob Lutz Vice Chairman of General Motors (GM) is referred to as Mr. Detroit; Rocket Man, Elon Musk Co-Founder and CEO of Tesla Motors ; The Outsider, Greg “Gadget” Abbott who builds his own electric cars; and The Warrior, Carlos Ghosn President and CEO of Nissan and Renault who is the driving force behind the all-electric Nissan Leaf.

I assumed the movie would be biased toward electric cars, and in the first 10 minutes of the movie, there is little doubt of this.

The opening scene with Dan Neil, the Wall Street Journal automotive journalist, clearly establishes the movie's premise. He proclaims, “Electric cars are the only way forward.” Mr. Neil is a well respected writer, having won a Pulitzer Prize for writing about cars. Throughout the movie he serves as the main voice pushing the story along, adding his insight and wit.

Bob Lutz, a GM executive who has been at numerous car companies, encouraged the development of the Chevy Volt. He was not always a believer in the technologies, and is often blamed for killing off GM's EV1 program. One of the important events chronicled by the movie, is the PR disaster GM experienced when it shut down and destroyed all EV1 cars.  In the film ,when he discusses why GM's board was not excited to build the Volt, Lutz says, “The company had lost so much money on EV1.” Mmm…. let's not forget that it was Lutz who had the cars crushed.

Lutz though, is unapologetic about both his actions and his prior comments. He is a charismatic, smart, and competitive man, which Paine shows well.  Lutz's push to build the Volt not only helped GM's image, but insured his place in automotive history. Lutz, as Neil points out, is a bit of an egomaniac.

Elon Musk, CEO and Co-Founder of Tesla, is the man who forced GM and the big players in the auto industry to rethink how they view electric cars. He showed that it is possible to build electric cars and not the slow, unimaginative, and boring cars people associated with electric propulsion. Tesla choose to make the Tesla Roadster, a cool and fast electric car.

Of course what you learn as an audience, and what Musk and his Silicon Valley buddies realize quickly, is that it is not easy building and selling cars. Lutz makes a point in the movie that it is a lot harder than you think.

There is a bit of a surreal moment when Musk is checking over a warehouse of Tesla Roadsters that had issues and problems. Car #23 had a bad powertrain.  Musk said , “Replace it, take it out, put a new one in, and table the old one for analysis.” He expresses to the Tesla employee that customers might start losing confidence. Chris Paine, the director, chimes in that #23 is his car. Musk is caught a bit off guard, then compliments the color of the car. I guess Paine knew the gamble he made when he put down his deposit for his Tesla Roadster.   Tesla delivers his Roadster a year later.

Greg ‘Gadget' Abbott is an independent entrepreneur who chooses to build his own electric cars. Gadget also does electric car conversions for those willing to spend a hefty sum. Both Gadget and his wife are dedicating their lives to building electric cars. Gadget I think, is one of the most compelling characters in the movie, if not the most compelling. His challenge includes rebuilding his life and business after his main workshop is burned down due to arson. Gadget lost $250,000 in uninsured tools and several of his electric cars. The only thing that survived the fire was a controller, “I can built a car with that” he says. You can tell he is down but he always seems to be unfailingly optimistic.

Carlos Ghosn, who is President and CEO of Nissan and Renault, seems to have shown up the entire auto industry by building the Nissan Leaf, a fully electric car that is affordable to the masses and available worldwide. Neil says that Ghosn, “Is not a visionary” but I disagree. The Brazilian-Frenchmen has a vision to make money with the Leaf. That is a vision that could truly change the world and what our transportation infrastructure looks like.

It is important to note that Nissan sold around 10,000 Nissan Leafs in 2011, while GM sold 6,000 Volts. It seems Ghosn made the right decision as the Leaf's technology might position of the leader in electric cars.  When Paine asks, “Do you feel you are ahead of the game?” Ghosn replies, “I don't feel, I am!” showing his confidence and business acumen.

There is no denying Chris Paine's bias toward Elon Musk and Tesla, as demonstrated by the flashy montage of Musk's and Tesla's rise with celebrity commentators, compared to Bob Lutz's and Carlos Ghosn somewhat laid back static sequence. This reflects the different personalities to a degree, but it is still hard to miss the bias.

For instance, a short segment involving Martin Eberhard, one of the co-founders of Tesla, is a bit odd. It does not fully explain the story and makes it seem like Musk and Tesla are the good guys for kicking Eberhard out. There is no way to know what happened, but judging from Musk's mass firings, it might be safe to assume he was probably the bad guy in the story.

The movie focuses too much on Musk, while ignoring other interesting characters. Gadget's story of how and why he started building electric cars would have been interesting to hear. (Maybe this will be on the DVD bonus features.)

What the movie does show is Tesla's difficult road to making cars.  Musk is at one point forced to wire all his money to Tesla to make payroll.  He might be brash and arrogant, but he had a lot of faith to stick with Tesla.  I respect Musk for that, and look where Tesla is now.

The movie has its share of celebrity appearances, featuring Danny DeVito, Anthony Kiedis (Red Hot Chili Peppers), Arnold Schwarzenegger and others. The movie is narrated by Tim Robbins, the actor and well-known liberal activist. He describes himself as a EV enthusiast.

The other two interesting characters, along with Mr Neil, that provide comments and insight are Ray Wert, editor of Jalopink, and Owen Thomas, the editor of Valleywag. They casually talk about the auto industry on a park bench, giving additional insight to the story.

With a growing need to meet energy needs and oil becoming more expensive, harder to find, and from hostile places, electric cars may be as Dan Neil puts it, “The only way forward!” The movie claims that it costs $1 equivalent per gallon to “fill-up” an electric car. Of course what it does not emphasize… we still get most of our electricity from fossil fuels!

Paine tells a compelling and fascinating account of the resurgence in electric cars and the people behind them in the film, which is what he wanted to accomplish. He details the trials and tribulations of Tesla, GM, Nissan, and Mr. Abbott, each story ending with optimism and hope for the auto industry.

Revenge Of the Electric Car is a must-see for any car enthusiast, auto journalist, environmentalist, or person who wants to be informed of what the auto industry will look like in the future.

 Revenge Of The Electric Car will be available on DVD on January 24th, 2012.

 

 

Revenge of the Electric Car a Fascinating Documentary

Revenge of the Electric Car

Today I got something pretty cool in the mail, “Revenge Of The Electric Car.”  It is the sequel to the 2006 documentary, “Who Killed The Electric Car?”  Revenge Of The Electric Car follows the 4 men who have essentially led the resurgence of the electric car.  Famed car executive, Bob Lutz; Co-Founder and CEO of Tesla Motors, Elon Musk; A man who builds his own electric cars, Greg ‘Gadget' Abbott; and CEO and President of Nissan and Renault, Carlos Ghosn.  Each has made a different contribution to developing, designing, and building electric cars.  I watched some of the movie today and found it interesting, but won't give too many details.  You will have to wait for my review!

Chevy Cruze on display at Inner Harbor

Not only was there a Chevy Volt on display at the Inner Harbor there was also a Chevy Cruze.  Not quite as exciting as a Volt, but I took pictures anyway.  By the way GM, if you read this, putting a Chevy Cruze in Baltimore's Inner Harbor is not going to convince me to buy one.  If you did not take bailout money and built good cars… then I might consider it.

Chevy Cruze FrontChevy Cruze Back