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Transcript of Andrew Farah’s Webchat: The Chevy Volt’s Chief Engineer Answers Some Questions

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A few days ago, at around 4pm on June 25th, Chevrolet Volt chief engineer Andrew Farah took some time out to answer questions about the car via a live webchat hosted at the official GM FastLane blog.

Farah has been involved in the development of the Volt since around early 2007, and he’s apparently the first person to drive the brand new “production intent” Volt. I was looking forward to getting some juicy news about the electrojesus car, but it turned out to be a little more like a PR stunt with none of my questions slipping past. So I added an addendum at the bottom of the transcript which includes a couple of my questions and simulated answers. Enjoy, Ridelusters.

Official Transcript

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Andrew Farah: I’m here and ready to go. Before we get started, I wanted to quickly address a question I’ve seen already while surfing the net. First, some of the parts that you have seen on the pre-production vehicle may not look as they do on the production show car. This is because these parts are not needed in their production form yet for development…things like head lamps, tail lamps, paint on the spoiler, etc. Now, fire away.
4:02
[Comment From Scott ]
How was the drive and how does it compare to other hybrids such as the insight and prius?
4:04
Andrew Farah: Clearly I enjoyed the significantly longer EV distance that is available with the Volt. I had to drive quite some distance before the engine came on, even though I didn’t start with a full charge. By comparison, our chassis is much more sporty than either of the other vehicles.
4:05
[Comment From Augie Churchill ]
Mr. Farah, Do you have any preliminary projections yet for the “Mean Time Between Failures” of the Volt’s Lithium-ion battery? Will there be a warranty for the battery separate from the car’s basic warranty? Have you thought of leasing the Volt’s battery so customers can swap out batteries as the technology evolves and better batteries become available?
4:06
Andrew Farah: We’re designing for the battery pack to have a 10-year life and there has been discussion of all sorts of battery business models, but we’re working form the perspective that it will be sold with the car.
4:07
[Comment From EricR ]
How goes the software development and GUI for the interior?
4:08
Andrew Farah: Basic controls software architecture is complete. The GUI is one of the areas that we will be refining over the next months. Still, a number of controls areas will continue calibration activities.
4:09
[Comment From Yakov ]
What will be the approximate size of the fuel tank and maximum range?
4:10
Andrew Farah: We’re still balancing the size of the tank with other factors, but the range will be more than 300 miles on a full charge and with a full tank of fuel.
4:10
[Comment From Tom Hayden ]
Are you driving the VOLT solely on battery power so far?
4:11
Andrew Farah: No, we’ve been driving the Volt on battery and generator. However, keep in mind, that when the generator is running, we’re still driving electric and the battery still plays a load leveling role.
4:12
[Comment From alexander ]
What will the volt mean for the long term survival of GM?
4:14
Andrew Farah: The Volt is an emerging technology vehicle and any company that wants to continue to improve/progress has got to be ready to move with the technology quickly. Electrified vehicles will certainly be a significant portion of our future sales, and the Volt is a great next step.
4:14
[Comment From Greg ]
Is the round charging port the design that will be used on production models?
4:16
Andrew Farah: We have adopted the revised SAE J1772 charge port/connector specification. While this is a bit larger than what we have shown previously, it will enable interoperatibility with public charging that is greater than 120V. So yes, this is production intent.
4:17
[Comment From Rick ]
Have you driven the IV in charge sustaining mode yet? If so, what can you tell us about the experience?
4:18
Andrew Farah: Just yesterday, I was driving the latest calibration of charge sustaining mode, and I’m extremely pleased. This is one of the more challenging development activities over the next months.
4:20
[Comment From Bill Secinaro ]
Could you explain how the Volt is different from the current hybrids in that the electric motor is actually powering the vehicle at all times? Is this true?
4:22
Andrew Farah: Hi Bill…you’re correct that the electric motor is always powering the wheels, whereas in a typical hybrid vehicle the electric motor and the gasoline engine can power the wheels. The greatest advantage of an extended-range electric vehicle like the Volt is the increased all electric range and the significant total vehicle range combined.
4:23
[Comment From Aaron Crossen ]
Will the Volt be available in different trim levels?
4:24
Andrew Farah: Yes, and we’ll have more info on that closer to launch, but you should expect more than one trim level as with most other Chevrolets.
4:25
[Comment From Thomas Foxcroft ]
What is the energy output of the traction battery in kilowatts?
4:25
Andrew Farah: We limit the total system to 110 kW.
4:26
[Comment From Jim Rowland ]
Does the volt respond the same in all electric mode as well as when the ICE is running, as far as back wheel power or accelation?
4:26
Andrew Farah: The Volt is front wheel drive and yes, the capabilities of the vehicle are the same in EV and extended range modes.
4:27
[Comment From Carol Samuelson ]
Why has the charging port been relocated to the gas cap feature instead of the location in previous vehicles on the fender?
4:28
Andrew Farah: The SAE connector is a bit larger than would fit under the fender trim, so we moved it down to accomodate.
4:28
[Comment From Kyle ]
Is their a considerable difference between the handling of the iver and the mule/cruze body?
4:30
Andrew Farah: We had a few mule vehicles that had chassis set-ups exactly the way that we want the vehicle in production. The pre-production vehicles are meeting this same level of performance, however, we still have some work to do on ride height, spring rates, etc.
4:33
[Comment From Norma ]
I know GM has targeted a range, on battery alone, “up tp 40 mile”. Can you shed some light: is this based on “optimal” best case scenario? Would such claim actually let customers down?
4:37
Andrew Farah: The 40 mile number is based on the EPA Federal test protocol (FTP) for city driving. We say “up to 40 miles” because some people will drive harder or more aggressive than this test cycle. This is the same cycle that is used for regular vehicles and as with those, actual mileage varies based on driving behavior, terrain, and accessory usage. The best thing about the Volt is even when the battery is depleted, you can still keep going.
4:38
[Comment From Bob M. ]
In charge sustaining mode, when stopped for a trafic light, is engine noise annoying?
4:39
Andrew Farah: Our plan is to stop the engine when the vehicle comes to rest, so that the experience is very similar to when the Volt is in EV mode.
4:40
[Comment From Nancy D ]
Andrew, what are the chances that you can reduce the price of the Volt by 25% and extend the life of the battery over the next 6-8 years?
4:42
Andrew Farah: In short, very good. Six to eight years is a long time when working with emerging technologies that are being used in the electrification of the automobile. What helps this move faster is early public acceptance that drives commercialization. What’s important is that EVs need to be seen as clearly relevant by the average consumer, so it is a bit of a chicken and egg issue. But we think the Volt is on the right track.
4:43
[Comment From Rick ]
What work has happened yet at the Detroit/Hamtramck facility to be able to start producing Volts there in early 2010?
4:44
Andrew Farah: The real question is, what are you doing as you build the pre-production properties that get you ready for plant production? We are actually using tools that will be moved to the plant when we are done building the pre-production vehicles later this year.
4:46
[Comment From Neal Riley ]
You say your plan is to stop the engine when the car comes to a stop. I hope you also will reduce engine rpm as the speed of the car decreases to keep it sounding like it is trying to run away. Incidentally, thanks to all of the GM team for this vehicle.
4:48
Andrew Farah: Neal, clearly you have put some thought into this, as have we. Your suggestion clearly makes sense. People don’t want the car to act significantly different than what they are used to today. My goal is that anyone should be able to get into a Volt and drive it with very little preparation…and should not surpise them unnecessarily, but should excite them.
4:50
[Comment From Stephan P. ]
How much of the driving experience is a feature of software tuning rather than the mechanical consequences?
4:52
Andrew Farah: Even in a typical car today, software plays an extensive role particularly in the powertrain. The Volt is no exception, and many other systems such as brakes are significantly software based. In the end, the software can affect almost everything except spring rates.
4:53
Andrew Farah: I have time for a couple more, great questions so far.
4:54
[Comment From Bob "Sweets" Peters ]
When I was in the process of purchasing a car a couple of years ago I considered a hybrid vehicle but was told by many people that although it was enviromentally friendly it wasn’t economically friendly to someone who drives short distances…what’s your opinion of this with the Volt?
4:55
Andrew Farah: Hey Sweets. For short distances, less than about 40 miles, the Volt will be very economical from a cost of electricity per mile vs. gasoline per mile. Of course, this changes as fuel prices fluctuate. How far is it from Flat Rock to Ann Arbor? Wink
4:56
[Comment From GaryCB ]
have you tested the volt A/C under symulated conditiones for extremely hot weather? I live in the Lower Rio Grand Valley where the temp gets over 100 degrees F.
4:57
Andrew Farah: Yes, and we’ll be doing actual testing out west this summer. Btw, it was 90+ degrees here in Michigan during my driving the past couple days. We plan to give drivers some unique options when it comes to controlling there cabin comfort.
4:58
Andrew Farah: Final question, let me find a good one…
4:59
[Comment From Dan Toomes ]
What affect does extreme cold have on the ability of the batteries to provide power to the vehicle? Might this require the engine to run to provide power?
5:01
Andrew Farah: As most people know, cold batteries cannot deliver as much power as warm batteries. The Volt is equipped with an automatic battery thermal management system that will keep them within an optimal temperature range. However, in extremely cold situations we will have to use the engine to supplement the battery.

—End of Official Transcript—

Now, I was in that webchat from 4pm to 5pm, pumping it full of thoughtful and delicately crafted questions. Unfortunately, not a single one was answered. I say “unfortunately” because now I have to make up my own answers:

[Fake comment From Vito@Ridelust]
Aside from the Volt being an electric vehicle, what other eco-bells and enviro-whistles will the Volt have? More specifically, did you integrate any eco-friendly extras like solar panels on the roof or a power generating system using the brake friction; or use any environmentally friendly design materials; coconut husks or recycled plastics or reclaimed rubber for example?

Fake Andrew Farah: Well Vito, that’s an excellent question, and the answer is no. Emphatically NO. In fact, we at GM have gone to great lengths to use the most environmentally damaging materials we could find. For instance, much of the interior trim comes from old growth forest timber; and as for the exterior, a great deal of that trim comes from the horn of the majestic Black Rhino, which really is an amazingly beautiful creature I must say. And delicious too.

[Fake comment From Vito@Ridelust]
Does GM plan on being involved in the creation of an electric fuel station infrastructure? And if so, do they plan on trying to lobby for government funds to aid in building it?

Fake Andrew Farah: Another excellent question, Vito. I’m not entirely certain about the specifics, but what I can tell you is that GM’s long term goal is to collect the majority of the nation’s gasoline and stockpile it, much like Lord Humongous and his minions from the Australian post-apocalyptic action film Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior. After the said collection of gasoline, the high level managers of GM will cruise the Midwest on makeshift creep-mobiles terrorizing the general populace while dressed in bizarre leather outfits. This is all outlined explicitly in the company mission statement and reprinted regularly in their quarterly shareholder pamphlets.

—End of Fake Portion of Official Transcript—

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