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Sunday, May 23, 2010

The Most Important Car GM has Ever Produced

From GM-Volt.com:

The nearly four years it is taking for the Volt to go from concept to retail delivery has seemed painstakingly slow for a good reason, GM is being painstakingly careful to get the car just right. As has been pointed out Nissan is getting an early rush of publicity and goodwill from early adopters, but GM is in it for the long haul massaging a very complex vehicle into perfection. They will ramp up slowly and gradually so that the cars behave perfectly and so that the consumer purchasing and driving experiences are flawless.

This pressure for perfection in the Volt weighs heavily not just on the minds of engineers and executives, but the entire company, the state of Michigan, and according a soulful report in the Associated Press, the entire auto industry.

The 22 year veteran GM autoworker Steve Purcnell who is building pre-production Volts in the Detroit-Hamtrack plant feels the pressure.

“If this doesn’t fly, what’s left for GM?” asks Purcnell. “Wall Street is going to say, ‘We knew they couldn’t dig themselves out of the hole.’”

As such, Purcnell and his coworkers are putting more intensity and effort into this car than any before it. ”I don’t want to say that we worked harder on this,” he said. “I think we worked a lot smarter. I mean everybody was on their ‘A’ game. … It was, ‘We want to make sure we’re perfect.’”

“We know the Volt is the last hurrah for GM,” he added. “It’s either do or die.”

This intense goal of achieving perfection reverberates through a Michigan now laden with crushed hopes and foreclosure signs. ”Detroit,” says Mike Smith, head of a Detroit library, “has two choices: Remake itself. Or die on the vine. We HAVE to reinvent ourselves.”

Even Smith knows the Volt is the key to this process. ”If you’re going to have an electric car and if the Volt turns out to be the leader of the pack, think what that means in sales, prestige, in reputation,” said Smith. “This one is symbolic in the sense that it’s going to speak to the prowess of the American auto industry — and GM itself.”

“The Volt is going to be the most watched production in the history of autos,” he added.

Detroit Hamtramck plant manager Terri Quigley is also acutely aware of the importance of the job she is doing.

“We have to execute flawlessly,” she says. “A lot of pressure? Yeah. … We’ve got one chance to do this right. My work force has heard me say this more than once: The world is really going to be watching.”

GM has poured $336 million of retooling investment into Hamtramck to prep it to build the Volt. That’s part of an even greater $700 million in total investments including the battery plant and the Flint engine plant GM has bet on the Volt.

The Volt is the front end of a great wave of advanced automotive technology investments coming form many sources and companies to rebuild Michigan and its long legacy of automotive manufacturing.

“It’s the beginning,” says Dayne Walling says, Mayor of Flint, “of a long transition from a Rust Belt city to one that’s more green, has more technology and is more relevant to the 21st century.”

Auto worker Purcnell is optimistic about that day a few short months from now when the first saleable Volt rolls off the line. ”There’s going to be a feeling of pride when it’s running off the line,” he says. “We know it’s going to be right.”

However, 64 year old 40 year veteran auto worker George McGregor, who is president of UAW Local 22 in Detroit, is a bit more apprehensive. ”Americans love power,” he says. “Fast cars. You understand? They LOOVVE large cars. Small cars, efficient cars? We’re being forced into that now. If … gas was reasonable, it would be SUVs and large cars.”

He supposes public taste may be shifting and that people might actually want electric cars. ”Is this what the public really wants?” he asks. ”Hopefully,” he says softly. “Hopefully.”

If GM screws up the Volt, the entire US auto industry will pe proven incompetent, and probably slide into oblivion in the next few years, most likely taking much of the rest of US Manufacturing with it.

A Total Disaster for the US.

But it gets worse - if the Volt fails, it will probably set back electric car adoption worldwide for a decade.

Which means we'll be addicted to oil for that much longer - and it is already known all the "easy oil" is pretty much gone. And that means more BP disasters, Soaring Gas Prices, Global Recession, Terrorism, and of course, even more Global Warming...

Worse - much of the world is waiting for clean, green, energy solutions - wind, solar, geothermal, etc, all to produce electricity for the tools in our brave new world. If one big piece fails, it threatens confidence in the rest.

It's all linked.

And there's a limit to how much any government can do with regulations, taxes, etc. If there's no technology to replace the wasteful one, what are people (and the economy) to do?

And now it's all on GM's shoulders... And they know it... How do their executives sleep at night?

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