Chevy Volt: Too Little, Too Late

The real vindication that Obamas bailouts didn’t work comes today with the Chevy Volt getting a pricetag. I’m a car guy, I like American built cars, I even went out of my way to try to buy 4-vin (assembled in America) Toyotas. This kind of crap breaks my evil little heart.

Obama “saved” GM, and for that they designed a hybrid who’s main selling point is that it plugs into the wall.

What’s it cost?

Fully twice as much as a Prius. The Volt base edition costs almost $42,000 USD. How much does the base Prius cost? $23,000 USD. It doesn’t even have the cool stuff the high end prius does. No sunroof, no LED lights which will never burn out, no rabbits VS barrels display, no auto tinting windows or solar panel on the roof and spoiler. In short it’s grossly overpriced for what market it’s slotted for.

My take is he bailed out mediocrity and our reward is further mediocrity.

If Chevy had put out a Caddy for this price, people probably would have bought it, especially since both Chevy and Ford are marketing their luxury brands as being “sporty” and “high tech”. It would have competed well against the Toyota Prius. Sure, Lexus has luxury hybrids, but when you think Prius you think soccer mom. Chevy should have released their hybrid under the Cadillac badging. Not to do so, in my opinion, is a serious miss.

What’s the Leaf weigh in at? $32,000 (the tax credit for an “all electric” vehicle actually makes this $25,000 which puts it firmly in Prius turf). This makes it only $5k more expensive than the highest priced Prius, but it’s packed with features which meet or exceed those on the top end Prius making it a decent value for the money. It too has sunroofs, LED lighting, leather, rims, and solar panel options.

The range of the Leaf is 100 miles, which is also more than twice that of the Volt. Not having to lug a generator around really helps. There’s been some grousing that this may not be an accurate number but even if it really is half that, 50 miles is still more than most Americans commute to work daily. (I personally would end up 10 miles short). The other grousing is from the Tesla camp saying that the battery packs total lack of active thermal management will cause them to fail, the likelihood of this being an actual issue in my opinion is slim to none. It looks to me like it’s using the frame of the car as a heat sink, and this doesn’t strike me as a bad idea. I think it’s much more likely that Tesla is seeing someone come to market with more than two braincells to rub together and they’re bent that they didn’t think of all this stuff first.

My take on the entire situation: GM will die spectacularly by the next Presidency who isn’t going to put up with this horseshit anymore. The Volt is a nonstarter. From their ashes will be born a new GM who will do what GM does best – trucks. Nissan will corner the all electric market unless Ford does something surprising and quickly. Toyota will continue to keep a stranglehold on the hybrid market. The Prius will continue to suffer terribly for reliability on the used market, but this will be overshadowed by the incredibly competitive pricing in the new market.

How about the boneyard?

You can pick up a 2006 rebuildable for about $5000. But, knowing how expensive they are even when they’re wrecked, why would you want to?

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Camry Breakdown!

Everything happens at once. I got the MR2 moved to “classic” insurance so I’m paying $12.80 a month to insure it (or about $200 a year) so the camry decides to buy the farm. I’m driving into work today going “hm, seems like it doesn’t have as much power as it should”. Pulling into the parking lot it goes WHEEEEEZE and dies right as I pull into the parking spot.

It’s a weird feeling with your hand about to touch the keys when the car does exactly what you’re about to do.

Needless to say, it might be the plugs but I’m much more inclined to think it’s the igniter or battery. It’s enough to make you want a Jeep, which my wife owns a 1996 cherokee and it doesn’t give her nearly the raft of crap it should. I don’t really want to spend the money on the camry, but I also know once I get the house I’ll really not be interested in working on cars for quite a bit. Obviously I need to fix this now and cheaply.

For those not in the know, the shop manuals for a 1992 to 1996 (“Mark 3”) camry are getting hard to find, but Turbo Ninjas hosts them for us. You may want to mirror their site while you can…

All About Cars and Buying American

This is a response to this powerline post.

I just read the article on cars via powerline and I felt compelled to
comment as a shadetree mechanic.

Both GM and Ford are American companies only so far as management is
concerned. If you buy a Ford, it’s built in South America with South
American wrenches. Check the sticker on the driver side door for the
assembly. GM has roughly the same problem, but since they have a
partnership with Toyota (sold under the GEO brand), sometimes their
cars are built in Kentucky and sometimes they are built in Mexico.
Toyotas are sometimes built in Kentucky and sometimes built in Japan.
If you’re really interested in Buying American, buy either Chevy or
Toyota – but only after checking the door sticker.

Ford’s engines are almost always built in Brazil, so you are never
truly buying American there, Chevies are built sometimes in Ohio,
sometimes in Kentucky, and sometimes in Japan. All three plants send
the parts either to Mexico or Kentucky to be assembled into cars.
Finally Toyota buys their engines either from Yamaha (which is
actually Fuji Heavy Industries) or builds them in Japan. These go to
Kentucky or stay in Japan. There’s no real “buying American” anymore,
not since the 80s. Having built several cars by hand, I can safely say
that out of the two “American brands” and the “foreign brand”, the
“foreign brand” has superior engineering by far. I was briefly in love
with the Lincolns, and owned a Mark VII. Despite the best efforts of
me and the mustang crowd, keeping the 302HO running was a chore,
especially for a luxury car which served as my daily driver. The
engineering just sucked, no thought went into assembly, and minor
things which should be user serviceable were built as a unit and then
bolted to the engine with no thought to service. (The alternator on
the 302HO is not only notoriously unreliable, but the bolt which holds
it to the bracket is put facing the engine block – which means you
can’t service it without pulling the entire accessory bracket).

Turn that around and consider the “foreign brand”, made in Kentucky. I
built two 1992 MR2s as project cars. I bought into the first one, then
when it was involved in a hit and run, I bought back the wreck and did
an engine swap into the second one. The engineering is night and day
comparing domestic and foreign cars. The MR2, the midengine
suicide-sled from the 1990s, has more in common with the Toyota Camry
(and Celica) than any two ford vehicles or chevy vehicles would. Just
about everything, including the 5SFE, will swap between those cars.
This is why America’s industry, unfortunately, sucks. With talent like
that overseas, I’ve sworn off buying domestics. Even the turbo MR2
(3SGTE) engine, something you would assume would end up only on
sportscars, is still used almost 20 years later today in Toyota’s
“crossover” vehicles. Plus, frankly, it saves you money. While Pepboys
is going to look at you funny when you tell them you want to buy Camry
brake pads for your MR2, the difference is nothing on the materials
and about $40 off the price.

Now, all is not done for the American auto industry. The ECOTEC is
built a whole lot like the 5SFE which Toyota used as it’s mainstay and
incorporates a lot of the same concepts (different heads all go on the
same shortblock to make different engines). Unfortunately it’s made by
“GM Daewoo”, so it’s South Korean. But, if GM holds onto the ECOTEC
design (simply called Series 0, Series 1, and Series 2 along with the
CDFR diesel ECOTEC) for another 20 years or so, they stand to make a
comeback. The chassis standardization trend is also a good thing for
GM – the Pontiac Solstice, the Saturn Sky (and Redline), and the Opel
Speedster all use the same frame and engines with just a change of
window dressing. Unlike Toyota, however, GM exclusively uses the
ECOTEC “system” in various configurations to get varying levels of
sportyness into the cars.

That’s really the long and short of the problem with the American auto
industry’s excesses. Everything Ford and Chevy built until recently
has been unique to the car, and everything Toyota built has been made
to be assembled like LEGOs.