ElectroShock Therapy Jonathan Rauch The Atlantic

23 мая 2014 | Author: | Комментарии к записи ElectroShock Therapy Jonathan Rauch The Atlantic отключены
General Motors EV1

Electro-Shock Therapy

(Photo Alex Wong/Getty Images)

year, while he was working in as an engineer for General Motors, Farah got a call from a engineer in Detroit asking him to home.


A car. A car.

Farah had heard it, of course. The Chevrolet Volt was the sensation of 2007, a new kind of hybrid that GM was proposing to in showrooms in late 2010. had advocated a similar design earlier, so he didn’t need to be on the idea.

Still, he hesitated. GM had him because of his deep experience battery-driven electric cars. In the he had worked on GM’s EV1, an technological masterpiece that had so poorly commercially that GM up crushing the cars amid a of public condemnation.

Farah had fiercely committed to the EV1, and he was not to relive the disappointment.

“Hell, he said. “I’ve been on like this before. not real.”

“No,” came the “This one is real.” Farah to talk to other senior and they concurred. So, in the spring of year, he took one of the hardest at GM, and became the Volt’s chief

And how, I ask over coffee one February morning in Detroit, is it It is 6 a.m. and Farah, who is 47 and has angular and prominent black glasses, is to make a 7 a.m. meeting. The he says, is 10 weeks behind the schedule.

Any more slippage, and the 2010 will be history. Even if no time is lost, he will only eight weeks to the underbody, the car’s structural

Is that enough time? He indirectly. In some cars, he testing the underbody can take a

GM, he tells me, is taking an industrial designed to grind out incremental and repurposing it for a technological leap. “I 20 percent of my time being a and counselor,” he says. “I tell ‘Yes, there’s a lot of risk. yes, that’s OK.’

not a program for the faint of heart.”

Making a Huge Mistake’

one of the world’s mightiest corporations everything it’s got at a project, and it shreds its rule book in the the results are likely to be impressive. even for General Motors, the is a reach. If it meets specifications, it charge up overnight from any electrical socket. It will go 40 on a charge.

Then a small engine will ignite. The sole job will be to drive a whose sole job will be to the battery’s charge—not to drive the which will never see but electricity. In generator mode, the car drive hundreds of miles on a of gas, at about 50 miles per

But about three-fourths of Americans less than 40 miles a so on most days most drivers would use no gas at all.

it will have both an and a gasoline motor on board, the will be a hybrid. But it will be no hybrid on the road today. hybrids are gasoline-powered cars, an electric assist to improve the gas

The Volt will be an electric-powered with a gasoline assist to the battery’s range.

Electric is as old as the automobile itself. Anyone who has in a golf cart has experienced it. with the fire-breathing internal engine, an electric motor is quiet, and clean, and it provides acceleration and torque. For a century, the deal-breaker has been the battery. Any with nearly enough to drive a full-size car was prohibitively and heavy, prohibitively expensive, to go more than a few miles on a or (usually) all of the above.

Only has the advent of lithium-ion batteries a full-range electric car into the of the practical. Even so, the battery for the doesn’t yet exist, at least not at a price, and building it poses challenges. Loading enough into a sufficiently small, package is hard (the isn’t much good it fits in the car); keeping it lest it burst into is harder; making it durable to last 10 years on bumpy is harder yet; manufacturing it in volumes and at mass-market prices may be of all.

Given the challenges, standard dictates first building and the battery, and only then a car around it. That process, would take until or 2013—time GM does not have if it to beat Toyota. The only of meeting the 2010 deadline is to the battery while simultaneously the car.

Just-in-time inventory is now in the car business, but just-in-time invention on the scale is new to GM and probably to the modern industry.

Many in the industry tell you there’s a good car companies don’t do things way. Toyota, which is much more cautiously its own plug-in car, has made no of its belief that neither GM nor else can keep the Volt’s When I called Menahem a prominent battery consultant in he said the lithium-ion battery be expensive—far too expensive to make as a business proposition as long as gas is $3 or $4 a (“At $10 a gallon we can have a discussion.”) Its life is unproven, and in the short time GM has allotted.

General Motors EV1

To tens of thousands of vehicles in Anderman said, “they have had hundreds of them driving around for two or three Hundreds . Not everybody can say it publicly, but in the high-volume industry is saying, are they thinking about?’” An with a GM competitor, after some of the same points, forthrightness in exchange for anonymity: making a huge mistake.”

The people at GM understand very the reasons they’re not supposed to do they’re doing. They a variety of retorts. Batteries improve and get cheaper. Gas prices rise.

They have two worth of experience with drive. They have algorithms to test the battery. new fuel-economy standards will the business case.

But, at what they say is that the is part of the point. They something to prove.

In conversations everyone from staff to Rick Wagoner, the chairman and I heard references to the Apollo “John Kennedy didn’t ‘Let’s go to the moon and, you we’ll get there as soon as we Wagoner said in a recent in his office, atop a high-rise in “I asked our experts, ‘Guys, do we a reasonable chance of making it or Yes . ‘Well, then, let’s go for we want rather than go for we know we can do.’” With the GM—battered, beleaguered, struggling for to re-engineer not just the car but the way the public about cars, the way the public about GM, and the way GM thinks about

‘That Could Have Us’

The company turns 100 this but amid the birthday celebrations it can a slap in the face: in 2008 GM is to be demoted to No. 2 among the world’s Memories of past glory being overtaken by Toyota all the galling. In the 1950s and 1960s, GM forth a stream of innovations in and technology. In the 1960s, it manufactured 60 percent of the cars sold in

Then, of course, the Japanese the energy crisis hit, and GM to look like the company never missed an opportunity to an opportunity. In the 1970s, when gas rose, GM proved incapable of a decent small car. In the when the Japanese redefined GM failed to respond, because its were competing against other instead of the imports. In the when minivans and SUVs off, GM was caught unprepared.

In the part of this decade, it hybrids were too unprofitable to leaving a gap in the market that with its Prius, brilliantly and exploited. By the time GM recognized its and launched its own hybrids, Toyota the field.

GM also had problems high health-care and manufacturing expensive union contracts, capacity, poor quality, designs. Its public image got so bad focus groups liked the cars better when the was removed. In 2005, GM lost billion and saw its bonds downgraded to rating.

Analysts were about bankruptcy.

Adding to injury, the prominent acquisition of in 1999 had made GM a poster for environmental irresponsibility, even as and the Prius piled up accolades for “We looked at the Prius and the masterful job of and public relations Toyota did that,” Steve Harris, top PR executive, says, “and we That could have us .”

The combination of bad news and worse created a sense of emergency. thinking the same thing: got to turn this thing ,” one executive told me. “We’ve got to get our back on advanced technology. The PR want something more and dramatic, a singular point for our This issue of the environmental was hurting the company substantially.” it safe looked paradoxically dangerous than taking a

The company was conductive to a high-voltage and Bob Lutz provided the spark.

General Motors EV1
General Motors EV1
General Motors EV1
General Motors EV1
General Motors EV1
General Motors EV1


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