I have seen the electric car promised land.
This month I became one of the first people outside of GM to visit the pre-production operations (PPO) facility at a time where the first genuine Chevy Volts, called integration vehicles (IVers) were being assembled.
The PPO plant was vast though moderate in size relative to full automotive production plants which can occupy several million square feet. Within it were two assembly lines each likely about 500 feet long along which the cars were being built by hand.
The day I was there was only 12 days after the first car was begun. At that point there were four Volt vehicles in various stages of construction. One was white, one was black, and two were gray. The paint on the surface was primer.
The sheet metal skeletons of the vehicles arrive there from the pre-production body shop, there 1000 or so pieces already welded together with hoods and hatchback in place.
The cars are built from the Volt math models developed by design and engineering. Little fit variations or flaws are detected such as for example the fit of the hood or rear window, and then are hand corrected for the next iteration.
The body shells were unmistakably Volts and seeing them in the flesh drove home more than anything the reality of these cars and this program in a deep and more meaningful way than ever before.
The most advanced or "lead" vehicle was fitted with many components including a high to low voltage converter and electrohydraulic brakes. None had their lithium-ion T-packs yet. In the lead vehicle the interior was nearly complete along with leather seats and the beautiful center console in jet black. White or black will be options. The heated leather seats were two-tone and looked great. I was told cloth seats would also be an potion.
I actually saw the electric motor-generator sitting on a wood table. Within it I was told are two motors. One was to turn the driveshaft and to recapture kinetic energy during deceleration (112 kw), and the other acts a a generator (53 kw) while the engine was running. Together the object was strikingly compact and a testament to the space advantages of electric cars. Volt Chief engineer Andrew Farah noted it was about the size of a conventional transmission, something this car wouldn't need.
Another black Volt had just been put through a heavy water soaking to check for leaks in the design which could then be corrected.
These cars, unlike the mules before them, also had soundproofing installed onto the frame ensuring a very quiet ride.
There will be some changes from the show car which we have all seen, but these are 100% production intent.
One notable change was the location of the charge port. Now it will have its own door like a fuel tank and site below the front nameplate. The sliding cover design was abandoned due to risks of mechanical failure. The top surface of the center console was somewhat different too with some design tweaks and a storage area with trap door.
In the end, this facility will crank out 5 to 10 cars per week for a final goal of 80 to 100 vehicles. All of the learning here, the fixing of slight errors, and refinement of the assembly plan will lead early next year to the first assembled cars called validation builds on the Detroit-Hamtramck line where the production Volts will finally be built for sale. That plant has the capacity if needed to make up to 200,000 cars per year.
As of now the first fully built Chevy Volt IVers have rolled off this small assembly line and are being lab tested prior to their actual first drives. In the video below you can see Volt chief engineer Andrew Farah giving a tease and sitting in the true Volt about to go for "a shakedown drive."
And so without any doubt the Volt has truly been born and its arrival into public production for launch in November 2010 appears at this point an absolute certainty.