Fiat 500, Chevrolet Volt are 2011’s biggest automotive flops

Article by Christian Andrei, on January 2, 2012

It seems that what consumers always ask about when considering a vehicle is its efficiency so that’s why it’s surprising that Fiat 500 and Chevrolet Volt have both failed to meet expectations. What makes this more puzzling is that these two models offer much more than just efficiency. For instance, the 500 has a starting price of $15,500 and it features two additional seats.

It’s being lauded as a stylish option for the Smart FourTwo, which costs about $3000 more. On the other hand, the Volt plug-in takes a practical approach instead of simply depending on a battery charge.

What the Volt does is get power from a tiny 1.4-liter gasoline engine and attain a 94 mpg average. In addition, it is priced slightly higher than $39,000. But with tax incentives, the car is priced at around $30,000.

However, other government subsidies for items such as home charging stations would go away this year. It’s believed that consumers weren’t buying these cars because they are frequently afraid of taking risks as both models have suffered obstacles towards the end of the year.

The NHTSA probe over cases of the lithium ion battery that were on fire after severe crashes is often pointed as the reason for Volt’s failure to reach GM’s projected 10,000 unit prediction by at least 25%. Chevrolet has high hopes for the Volt but its sales were sluggish due to safety doubts and weak consumer confidence. Meanwhile, the Fiat 500 benefits from some quirky styling and intense re-engineering to fit the North American taste but then its sales were still poor.

What could be considered as the core of the new Chevrolet Volt is its Voltec propulsion system that combines pure electric drive and a range-extending engine. Its 111-kW (149-hp) pure electric drive derives its energy from a 435-pound (198.1 kg), 5.5-foot T-shaped, 16-kWh lithium-ion battery pack, allowing the new Chevrolet Volt to travel between 25 miles and 50 miles. Each battery pack contains nine modules and 288 prismatic cells.

This zero-emission pure-electric range depends on the driving techniques, terrain and temperature. To ensure that the battery for the new Chevrolet Volt is safe, durable, reliable and high-performing, GM engineers have been thoroughly validating the packs, their modules and cells. In fact, since 2007, over one million miles and four million hours of validation testing have been completed.

Moreover, development, validation and test teams have managed to comply with thousands of specifications and validate each of the battery's 161 components -- 95 percent of were designed and engineered by GM. In addition, the battery pack is covered by an eight-year/100,000-mile warranty.

Micky Bly, GM executive director for global electrical systems, remarked that just as its customers are committing to a technology that would help reduce reliance on petroleum, the carmaker is committing to deliver the highest standards for value, quality, performance, reliability and safety.

Once the battery runs out energy, the Volt seamlessly shifts to extended-range mode, with a 1.4-liter 63-kW (84-hp) gasoline-powered onboard engine kicking in to provide inverted power to the electric drive unit. This engine could allow the Volt to travel up to 310 additional miles, there increasing its total range to up to 350 miles.

With a torque of 273 lb.-ft. (368 Nm) available at low speeds, the Voltec propulsion system allows the Volt to sprint from zero to 60 mph in less than 9.0 seconds, dash to a quarter mile in less than 17.0 seconds, and reach a top speed of 100 mph.

To recharge the battery, a user simply has to connect to 120V conventional household electrical outlets (10 to 12 hours of full charging), or to a dedicated 240V charging station (four hours of full charging).

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