During the Washington Auto Show in February, GM announced that cities like San Francisco and DC were likely going to be the first to get the Volt roll-out. Today, GM gave an update on how it is helping to bring about the infrastructure for the Volt and other Voltec vehicles - oh, and the rest of the plug-in armada that is (hopefully) just around the corner - through a conference call featuring Tony Posawatz, vehicle line director of the Chevrolet Volt, Mark Duvall, director of electric transportation at EPRI, and Bob Hayden, clean transportation advisor in the Department of Environment, City and County of San Francisco. The Plug-In Ecosystem is growing and you can click past the jump for the full details.

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GM first hinted that they're working on a PHEV program during the LA Auto show in late 2006. A lot has happened since then and, today, GM's vision of the Plug-In Ecosystem is made up of four big sectors: relevant plug-in vehicles, enabling technologies (battery packs, etc.), a connected electric grid and plug-in ready communities. On that first point, it's no surprise that GM thinks the Chevy Volt is the right car. The November 2010 release date still stands, but Posawatz said that there "may be opportunities earlier than that to expose the Volt to customers and other key stakeholders."

Posawatz said that GM is "uniquely positioned with the OnStar telematic platform to communicate [with the car]" and will reveal more information on how this technology will help GM and Volt drivers in a future session. More announcements about the battery and manufacturing facilities will be coming in the next month or so. Read more from Posawatz on the topic here.

The main topic for the announcement today was to discuss the electric grid and the PHEV-ready communities. Mark Duvall said that the grid can handle "as many plug-in hybrids as you want" and that "utilities can serve the load, and serve it without much problem." In fact, Duvall said that even if we get 10 million plug-in vehicles instantly, we would add just 0.8 percent to the total amount of U.S. electric consumption.

What EPRI is really interested in is getting more utilities to really work with the automakers to rapidly deploy smart grid technologies and get plug-in vehicles to talk to the grid. This map shows all of the utilities that are collaborating with GM and EPRI on plug-in vehicle infrastructure. Duvall said that a broad effort like this needs to shy away from proprietary standards. The utility industry believes that every vehicle needs to be able to plug into every charger, he said, adding that we shouldn't get involved in a subscription-payment network. "We want the widest available access to the infrastructure. That's the absolute key piece to making this economically feasible," he said. (listen to Duvall speak at the 2008 Austin Alt Car Expo here)

Hayden said there were four steps in getting local communities ready for cars with plugs. San Francisco is obviously one of the more plugged-in cities in the U.S., so officials and activists in other areas might want to follow the steps:
  1. Find a champion. For San Francisco, that's obviously Mayor Gavin Newsom.
  2. Identify challenges and opportunities. For example, cities can offer preferential parking, access to HOV lanes - basically the same thing that was done to encourage hybrid adoptions.
  3. Organize city actions
  4. Regional coordination
Felix Kramer, the founder of CalCars.org, listened to the call today and had the following reaction:
Today's briefing confirms GM's giant steps forward. The company is putting together the pieces needed to bring plug-in vehicles to market -- this time, broadly and successfully. We commend GM for its open-mindedness in embracing many of the concepts plug-in advocates have long promoted, which will increase its chances of success. For instance, conceptually, they have a vision of a needed "plug-in ecosystem" enlisting cities, companies, utilities, and grassroots organizations as partners. Analytically, they're making important distinctions between improving vehicle efficiency with hybrids and engine improvements compared to more ambitiously displacing gasoline with electricity from plug-ins. Linguistically, they're talking about "plug-ins" rather than quibbling about plug-in hybrids vs. extended range EVs. In messaging, they're aligned in communicating electricity's benefits, compared to gasoline, as cleaner, cheaper and domestically sourced. And strategically they've confirmed they will bring demonstration fleets to some receptive localities before November 2010. They're doing everything right -- and they're clearly willing to continue adjusting their strategies to increase the probability of a win for all.
Lastly, the automated system didn't recognize my question, so we've contacted GM for an answer to the following question. I asked this in response to comments left here on AutoblogGreen and because Posawatz talked about using the Volt in Canada. In cold climates, Posawatz said, GM will highly recommend that the car is always plugged in when the temperatures drop. Energy will be peeled off to keep the battery at the correct operating temperature. When not plugged in, the Volt has the ability to turn the engine generator on to warm up the battery. My question:

Last year, during the big April Volt backgrounder last year, I asked Andrew Farah if it was possible to use the Volt without gas in the tank. He said he thought it would be possible. When you discussed the cold weather answer earlier, it sounds like you're relying on the generator for more than extended range and for heat as well. My first question is: Will the Volt operate without gas in the tank?

If not, it seems like you're saying that a pure EV won't work? But you're also constantly touting the 40-miles of EV-only range. This is appealing to a lot of people. So appealing, in fact, that I know there will be a lot of drivers who will choose to never drive the car more than 40 miles between charges. You said you're interested in offering customers a choice. For people who are interested in filling up as rarely as possible, most of the time they're carrying around a few hundred pounds of dead weight (the engine) every day is a waste. Was it ever discussed to offer the Volt (or another Voltec product) in an EV-only trim level?

While we wait for their response, what do you think the answers will be?

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