General Motors has convened a special press junket in Detroit to give selected members of the media a sneak peak at its progress on the Volt and related E-Flex drive system. Thursday the invited guests will tour GM’s Visualization Center, Battery Lab, Aero Lab and E-Flex Studio, where they will be treated to a teaser look at parts of the clay model of the production Volt, including a full view of its interior. No photos will be allowed, so don’t expect any advanced views of what the car will look like until the company is ready for the official unveiling.

However, I was able to learn some tantalizing details from conversations with program managers during an evening reception in Rochester, Michigan the night before. Here’s some of what I picked up.

  • The coefficient of drag on the car has been improved some 30% over the original concept car pictured above at the Shanghai Auto Show. It is now comparable to the current model Toyota Prius.
  • 95% of the power train has now been sourced to suppliers, while only about 10% of the chassis has been sourced, but this is typical for any new car program, GM managers assure.
  • The car will have electric brakes, electric steering and an electric air conditioner compressor.
  • The 16kW battery pack holds the energy equivalent to just 1 gallon of gasoline
  • The very tight technical specifications of the battery have remained essentially the same forcing a lot of innovations on the part of the battery partners: CPI and Continental/A123.
  • Managing the internal temperature of the batteries is critical and will be handled by a liquid cooling system.
  • The Volt’s engine/generator will use “pup” catalytic converters that are located near the exhaust manifolds as a strategy for handling cold-start emissions.
  • The interior design will say this is an electric car, according to its designer
  • Because there are only a handful of suppliers to provide many of the groundbreaking components, the cost of the car remains worrisome for GM managers. They are concerned that they will lose money on the project initially, while their suppliers will make a small profit, so this creates some tension during negotiations.
  • There are various types of E-Flex/Volt development mules driving around in unidentified locations.
  • Above all, the GM technical team exudes an obvious air of confidence in what they are aiming to achieve, though they admit that everyone is continuing to learn.