The 2011 Chevy Volt: Made Alongside GM's Gas-Guzzling V8s

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2011 Chevrolet Volt

2011 Chevrolet Volt

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Think of the 2011 Chevrolet Volt and very little seems conventional about it. With a range of 40 miles per charge and a range-extending gasoline engine used to provide extra power when the battery pack is depleted, Chevrolet is keen to push the car’s green credentials.

Built at the Hamtramck plant in Michigan, the 2011 Chevrolet Volt will go on sale this fall at an MSRP of $41,000 - $8,000 more than Nissan’s all-electric 2011 Leaf.

So what vehicles get made alongside the 2011 Volt at GM’s flagship assembly plant?  Small hatchbacks? Fuel-efficient eco-warriors?

Angular Front Exterior View - 2010 Cadillac DTS 4-door Sedan w/1SA

Angular Front Exterior View - 2010 Cadillac DTS 4-door Sedan w/1SA

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How about a 4.6 liter V8 in the form of Cadillac’s 2011 DTS, which achieves a measly 23 mpg on the highway and just 15 mph in the city.

All hope is not lost however. Also produced on the Hamtramck line is the 2011 Buick Lucerne, a 3.9 Liter V6 capable of 26 mpg on the highway and 17 in the city.

While the irony that GM produces its most environmentally responsible car alongside two of its most luxurious gas-guzzlers is not lost on us, the move may have more sense in it than many would assume.

Setting up a production line for any car is a costly business. For each new model, retooling and staff training occur, impacting on plant efficiency every time that happens.

But when multiple models are produced in batches on the same line takes place, sharing equipment and staff can save a car company a lot of money - and enables the plant to continue working as new models are introduced or pulled.

Angular Front Exterior View - 2010 Buick Lucerne 4-door Sedan CXL

Angular Front Exterior View - 2010 Buick Lucerne 4-door Sedan CXL

Enlarge Photo
As it turns out, the 2011 Chevrolet Volt isn’t assembled that differently to the Buicks and Cadillacs rolling off the line beside it.

Other than the obvious need to insert the Volt’s high-voltage T-shaped lithium-ion battery pack somewhere along the general assembly line along with the car’s complex electrical system, GM has designed the manufacturing process of the Leaf Volt to be very similar to any conventional car.

It seems one of the larger challenges facing the Hamtramck facility was modifying the assembly line’s car carriers, since the Volt is much smaller than the other two models produced at the plant.

But before you reach for the loud-hailer and boycott GM, or attack them for not taking electric vehicles seriously, you may want to pause a while first.

Mutli-model production lines are common and perfectly normal. The U.K. Nissan Factory where the European specification 2011 Nissan Leaf will be produced also produces at four other Nissan models on the same line, including a sport utility crossover vehicle, the 2011 Nissan Qashqai.

Industry optimization of production lines is common, espeically for a new line such as the Volt, which Chevrolet plans to make just 10,000 of in the first year. GM recently announced that it would increase original production plans for the 2012 model year to 45,000  following the car's popularity.

If you end up owning a 2011 Chevrolet Volt and find yourself waiting at the lights with a pimped-out 2011 Cadillac DTS beside then smile to yourself.

Your car was the black sheep at the gas-guzzling factory.

[Automotive news  (Requires Subscription)]

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Comments (12)
  1. GM has designed the manufacturing process of the Leaf to be very similar to any conventional car?

  2. Unfortunately this also shows the Volt for what it is. A hybrid, not an electric car. A hybrid car with 18,000 parts that can fail. A pure electric car has far fewer parts that can fail. Look at NASA to see the relationship between complexity and time to failure.

  3. What a stupid story... most of GM's V8's get well over 20 MPG, some near 30. Whats with the GM Bashing???

  4. no big deal. the volt wont be around for very long AS A HYBRID. there is talk that it may be a bev. i dont really care much about gm. they are just a car company, who has shown horrible decision making, and the willingness of the bigwigs to marry big oil.

  5. Ken - The story isn't GM bashing. The story is commenting on the modern processes that take place on a multi-model production line. If anything, it's standing up for GM because we explain why GM are making the Volt alongside larger cars.
    Let's face it though, 30 MPH is hardly a high figure!
    As for those who insist the Volt is a Hybrid? Would an EV towing a regular generator be considered one by the same reasoning?
    Here's John Voelcker's explaination of why the Volt is an EV.

  6. I agree this is not GM bashing. I don't care if the Volt is assembled on the same line as toilets, GM needs to do all they can to be profitable and reduce the price. Keeping the assembly line full is just smart business. Trivializing many important details, if the vehicle is designed for manufacturing correctly, the line can switch daily and not miss a beat. That said, yes an EV with a genset trailer would be a hybrid. Once you attach it, it becomes part of the vehicle system. You can have a hybrid drivetrain (e.g. Prius) or you can single drivetrain and hybrid fuel systems like the Volt. The engineering name is a series hybrid. Just because GM is marketing a series hybrid as an EV with a range extender, does not mean it is not a hybrid. Who are you going to listen to, the engineer or the marketing guy? That said, I think EREVs are very important vehicles and I plan in getting one. Our two car family will be a BEV and a plug-in series hybrid.

  7. While the article isn't directly GM bashing, it really shows bias against products that don't fit the writer's view of how things should be done. So what if a V8 doesn't get stupendous gas mileage! I'm a potential Volt purchaser and I love my 1995 Impala SS with its beefy LT1 5.7l V8 overhauled with a few modifications for more power... Do I drive it often? No... but when I do I love the hell out of it.

  8. John - as it happens I owned a hotrod for some time - So I'm not V8 biased! I'm sorry my humor wasn't well recieved :)
    But good to see this discussion!

  9. hi nikki,
    in my opinion, this site is putting too much emphasis on unimportant issues, and not enough on the important ones.
    too many articles about cars that wont be a part of mainstay (aptera, tesla roadster, other hugely expensive cars, etc.).
    while the fact that dupont is working on batteries with a 15-30% greater range and a plant in virgina was not reported about. this is about a gazillion times more important than the goings-on of elon musk.
    coda working on a battery plant in ohio made no articles here. and neither did the fact that u.s. secretary of commerce john locke went and visited coda. the only "coda" article, if you want to call it that, was some table that compared ev savings to gasoline.

  10. Yikes, that Caddy and that Buick are two seriously 1970's era UGLY cars. I predict lots of extra capacity for the Volt in that factory!

  11. @Patrick Connor;
    Its only a series hybrid if the engine kicks on to power the batteries. While I'm driving it to and from work (18miles total round trip) and charging every night, its an electric vehicle that's carrying around a little bit of weight.

  12. I had an old Isuzu pick-up that was made when cars were still being built with carbuators. I retrofitted a carbuator from a 5 horse power ride mower to replace the factory carbuator. That truck got 42 miles per gallon with a top speed of 62 miles per hour. A top speed of 62 mph worked well when we had a nationwide 55 mph speed limit. But with 65, 70, 75 and in some places 85 mph speed limits, that Isuzu truck can't keep up with today's traffic.

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