Independent-minded tinkerer takes on GM's vital Volt

Independent-minded tinkerer takes on GM's vital Volt http://www.usatoday.com/money/autos/environment/2008-03-03-volt-weber_N.htm
The future of General Motors (GM), at least the most electrifying part
of it, rests on the slim shoulders of Frank Weber.
He is responsible for the day-to-day tasks of bringing the Chevrolet Volt plug-in electric car to market by 2010. Not a hybrid, Volt's small on-board engine is only for charging the battery when away from a plug and at no time provides power directly to the wheels.
Developing the Volt and its E-Flex powertrain on a tight time frame aims to recast GM as the most advanced and environmental automaker and able to do what even Toyota can't.
"This is the tip of the spear heralding the paradigm shift away from 'Let's spend billions to use a bit less oil' to 'Let's spend hundreds of millions to use no oil at all,' " GM Vice Chairman Bob Lutz said by e-mail.
It's uncharted territory for Weber's more than 200 engineers and 45 designers, demanding breakthroughs in battery technology and other areas, plus meeting high expectations for style and value.
Running it is a 41-year-old independent thinker and tinkerer who seeks to live in harmony with nature.
"I like to create things," Weber (pronounced VAY-buh) said. "I don't like too much that somebody comes and gives the answer."
The Wiesbaden, Germany, native is so independent-minded that as a child, after three years of classical piano lessons, he stopped formal training and taught himself jazz piano. He composed his first piece at age 10.
His do-it-yourself mindset continued after he enrolled in mechanical engineering at the Technical University in Darmstadt, Germany. He bought his first car. It was just a couple of years old and never had a problem. Weber hated it. He started replacing parts that still worked, just to tinker.
So he traded it for a 1966 Beetle convertible that required constant attention and is a car he still owns.
But GM chose Weber for the Volt project for more than his inner grease monkey and creative nature.
He is credited with skillful leadership as director of advanced concept engineering in GM's European Technical Centers. Before that, he worked on the team that developed the global midsize vehicle line due to go on sale later this year, starting with the Opel Insignia, which replaces the Vectra.
His holistic approach to life and work is a good fit with the Volt project, said his wife, Heidi. They consciously work at living a healthy, balanced life: drinking fresh orange juice rather than coffee, and favoring organic spaghetti sauce.
"This project is not about maintaining the way things are," she said in an e-mail, "but about perhaps making the world a little better."
GM has set a November 2010 deadline to deliver the Volt, less time than it would normally allot to develop even a less-complicated concept vehicle.
The hope for the project is to steal the mantle of green leadership from Toyota Motor, revered in many consumers' minds for its Prius hybrid.
Two months after unveiling the Volt at the 2007 Detroit auto show, GM handed that charge to Weber.
With the right batteries, GM says, the Volt could travel 40 miles the average American's daily commute without a drop of gas.
The key question is whether suppliers can provide a lithium-ion battery durable and safe enough for automotive use within the Volt's timetable, something several automakers have publicly questioned. Such a battery more powerful, compact and efficient than the nickel-metal hydride batteries in today's gas-electric hybrids is an essential component for the Volt to meet its goals.
But it is not the only challenge before Weber's team. For example, Lutz has said the car needs a decent stereo system and air conditioner that won't drain too much energy.
Those are developments that typically take far more time than GM and its suppliers have this time. They also are developments that will require Weber to establish a new supply base for many of the components.
"It's a program where the key technology is beyond GM's control, and the deadline they're talking about is really tough to make," said Jim Hall, managing director of 2953 Analytics, a forecasting and consulting firm.
But the payoff could be huge, Hall added: "E-Flex could be a powertrain breakthrough that's as significant as the hybrid."
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I've just finished reading an article about the VOLT.
They coulda' used a functional hatchback style like the VW Rabbit ( or Plymouth Horizon ) But noooo..........
The VOLT looks like a Ghetto Tanker.
Gotta get those body designers away from the comic books.
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No kiddin'. Yet another GM copy-cat of the piss poor looking Chrysler designs.
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