Monday, December 4, 2017

Should I Buy Another Chevy?

Likely, at least in part, due to the 1973-74 oil embargo (I turned 16 in 1973) followed shortly by the second oil crisis in 1979 (the year I graduated from college) I’ve always had a passion for small economical cars.  My first new car purchase in 1980 was a Chevy Chevette (remember those?) that I babied and coddled – always Mobile 1 synthetic, washed, waxed…….. until the motor blew up in 1982 on Route 128 in Massachusetts one morning during rush hour……. I can still picture the motor parts in the rear view mirror...... I had the motor replaced (Chevy was great about that) but I continued to have problems – the car was so poorly designed and built it was literally falling apart. Swearing off American cars for life it was Japanese autos after that – a couple of Datsun (now Nissan) vehicles, a Honda and then a couple of Toyota products.

Well, these days nothing lasts forever and I’ve actually been looking at couple of Chevy electrics – the Volt and the Bolt. I’m especially impressed with the Bolt, the car General Motors has been using the past few years as its primary autonomous-driving testbed. Last week GM unveiled the latest version of the Bolt, with an EPA-rated 238-mile range and a base price of $37,495. 

Looking at older autonomous model Bolts - the lidar units were mounted on roof mounted rods and the car had sensors stuffed into drilled and cut holes in the body. The new autonomous Bolt has sensors hidden in the bumpers and fenders and the lidar unit is hidden in the roof rack. The new model appears to be a huge step up.

How did GM move so fast? The company acquired San Francisco startup Cruise Automation last year for $581 million. Cruise Automation was started by Kyle Vogt and he came along with the acquisition to head up GM’s automation efforts. Vogt has an interesting background, having  cofounded Twitch, a streaming service used by video gamers to watch others play video gamesAmazon bought Twitch in 2014 for $1.1 billion and Vogt was on to his next big idea, originally thinking his new company would develop portable driverless software that could be attached to almost any vehicle. First experimenting with Audis and Nissan Leafs, he realized it would be much easier to build the technology directly into a car’s onboard controls and the Bolt was the only car suitable to do that.

Cruise Automation headquarters remains in San Francisco and, with GM backing, Vogt has grown the company from 40 software and mechanical engineers to over 400. He’s also bought lidar maker Strobe, claiming this will cut spending on laser gear 99 percent.

GM has big plans for the Bolt, intending to use them as the backbone of a robo-taxi business it plans to start in 2019.