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TheStreet Open House

How the Chevy Volt Became a BMW

Stocks in this article: GM

The following commentary comes from an independent investor or market observer as part of TheStreet's guest contributor program, which is separate from the company's news coverage.

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- GM (GM) has been plenty maligned for its revolutionary Chevrolet Volt over the last year, but fear not, GM -- help is on the way!

From BMW.

Let me explain. BMW as a brand started becoming an "in" car 30 years ago and has continued to make progress with only a couple of minor hiccups along the way. In terms of overall prestige and respect, very few -- if any -- car companies today command the admiration of BMW, and for good reason. The kidney-shaped-grill car company from Munich could have continued to ride this 30-year wave for years to come.

Meanwhile, back in Detroit, a small team at GM decided in January 2006 to create a car that would best combine the benefits of an electric car with a car that also could take gasoline for traveling longer distances. This team was started by Bob Lutz and Jon Lauckner, and some of the top engineers on the Volt project included Andrew Farah, Micky Bly and Pamela Fletcher. The project manager overall was Frank Weber.

Chevy Volt
Chevrolet Volt

After almost three years of development, the GM team showed the production version of the Chevy Volt on Sept. 16, 2008 -- before the bailout and the 2009 bankruptcy. Two years of durability testing and preparing the factory in Detroit followed, and when the production car was finally put into the hands of experienced automotive journalists in October 2010, the Volt soon won more awards for "car of the year" than any other car I can recall.

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But it wasn't only the independent and experienced automotive journalists who were impressed by how well the Chevrolet Volt performed -- the competition was, too. BMW in particular.

The top brass at BMW got their hands on a Volt and after test-driving it, they concluded that if they were unable to match the superior performance of the Chevy Volt, over time they would be creamed in the market. So what to do? BMW needed access to GM's secret sauce for this revolutionary powertrain.

Migration

On April 11, 2011, the automotive press reported that the Chevy Volt project manager, Frank Weber, had left GM in favor of moving to Munich and become head of BMW's efforts to match the engineering of the Chevy Volt. If you search YouTube, you will find a very long list of videos of Frank Weber describing the details of, and singing the praises of, the Chevy Volt. That trail stops in early 2011. I can't find a single video of Frank Weber following BMW's high-profile hire of him April 11, 2011.

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