IBM Jolts GM's Volt

DURHAM, N.C. ( TheStreet) -- Before news broke of General Motors' IPO, the Chevy Volt tour arrived this week in Durham, N.C., where it was enthusiastically greeted by employees at IBM's ( IBM) Research Triangle Park complex.

The Volt is "the next step in the transformation of our company," declared Micky Bly, GM's executive director of global electrical systems, who represented the automaker in Durham. The car has the potential to instantly place GM and Chevrolet among the leaders in the move away from gasoline-dependency.

In advance of its imminent introduction in dealerships, the Volt is on a 12-city tour that has taken it from Seattle to San Diego to Texas and Florida. It stopped in Durham on its way north to New York, where it will arrive on Friday.

Several hundred IBM employees gathered for the event. About 150 folks test-drove the car, which can run 25 to 40 miles on a battery and then about 300 more on an engine, powered by a gasoline powered generator that makes electricity. The gas tank holds 9.3 gallons of gas.

The enthusiasm in Durham was no surprise, given that IBM is a major supplier to the Volt, a product of complex new technology developed in just 29 months. The short development timeline, laid out by former General Motors executive Robert Lutz, meant that suppliers had to play a major role. "We had to cooperate like we haven't done in decades," Bly said.

IBM provided software including design and simulation development tools, design processes, battery testing simulation software and electronic control systems. Robert LeBlanc, IBM senior vice president of middleware software, said the Volt has 100 electronic controllers, its own IP address and about 10 million lines of software code -- more than the Boeing ( BA) 787, which has eight million lines of code.

"I like to call the Volt a rolling data center," LeBlanc said. At any given moment, a team of three to four dozen IBM workers were dedicating to adapting IBM software to the Volt.


The Volt costs $41,000, or $33,500 after a federal rebate. Critics have said that is too high, but Bly said dealers have orders that exceed the total of 10,000 Volts, which GM hopes to produce in the first model year between November and June. Next year, production could reach 45,000, he said.

In some respects, the introduction of the Volt recalls the introduction of the Saturn in 1990. Initially, it was widely applauded as a symbol of how American automakers could replicate the success of the Japanese, and every company associated with the project sought to publicize its involvement. But Saturn shut down on October 31, as the Volt was being introduced.

Bly was an engine on the first Saturn engine. "Saturn was a great exercise," he said. "We ran it for 20 years. We learned a lot from it -- I don't think it failed."

-- Written by Ted Reed in Charlotte, N.C.

>to contact the writer of this article, click here: Ted Reed

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