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I DESIGN THE BODY ELECTRIC

This article is from our archives and has not been updated and integrated with our "new" site yet... Even so, it's still awesome - so keep reading!

Published on Mon, Jan 19, 2009

By: The LACar Editorial Staff

Bob Boniface with the 2010 Chevrolet Volt

AUTOMOBILE BY DESIGN

By John Grafman Designing a product that captures our love affair with the auto and new technology requires a multi-discipline approach. Bob Boniface has the credentials. Bob is currently busy as Director of Design for the Chevrolet Volt in GM's all-new Design Studio, which is dedicated to the design of a wide variety of electric vehicles with a range extender, beginning with the Chevrolet Volt.

Between the time Bob graduated CCS (1993) and became the Director of Design for the Chevrolet Volt at General Motors (2003), he left his mark on many highly regarded projects. He directed architectural design of the minivan Sto-N-Go seating, plus Chrysler's rear wheel drive 300C. Bob was the lead designer for the 2002 Jeep Liberty, 1998 Dodge Intrepid and the 1996 Dodge Intrepid ESX Hybrid Concept Car. Before leaving Chrysler for GM, he rose up in through the ranks to the position of Chief Designer at Daimler Chrysler's Advanced Product Design Studio. Prior to his current position, Boniface was Director of Advanced Design Studio in Warren, Michigan. While at the Advanced Studio the projects he undertook included the fuel cell concept vehicle Sequel, the "top secret" Camaro concept project, and the Chevrolet Volt Concept which debuted at the North American International Auto Show in 2007. Boniface's design team is currently working on the production version of the Chevrolet Volt. Bob Boniface proves that with a sharp mind and a keen eye anything is possible. That, and a bit of energy.

John Grafman: With the Volt can you tell us maybe a little bit about why the design direction changed so much from the concept? Bob Boniface: Well there were a couple of things; first critically was aerodynamics, aerodynamic performance. The show car was if you look at it in counts of aerodynamic drag, was 130 counts above what we ended up with. That equals about 7 miles of driving range that we've added by changing the body. The other was occupant package. As you know we do show cars. Concept cars a lot of times you slammed the roof and put big wheels on them. That particular car by the time we got the occupant package to where it was and scale the wheels down it really didn't look appropriate. And the aero numbers got even worse and we didn't have the component set, we're talking about the underbody, and suspension, and so forth that worked on that car. So by going with this the first and foremost is aerodynamics. Secondly, cost and speed to market. We were able to use some componentry that was from our global compact vehicle, suspension corners, under hood structure, rail structure, that allowed us to build the car in multiple regions, allowed us to get the car to market quicker without having to do extra crash testing and validation. People packages are more believable with this one; you can fit for full-size adults. There isn't one reason, but the biggest was of course the aerodynamics.

Grafman: I spoke to Troy Clarke (Group Vice-President and President, GM North America) just a few months back, and I asked him this question about the Volt - now that you've develop this technology and you've wrapped it in this package, this package will appeal to some people and not to others, are you going to be able to utilize this with the other designs, and how quickly are we going to see that? Boniface: Absolutely, that's what my job is now. In addition to ushering the last details of the Volt under production I'm working on derivatives for other brands in other categories that use the same propulsion system we have an ongoing right now. And, I'm not going to tell you what they are (laughs). We take critique some times for showing our stuff too early. So, you'll see them soon - but not too soon.

Grafman: One of the questions I (also) posed to Troy Clarke had to do with the use of diesel. As we finally get to the point where some of legislation gets passed with regards to the expectations from the car companies, as far as mileage goes, do you expect once we get that legislation passed we'll start to see more diesels? Boniface: I have a friend of was in the U.K. and he says, "You Americans are going to embrace diesel." And I went to look up fuel prices in the U. K verses North America. Diesel, the last time I checked, is cheaper than gasoline in Europe, but it's a dollar more expensive per gallon here in the states. So, we have a fundamental difference here. The logic behind buying diesel when it's cost is substantially more expensive than gasoline is just not there right now. I'm a big fan of diesels because I just like the vehicle dynamics, instantaneous torque, and the superior fuel economy. But, like you talked about, people vote with their pocketbook in terms of what they drive. If they do a cost-benefit analysis, and they say "Okay, I get an extra 8 miles per gallon with the diesel, but the gas costs 40 percent more it's going to take me 10 years to recoup the benefit." And some people say that same thing about electric cars, so don't get me wrong. That's why diesels right now have never really caught on here in the states. A lot of people attribute it to the stigma from the late 70's that they all smoked, and all that business. I don't think that's an issue anymore. I think it's just the price of diesel here in States doesn't make for a viable business case.

Editor's Note: This is an excerpt of a larger article appearing in AutoDesignO

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