Yesterday we answered questions about the Chevy Volt as a whole, and today we’re bringing you an in-depth Q&A about the plug-in hybrid’s futuristic interior, with Tim Grieg, the car’s interior-design manager.
The biggest bomb he dropped during our conversation was the fact that while GM is calling the vehicle shown yesterday a production version, the interior itself is not exactly what will arrive at showrooms. Read our Q&A to learn more about the finished product.
Q: Exactly how much of the interior will look like the car we were shown yesterday?
A: Most of the design will be identical to the pre-production car shown yesterday, which is a hand-built version of what a production model would look like. Because none of the parts were actually made by suppliers, though, the materials that make up seats, etc., could be different. The look will be the same, though. Grieg says the company is looking to use as many recyclable and organic materials as possible.
“The center display looks like it’s an articulating part, and people thought it was an articulating part,” Grieg said. “So we’ve designed that to look like more of an integrated part of the panel. That’s one difference. We’ve also optimized the ergonomics beyond what you saw in the photos. We integrated the knobs more into the panel so they don’t float. We’ve also added tactile surface details; you can feel a raised part of the surface as you operate the controls.”
Q: How long do you continue to fiddle with these interior parts as you described above? Up to final production?
A: “It is pretty much done now,” Grieg said of the revised work. “But it is different than the photos, than the car shown yesterday.”
Q: And what about that huge shifter? Is that revised too?
A: “The design is enhanced a little bit, but fundamentally it is the same. We’ve reduced the size and added a decorative chrome piece to it, right where your thumb rests. So the visual mass is broken up more in the newer version.”
Q: Why is it so big to begin with and why is it placed so far forward?
A: “We were exploring electric shifters that were flush with the console and liked the aesthetic,” he said. What’s in there is actually a mechanical shifter, not an electric version like what is found in many hybrids. That’s due to electric power needs and added safety equipment needed for electric shifters.
Q: OK, now that we have that out of the way, one question that popped up was about the interior colors of that center console. Will there be an iPod-like array of colors?
A: No. “It’ll come in metallic high-gloss white [as shown in the photos] and a metallic black high-gloss finish,” he said. “In the light it gets a sparkly look. It will show fingerprints, but is easy to clean. We just felt the non-gloss finish didn’t have an upscale look.”
Q: Tell us about the buttons. They’re flush, but will they give feedback when you touch them? How does it all work?
A: “The buttons are touch-sensitive,” Grieg said. “It’s called capacitive touch control. The surface senses the electrical currents in your fingertips, and as your finger approaches [the button] it can sense the fingertip an inch away, and we can control it to within a millimeter. It’ll know where your finger is heading and start to shut off other controls to help inadvertent activation.”
Yes, Grieg used those exact words. To the layman, this is exactly the type of control you find on the iconic iPod’s clickwheel. It is also the basis of how touch-screens work on navigation systems and the iPhone. However, unlike many of those devices, you can operate the Volt’s buttons with a gloved hand.
Q: Is this expensive?
A: “Actually, from a cost standpoint it’s about cost-neutral,” he said. “It certainly is new technology, and if we were going to put it into any vehicle it would be this one.”
Q: So the upcoming Camaro wouldn’t be the right place for it?
A: “The mission of the Camaro is very different,” Grieg said.
Q: Back to the buttons. Will they give any physical feedback when you touch them? How will you know they’re working?
A: “There will be no haptic feedback, no,” he said. Haptic feedback is an advanced version of the technology you find in video-game controllers that “rumble” or simulate action. “Adding haptic feedback would have cost a lot of electricity. You will hear an audible click and see a visual reaction on the display.” It sounds just like the iPod clickwheel to us.
Q: Will there be any voice activation?
Q: If you’re trying to reduce electric usage so much, why are there two 7-inch LCD screens, electric windows and heated seats?
A: “We discovered it was more energy-efficient to provide power windows,” he said. “It was more efficient to roll all four windows down electrically and roll back up to cool a car down when you get in it on a warm day than to roll down just the driver’s side and ask the car to cool it down.”
Q: And heated seats?
A: “Again the sensation of comfort [warmth] from the heated seats draws less energy than to heat the air around the occupants,” Grieg said. “There is an instant sense of heat through the seat.”