July 28, 2008

Electro-Shock Therapy

Last year, while he was working in Germany as an engineer for General Motors, Andrew Farah got a call from a senior engineer in Detroit asking him to come home.


A car. A special car.

Farah had heard about it, of course. The Chevrolet Volt was the automotive sensation of 2007, a new kind of electric hybrid that GM was proposing to have in showrooms in late 2010. Farah had advocated a similar design years earlier, so he didn't need to be sold on the idea.

Still, he hesitated. GM had called him because of his deep experience with battery-driven electric cars. In the 1990s, he had worked »

on GM's EV1, an all-electric technological masterpiece that had done so poorly commercially that GM wound up crushing the cars amid a hail of public condemnation. Farah had been fiercely committed to the EV1, and he was not about to relive the disappointment.

"Hell, no," he said. "I've been on programs like this before. They're not real."

"No," came the reply. "This one is real." Farah asked to talk to other senior executives, and they concurred. So, in the spring of last year, he took one of the hardest jobs at GM, and became the Volt's chief engineer.

And how, I ask over coffee early one February morning in Detroit, is it going? It is 6 a.m., and Farah, who is 47 and has angular features and prominent black glasses, is rushing to make a 7 a.m. meeting. The car, he says, is 10 weeks behind the original schedule. Any more slippage, and the 2010 deadline will be history. Even if no more time is lost, he will have only eight weeks to test the underbody, the car's structural base.

No comments: