Olympic Torch Relay in Spruce Grove with GM’s Art & Serge

The Olympic Torch rolled through Stony Plain and Spruce Grove this morning, and I got to tag along with GM’s Art and Serge! General Motors is one of the major sponsors of the torch relay, so they have a team that travels with the convoy to ensure all the vehicles are kept in top shape. Like all sponsors, GM is using its role in the relay as the foundation for some marketing, so Art & Serge have been documenting their adventures on their blog and on Twitter and occasionally have invited bloggers to join them.

Olympic Torch in Spruce Grove

I met Art and his technician Dan at around 7:10 AM in Spruce Grove (I learned that Art & Serge switch off every 15 days, so that’s why he wasn’t there). They had come from a service call earlier in the morning, where they had to fix a gas leak of some kind. I jumped in their Chevy Silverado (loaded with everything a vehicle tech could want, including enough juice to boost a Mack truck) and we set out to join the torch convoy. Art had a minute-by-minute schedule of the route, and explained that everything is very accurately mapped out in advance. Unfortunately we couldn’t get as close as we had hoped, so we followed from a distance until the convoy turned.

Olympic Torch in Spruce Grove

It was pretty cool to see all the people lining the streets with their glowsticks in hand and Canadian gear on. There were a ridiculous number of flashing lights too, thanks to all of the police and fire vehicles helping to clear a path for the convoy, so I’m sure Art and Dan see flashing lights in their sleep!

We eventually stopped and got out to take some pictures as the torch went by on its last leg in Spruce Grove. I didn’t get a chance to see the torch on the street the other day in Edmonton, so it was neat to have that experience.

Olympic Torch in Spruce Grove

Throughout the morning I asked Art dozens of questions and learned a lot about his team’s role in the relay. Here are some of the things I found quite interesting:

  • I had no idea the relay was so large. Art mentioned about 100 vehicles and over 200 people are involved! Amazingly, they can service all of those vehicles in about five hours.
  • Roughly 30% of the GM fleet are hybrid vehicles. They often get comments about how quiet the vehicles are when they stop.
  • One challenge has been finding parts at local dealerships to fix the vehicles when something goes wrong, because most of them are 2010 models!
  • Every night Art’s team is responsible for washing all of the vehicles. How else do you think they’d stay clean and shiny for all the photographers?
  • There are two terms for the torch relay: convoy mode, when they are travelling to another location, and torchbearer mode, when the torchbearers are doing their thing.
  • Some of the vehicles involved include the Pilot (lead vehicle), Media One (where all the media/cameras are), a van to carry the torchbearers, and two Olympias (they are the Zamboni-like vehicles that give stuff away).
  • Both Art & Dan said they prefer the early morning or evening routes, because everything (especially the flame) looks so much better when it’s dark out.

I had fun this morning learning about the torch relay and getting to see it from a different perspective. Like Chris Wheeler who I met earlier this week, Art and his team have a pretty tiring schedule. Despite that, both Art and Dan said that seeing the torch and all of the excited, smiling people along the way never gets old. They were upbeat and proud to be playing a role in the torch relay, mentioning that going back to their normal jobs would be difficult!

Thanks again to GM Canada for the opportunity!

Should GM really produce the Chevy Volt?

Post ImageBack in November I saw the documentary Who killed the electric car? and I remember being less than impressed, as my comments at the time confirm:

The movie could have been better. It felt like an extended commercial, and the people involved seemed like fanatical environmentalists. Oh, and when they realized they couldn’t answer the question properly, they just blamed everyone.

Essentially the filmmakers didn’t present a very strong case for why, exactly, electric cars should rule the roads. They seemed ticked at GM more than anything. According to a post over at Engadget today, GM is dabbling in electric cars once again, this time with the Chevy Volt:

Those of you as taken with GM’s Chevy Volt concept vehicle as we are may want to take a minute to reconsider any impending car purchases, as the car is now officially headed into production — in two different versions no less. According to Autoblog, that could put the car on track for a roll out in 2010, although GM isn’t quite ready to get that specific.

Apparently there will be a plug-in gasoline model, and a fuel cell model (though the latter will be too expensive for mass production). The plug-in model should deliver a gasoline savings of 500 gallons per year on average.

Do we really want plug-in automobiles though? Sure they result in some gasoline (and emissions) savings from the cars themselves, but what about on balance? Over 70% of the electricity generated in the United States comes from fossil fuels. With that in mind, plugging a car in is a lot like filling it with gas. The environment doesn’t really benefit. It might have more of an impact in Canada, where just 28% of our electricity comes from fossil fuels, but most of the Volts will be sold in the US.

Another thing to consider is the return on investment. GM claims they are willing to lose money on the Volt initially, but I’ll believe it when I see it. Besides, losing money on something doesn’t mean it’s cheap – just look at the PlayStation 3. Consumers will ask this question: will the price premium of the Volt be recouped in gasoline savings before the car is discarded? In most cases, I bet the answer will be no.

The last thing I’ll mention here is technology. New car technologies will not rule the industry for decades like the combustion engine has. What happens if someone perfects the fuel cell a few years after the Volt is produced? So long Chevy Volt, that’s what. This is another big reason that cars like the Volt need to be inexpensive. Otherwise, justifying their purchase is difficult at best.

I’m not sure plug-in cars like the Chevy Volt are a good thing at all. In the best case scenario, consumers love them, GM sells a lot of them, they last for more than ten years, and they really do have a positive impact on the environment. I think that’s really unlikely though. The more probable scenario is that only GM wins by charging a premium for the Volt. Consumers pay more to get a car with a short lifespan, and little to no positive effect on the environment.

Read: Engadget