Insider: The Eye of the Beholder

"Things are pretty, graceful, rich, elegant, handsome, but, untill they speak to the imagination, not yet beautiful."-Ralph Waldo Emerson

A ton of buzz has been generated by the Chevrolet Volt and its progress toward commercialization.

A ton of buzz has been generated by the Chevrolet Volt and its progress toward commercialization. Images of the Volt's conceptual design have been plastered all over the Internet, in newspapers and magazines. GM has even taken out expensive television commercial time to promote the Volt as part of its "gas-friendly to gas-free" promotion, with shots showing the concept car driving down the road, sitting on a hill and turning around on a turnstile. The message GM seems to have been communicating for nearly two years is the Volt concept will be reality. Well, maybe most of it.

Before images of the exterior design of the Volt concept get burned into the brains of consumers and auto aficionados the world over, GM is tamping down expectations because the car has undergone some radical changes in order to be more efficient cutting through the wind. "The front end of the concept was very blunt and it had a very sharp crease on the corner of the car. Air does not like to go around sharp corners because it creates turbulence and turbulence creates drag, which reduces fuel economy," Bob Boniface, chief designer of the production Chevrolet Volt, told attendees at the annual CAR Management Briefing Seminar.

Boniface displayed partial pictures of the Volt as part of his presentation, not only to continue the publicity buzz surrounding the car, but also to prepare consumers for what's going to arrive in showrooms in late 2010-a car that has little resemblance to the concept vehicle. One source who's seen the production exterior design of the Volt, without any disguises, told me that it has more of a resemblance to the upcoming Chevrolet Cruze than it does to the original concept. This could pose a significant problem for GM because if the company brings an innocuous-looking Volt to the market, consumers could question: what happened? That's not the kind of reaction you want to a product that's been heralded as a "game-changer" by some inside the confines of GM. The automaker needs to tell its publicity hounds to stop using images of the Volt concept in a fashion that insinuates the design theme created in the concept will see the light of day, because it won't.

GM has been stung before for teasing customers with a concept vehicle design that ends up looking nothing like the production vehicle that hits the road-anyone remember the Pontiac Aztek? While I am not insinuating that the Volt will look as ghastly as the Aztek, if it fails to live up to the hype, it could be ridiculed just as badly. The Volt is a rare opportunity for GM to reestablish itself as a technology and design leader. Failure to realize that careful attention has to be paid to expectations could result in a promising technology losing appeal not because of how it works, but how it looks.