Women in Science

Female Engineers Put Buzz into GM's Volt

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Female automotive engineers recently talked about the nationwide launch this summer of the Chevrolet Volt, the first mass-produced electric car by General Motors. The event was designed to focus on women's interest in engineering.

(WOMENSENEWS)--Britta Gross, director of Global Energy Systems and Infrastructure Commercialization for General Motors, is literally getting the world ready for the advent of the electric car with the Chevrolet Volt.

Gross, with a degree in electrical engineering, is in charge of preparing states to be "plug-in ready" for the Volt by working with energy and utility companies to produce the necessary charging infrastructure to support the new vehicle. She then goes to federal, state and local governments to help pave the way for the implementation of new policies to support electric cars.

Gross has worked in the field for over 25 years, but she's still an anomaly.

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Women have been gaining ground as engineers since the 1980s, according to a National Science Foundation report, but in 2006 women were still only 19 percent of those holding a bachelor's degree in engineering, like Gross.

In late March, Gross joined three other female engineers in a Web chat--online meetings where participants can exchange written instant messages--about the Chevrolet Volt, the first electric car with extended range capability by General Motors that all four women helped create, market and distribute.

"The Volt is a great demonstration of the opportunities that exist for women," Teri Quigley, plant manager at Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly, the production place for the Chevrolet Volt, said during the online forum. "It requires hard work just like any job, but the door is wide open for success."

Women make up less than 11 percent of working engineers and earn 86 percent of the salaries of their male counterparts in engineering.

Engineering salaries are among the highest earnings for college graduates, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. In electrical engineering, the median salary for the lowest 10 percent of the field is $52,990, while the median salary for the highest paid 10 percent of engineers is $125,810.

Getting Past the Word Engineering

"I think the only barrier, given you are strong and capable, is getting women past the word engineering," Gross said in an interview with Women's eNews. "It sounds stale and not very exciting and I can't imagine anything more exciting than my career."

Engineering careers are time consuming and all four women in the Web chat said one downside to their work was the time it took away from family life.

"It's clearly the No. 1 challenge," said Gross. But she added there are also benefits for children. "It makes stronger kids and they appreciate what mom can do."

Currently, the Volt is available in some states, including New York, California, the Washington metropolitan area and Michigan. In July and August, expansion across the country will begin with the Chevrolet Volt 2012 and the company plans to be nationwide by the end of the year.

For Gross, that means making sure areas have Web sites and numbers for consumers to call about the cars, that electrical contractors are prepared and incentives are in place.

The list price for the 2011 model is $41,000 with a tax credit of $7,500, said Cristi Landy, production marketing manager of the vehicle, who was on the original car team formed in 2006.

Today, a few electric cars are in production or on the market around the world. In the United States, the Volt and Nissan Leaf are the first "family-size" electric vehicles, compared to most electric cars, which are usually small and have two doors.

In the mid-1990s, General Motors withdrew an all-electric car, the EV1. The documentary "Who Killed the Electric Car?" recounts the marketing of the EV1, the recall and the disappointment of the engineers and car owners involved.

Gross says the EV1 and the Volt have some key differences. The EV1 was a two-seater, light-weight, all-electric car with limited driving range and produced with specialty materials. Gross says there is a standard now for charging electric cars, which was not in place when the EV1 came out.

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I am the 'fly in the ointment' today on this issue.
Electricity availability is often stretched to its limits already, today, given our increasing uses for all manner of electronic and other electric gadgets, appliances, and lighting. We consider these to be necessary, as life would be more simple and less 'efficient' without them.
Electricity is often from dangerous and severely polluting (nuclear and coal) sources.
Electricity production often uses water resources so heavily that inadequate safe water remains for crop production, drinking, and cleaning.
PLEASE, encourage less use of cars altogether. This was an invention of 100 or so years ago, and has steadily been destroying more and more lives, both human and other. To use a car seldom requires a rethink of one's life. That is overdue for many. A message of love.