2007 Chevrolet Volt Concept
Justifying the numbers
But then again, the Volt isn’t really designed for long-distance driving, stressed GM’s Tony Posawatz. It’s intended for short and mid-distance urban commuting, explained the project’s Vehicle Line Director. GM planners point to research showing that a full half of allU.S.households have commutes of less than 30 miles a day. That rises to 78 percent when you include those traveling up to 40 miles.
So, “The majority of customers may have little or no reason to stop by a filling station” for extended periods of time, added Posawatz.
If that proved accurate, fuel savings could run upwards of 500 gallons of gas annually, even for those whose commutes extend beyond the Volt’s battery range, if you buy the GM numbers.
Would it be economically justified? As with today’s hybrids, potential buyers would face a stiff price premium to cover the cost of all that added hardware. That’s roughly $2000 or more for current hybrids. Tinkerers developing their own prototype plug-ins have had to cough up $12,000 or more to convert the existing Prius platform.
GM is betting it can drive down the price penalty, but it won’t be easy. Indeed, while GM Vice Chairman Lutz said he hopes to put the Volt into production – and has given a cautious go-ahead to the vehicle development program – but there’s a potentially serious wrinkle.
Sony recently recalled a large batch of LiIon batteries because they could potentially short out and cause fires in laptop computers. Yet that’s a downright friendly operating environment compared to what batteries would face in an automobile.
“That’s the real problem,” warned Jim Hall, chief product analyst with the consulting firm, AutoPacific, Inc. “Until they can get a good battery, there’s not going to be a plug-in.”
Dr. David Cole, director of the Center for Automotive Research, agrees the technology isn’t quite ready for prime time, but he believes, “there are a lot of breakthroughs on the way, and I think that we’ll soon have battery technology capable of living in the automotive environment.”
Other manufacturers cautiously agree. Ford insiders tell TheCarConnection.com they’re moving forward with a plug-in program, as isToyota, generally considered the leader in hybrid technology.
Nissan recently announced a plug-in hybrid development program. Since Li-Ion technology is indeed the Achilles Heel of the plug-in hybrid, the Japanese automaker may “establish a new company which will handle sales and probably the manufacturing of the battery,” said Mitsuhiko “Mike” Yamashita, Nissan’s Executive Vice President for Research and Development.
If new battery technology does provide the kick a plug-in needs, what about the battery car? At press time, there were rumors suggesting GM might also show off a next-generation electric vehicle atDetroit’s North American International Auto Show.
Meanwhile, a smallCaliforniastart-up, Tesla Motors, plans to begin production, late this year, of a battery-powered roadster that would deliver the performance of a Porsche while still yielding a range of up to 250 miles.
So, to paraphrase Mark Twain, reports of the EV’s death may have been greatly exaggerated.
2007 Detroit Auto Show Preview by TCC Team (12/21/2006)
Lights, cameras, Cobo – action.
KPMG: Hybrids, Mergers Will Rule Industry by TCC Team (1/4/2007)
Analysts see hybrids and bankruptcies – as critical.
Lutz Blasts Fuel-Econ Study by Joseph Szczesny (12/26/2006)
GM exec wants higher gas taxes, not efficiency hurdles.
Bush Plugs Alt-Vehicles in Address by Joseph Szczesny (12/20/2006)
President calls for new car technology.
Siemens Buys Ballard Hybrids by Joseph Szczesny (12/21/2006)
Germans showing serious interest in hybrids?
Review: Who Killed the Electric Car? by Bengt Halvorson (8/7/2006)
Film about death of the EV1 sparks big-screen debate.