Volt No Salvation, Warns GM

July 11, 2008
Don't count on the Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid to deliver significant corporate fuel economy gains, General Motors is warning federal regulators.

Though the automaker claims Volt will be able to run up to 40 miles on battery power, then get as much as 150 mpg when its gasoline engine kicks in, GM argues that it will sell so few of the PHEVS, at least initially, to move the needle much in terms of its overall fleet mileage.

GM is walking a convoluted path in preparing the world for the Chevy sedan. On one hand, it is promoting Volt as a potentially revolutionary breakthrough in high-mileage technology and is making a high-visibility PR campaign, hoping to gain some ground on the widely acknowledged leader in green automotive technology, Toyota.

But by emphasizing Volt's fuel efficiency, GM risks having regulators increase upcoming Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards. Congress instructed the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration - which oversees the mpg rules, as well as automotive safety - to target a 35-mpg minimum. But the agency would be allowed to increase that number if it believed the necessary technology is available.

By some estimates, GM alone will have to spend over $17 billion to meet the minimum increase, and each mpg over that could add billions more to the bill.

At least initially, GM is expected to produce relatively few plug-in hybrids, or PHEVs. Calculated in with the millions more vehicles it produces each year, the impact, averaged out, would likely be minor.

"For the purposes of the NHTSA rulemaking, GM's game-changing EREV (short for extended-range electric vehicle, GM's alternative to plug-in hybrid) technology should be treated as a low-volume application during the time period under consideration," the automaker said in a government filing. "We strongly discourage NHTSA from applying either PHEV or EREV technology in any significant volume in" calculating potential fuel economy increases.

Is GM talking out of both sides of its corporate mouth?

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