Monday, January 08, 2007

GM Does Something Right, For Once

General Motors is that far-sighted car company who was completely blind-sided by the Japanese on fuel efficiency not once, but twice -- first during the oil crises back in the 70s and then again today. As a response, rather than figure that maybe they should invest in fuel efficient cars, they lobbied the government to relax CAFE standards and have dropped over 1 billion dollars into developing hydrogen vehicles. Hydrogen is perhaps the worst idea ever, meaning that this is all just money down the drain and a huge opportunity wasted. But at least GM gets to pretend as if they're doing something useful while selling gas-guzzling SUVs.

Now it looks like they're finally catching on. The electric car may be boring to futurists, but it almost certainly represents the future of automotive technology. And now GM has one :

Struggling auto giant General Motors Corp. on Sunday revived its once-failed idea of a mass-market electric car, unveiling a new "concept" car called the Volt designed to use little or no gasoline.

Introduced at the North American International Auto Show here, the Chevrolet Volt will draw power exclusively from a next-generation battery pack recharged by a small onboard engine -- if the technology is ready in two or three years. [...]

The Volt is designed to run for 40 miles on pure electric power, making it marketable for everyday family use.

For the average American driver who drives 40 miles a day, or 15,000 miles a year, the Volt will require no fuel and lead to an annual savings of 500 gallons of gasoline, GM said.

Unlike current gas-electric hybrids, which use a parallel system twinning battery power and a combustion engine, the Volt will be driven entirely by electric power.

So it appears to be a pure electric car, but one that carries an on-board gasoline engine to recharge the batteries so that the range can be extended indefinitely. I'm not entirely sure about the wisdom of that -- replacing the inefficient gas engine with more batteries might be better -- but the infinite range thing has its advantages. I sort of doubt however that if you ran it exclusively on gasoline that you would get good mileage. Still, it gives consumers the option of running purely on electricity for most of their travel, and assuming that the electricity is generated cleanly, this is a net gain for the environment. So credit where credit is due.