Placing itself in strong position to take advantage of the post-gasoline automobile age that it believes is just around the corner, General Motors has unveiled a high-performance electric car that it anticipates will be ready for production within two or three years.
Most Trips on Battery
Company officials unveiled the Chevy Volt sports sedan, featuring a rechargeable plug-in battery and the ability to run on ethanol blends up to E-85, at the January Detroit Auto Show.
Unlike current hybrids that run primarily on gasoline but utilize battery power whenever feasible, the Volt will run for its first 40 miles of each drive exclusively on battery power, and will then use gasoline or ethanol blends to recharge the battery on the fly.
When unveiling the Volt, GM cited research showing 78 percent of U.S. commuters drive 40 miles or less to and from work, enabling them to make a gasoline-free commute.
“If you lived within 30 miles from work–60 miles round trip–and charged your vehicle every night when you came home or during the day at work, you would get 150 miles per gallon,” GM Chairman Robert Lutz said in a January 17 news release. “More than half of all Americans live within 20 miles of where they work: a 40-mile round trip. In that case, you might never burn a drop of gas in the life of the car.”
Can Use Alternate Fuels
Another innovative feature of the Volt is its compatibility with various fuel sources.
Its internal combustion engine will be able to run on gasoline or up to 85 percent ethanol blends. It is also designed to convert easily to biodiesel or hydrogen fuel if and when those fuel sources become scientifically and commercially viable.
GM anticipates a day in the not-too-distant future when the Volt will run completely free of gasoline, regardless of the length of a given trip.
Not wanting to produce a mere concept car or one that cannot meet the needs of a typical American family, GM designed the Volt to seat four or five passengers. It can accelerate from zero to 60 mph in 8.5 seconds.
Battery Tech Last Obstacle
The initial production schedule for the Volt will be determined by anticipated advances in lithium ion battery technology. A lithium ion battery of the size and weight necessary to power the Volt is not yet commercially available.
GM is investing heavily in battery technology research and anticipates the commercial availability of the requisite lithium ion battery within two or three years.
James M. Taylor ([email protected]) is managing editor of Environment & Climate News.