Thursday, September 17, 2009

The Volt Won’t Jumpstart GM

It is still a year away but the new Volt from General Motor’s Chevrolet brand is gathering quite a bit of excitement from both consumers and industry watchers. I have my reservations about this new ride but let’s go over the basics, shall we?
The volt is being described as an all electric vehicle, with a gasoline engine that recharges the battery which GM calls a range extender. The Volt can plug into a normal 120V house outlet to recharge overnight. On the battery alone, the Volt can travel a distance of 40 miles, regardless of acceleration. After those first 40 miles and the battery has been drained, the Volt’s gasoline engine engages and extends the range of the car to 300 miles.
So this sounds like a pretty great concept but to me, this seems mediocre compared to what other alternatives there are out there. But first the good this car can offer.
The Volt has a range of 40 miles. While this doesn’t sound like much, especially if you want to go off for a weekend trip to Vegas, it can work for a lot of people who travel less than 40 miles during a single day. And then the car be recharged and you get another 40 miles for the next day. This number is low, though, when compared to that of Nissan’s recently announced electric vehicle which has a range of 100 miles.
The Volt’s gasoline engine does allow for those weekend trips and not be trapped with a useless car if the battery drains. But with a range of 300 miles and an expected gas tank of 8-9 gallons, the fuel efficiency of the car with the gasoline engine on, is only 35 mpg. That is what you could find on a Toyota Corolla and much less than the current generation Prius and other hybrid cars from Ford like the Fusion.
I suppose I would like to have this car as a way to get to work. I am only 7 miles away from my job and so this car would be able to get me back and forth and still have enough range to get some errands or shopping done after work. But the real trouble for GM comes when you see the asking price. Estimated to be at $40k. GM has stated that it hopes that government subsidies can bring it down to the low 30s. This now seems unlikely. I am not going to pay $40k for a car that can only go 40 miles on electric and has a fuel economy that can be found on cheaper cars. In order for the real electric, and GM’s, revolution to begin, the car must be priced in the low 20’s just like the Prius, because that is it’s real competitor. At that price range, it is competing against luxury vehicles. This car is not for the average consumer who wants to save money on gas.
Another thing that GM has failed to mention is that this battery pack in the car will wear down. As anyone who has ever owned an iPod or cell phone, rechargeable batteries start to lose their capacity to hold a charge. So when will we need to replace the battery in car? How much will that cost? With the car being $40k, one could only imagine how expensive that venture would be. Although I do assume GM hopes that the battery technology and manufacturing process will have advanced enough to make the batteries affordable later on down the line.

My own hope for the future…

The secret most people don’t know is that in Europe, where gasoline cost much more, there are already very fuel efficient and affordable cars on the road, made by European car companies and some made by our own American car manufacturers. Diesel engines are the future and while diesel usually emotes a disgusted face from those who are reminded of dirty black soot coming from an exhaust pipe, believe me, things are much different. With the cleaner diesel technology, owning a diesel car is now much more practical and fuel efficient. However the idea of clean diesel has not caught on here in the US and I have only seen an ad for one set of diesel cars so far, the VW TDI cars.
Ford also has clean diesel cars on the road with one getting up to 65 mpg (Ford Fiesta). The Prius at most can only get 50 mpg. And with diesel being cheaper than gasoline, one can only hope that one day we will see more diesel engines here stateside in more than just trucks.