VOLT GEARED UP?
The Volt: Not Ready to Roll
Charles Lane, April 29, 2009 (Washington Post)
Part of General Motors (GM) financial struggle can be attributed to a billion dollar investment in developing the Chevrolet Volt, a precedent-setting plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV). The investment cannot pay off until the vehicle comes to market next year.
Because GM is receiving federal funds to keep it in business, the Volt project is getting careful evaluation by the Obama administration's auto industry task force and many industry watchers.
Charles Lane of the Washington Post believes the Volt is a “not-very-realistic” business choice because the $30,000+ price (after a federal tax rebate) will make the 4-passenger compact car unappealing to car buyers. He interprets recent task force statements to mean the Volt is not viable while gas pump prices are low.
The PHEV Volt will be like the popular Toyota Prius in that it will have an electric motor and a gasoline engine (internal combustion engine, ICE). Unlike the Prius, which can only operate on electric power when the car is motionless or at very low speeds, the Volt will be able to drive on battery power at freeway speeds for 40 miles. When its stored battery power is used up, the Volt's ICE will seamlessly take over, runnng on gasoline (or any other liquid fuel) to charge the battery for another 250-to-300 miles of normal driving.
Lane notes the financial decision by Silicon Valley venture capitalists to postpone bringing Norway’s Th!nk to U.S. and world markets and takes it as an indication the entire BEV concept lacks practical viability. He suggests the Obama administration should likewise pull its funding of the Volt. In fact, Th!nk is moving forward at a pace appropriate to the economy.
Lane references The Comeback of the Electric Car?, a study by Boston Consulting Group, as well as a GSW Strategy Group study. Both found it would take significantly higher fuel prices to make the BEV an economical buyer choice. He points out that BEVs are inevitably victims to oil price cycles. In an apparent attempt to add fear to half-truths, Lane implies the Obama administration might resort to the dreaded “gas tax” to make the Volt viable.
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Apparently ignorant of studies proving otherwise, Lane suggests BEVs using power from a coal-fueled grid might create as much a greenhouse gas emissions (GhGs) problem as petroleum fueled ICE vehicles.
Apparently ignorant of plans to recycle used BEV lithium-ion batteries as low-cost New Energy storage systems, Mr. Lane suggests that used batteries could cause an environmental problem. (Instead, recycled BEV batteries may become a New Energy storage breakthrough and an environmental redemption.)
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Lane is right that the price of the Volt will make it an undesirable choice for some consumers. He is utterly foolish to compare a Volt purchase to the purchase of the $100,000+ all-electric Tesla.
Comparing the Tesla design with the Volt design shows how bombastic Lane’s suggestion is. There is no doubt the Tesla is a toy for the affluent. The Volt will be, like the very successful Toyota Prius, a choice that many sensible, responsible citizens will want to make. Like the Prius, the Volt will require a slightly higher purchase price but is likely to make that up in fuel costs in the long run as gas pump prices inevitably rise.
Another pompously inaccurate comparison Lane makers is that subsidies to PHEVs are as big a waste as subsidies to first generation (crop-based) ethanol. First-gen ethanol cannot be a good investment because it requires more energy to make than it produces and it causes more greenhouse gas emissions than it saves. PHEVs – maybe the Volt or maybe a better vehicle with better funding – will sooner or later change U.S. and world driving habits and begin an inevitable migration to battery electric vehicles (BEVs).
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When Mr. Lane points out that BEVs are impractical because they will always be subject to oil price cycles, he reveals himself to be one of those who President Obama describes as lurching “from shock to trance” under bullying from Old Energy. Lacking information and vision, Lane's is not a voice the administration needs to listen to in deciding the fate of GM and its Volt.
Lane’s suggestions to drive less, use smaller cars and improve existing technologies are perfectly sensible, the kinds of ideas that always come from conservatives.
Even a great and important concept like the PHEV can be bungled by poor management so abandoning the Volt might be the best decision for the administration to make on behalf of GM. Abandoning the electric car for some future solution, however, is the strategy that inspired GM’s decision to abandon its 1990s BEV project, a strategy that inspired the movie Who Killed The Electric Car? and put GM on the road to its current situation.
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- Obama task force report on the Volt: "While the Volt holds promise, it is currently projected to be much more expensive than its gasoline-fueled peers and will likely need substantial reductions in manufacturing cost in order to become commercially viable"
GM showed the 2011 Volt at the recent Shanghai Auto Show. (click to enlarge)
- Lane: “For some people -- environmentally friendly Hollywood stars and other wealthy dabblers -- cost is not the top concern in deciding what car to buy. For them, a Volt or even a $101,500 all-electric Tesla Roadster might be of interest.”
- Lane: “To be sure, the green-leaning Obama administration has not ruled out allowing a restructured GM to continue pouring (federal) money into the Volt. But I hope it won't. The Volt and other electric vehicles could gobble up more subsidies than ethanol.”