Nov 10, 2006 (From the CalCars-News archive)
We won't keep sending out every story about GM, but it is important when the hometown papers start writing about it (even from the Washington correspondent). Lutz's "3-4 years" comment about batteries and the reference to a "prototype" may mean that in Los Angeles and Detroit auto shows GM will simply announce intentions. (Note how the headline, "GM may revive the electric car" reflects the impact of the movie, "Who Killed the Electric Car?")
Friday, November 10, 2006
GM may revive the electric car
Automaker expects future success with technology of hybrids,
batteries and hydrogen fuel cells.
David Shepardson / The Detroit News
WASHINGTON -- General Motors Corp. is likely to unveil a prototype plug-in hybrid at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit as part of its company-wide focus on "electrifying" the car, GM officials said Thursday.
The advanced technology vehicle would have an extended driving range on battery power alone and would also have a diesel or gasoline engine that could power the car when the battery was low.
Later this month, GM chairman and CEO Rick Wagoner will deliver a speech at the Los Angeles Auto Show in which he will disclose that the linchpin to the company's turnaround is its emphasis on advanced technologies.
Ultimately, GM sees hydrogen fuel cells as the solution to ending the country's reliance on oil. However GM believes the key is using electricity -- through hybrids, batteries and hydrogen fuel cells -- to run vehicles, not gasoline.
GM's Vice Chairman Bob Lutz, who is head of product development, declined Thursday to disclose what would be unveiled in Detroit "because it's a dark secret. But I think you will be pleased with what you see."
Lutz did tell The Detroit News that GM estimates it will take three to four years "to convert from 'power' lithium batteries to 'energy storage' lithium cells," which would allow vehicles to travel farther distances.
Plug-in hybrids are gas-electric vehicles that can recharge their batteries with an extension cord and a normal wall outlet. Like conventional gas-electric hybrids, which have two drivetrains, a plug-in hybrid can also recharge its batteries through a regenerative brake system while on the road. The range on plug-in cars has typically been no more than 20 or 30 miles on battery alone.
In September, Lutz said that GM was "studying plug-in hybrids, and will have more to say about those soon. The whole key there is the development of significantly improved battery technology," he wrote on a company blog. "But rest assured I truly believe that electric-drive vehicles have a real future in this country and around the world."
Andrew Frank, a professor at the University of California-Davis who is credited with designing the first plug-in, said GM's plug-in hybrid would be a "series" hybrid, meaning the vehicle runs primarily on electricity from the battery with the engine as a backup.
"They are adding a little generator on top of a car," Frank said.
Plug-ins will allow energy independence, with owners eventually being able to get their own electricity through solar or wind, Frank said. "That could eliminate all but 10 percent of a driver's yearly gasoline use."
GM, which offers more vehicles that get 30 miles per gallon or more than any other automaker, wants to get away from its image as builder of the H2 and other gas-guzzling SUVs.
In an interview with Motor Trend published in July, Wagoner said killing the $1 billion EV1 program was his worst decision. "It didn't affect profitability, but it did affect image," he said.
Stung by negative criticism over its decision to kill its EV1 electric car program, GM has sought to recast its image. Many automakers have joined the race to bring alternative powertrains to the market.
Toyota Motor Corp., the world's leading producer of hybrid vehicles, has been conducting significant research into plug-in technology.
Honda Motor Co., which introduced the first hybrid in the U.S. in 1999, has also called for exploring plug-ins and is conducting advanced research on hydrogen. It has a fleet of 100 hydrogen fuel cell vehicles around the world.
Ford Motor Co. has a 30-car fleet of hybrid hydrogen Ford Focus Fuel Cell vehicles as part of "real world testing of fuel cell technology." GM will put 100 Chevy Equinox fuel cell SUVs on the road next year.
Ford will unveil its 2008 Ford Escape Hybrid at the Los Angeles Auto Show, spokesman Nick Twork said.
"We're looking at a whole range of technologies," including plug-ins and fuel cells, he said.
DaimlerChrysler AG's Chrysler Group is the only domestic manufacturer that has a plug-in hybrid on the road -- though just three test models are on the roads now.
You can reach David Shepardson at (202) 662-8735 or dshepardson@....