Dec 4, 2006 (From the CalCars-News archive)
Here's more on GM's announcement from last week. The Red Herring story quotes Jodie Van Horn of Plug-In Bay Area and leading Clean-Tech venture capitalist Erik Straser. The blog is by Tyler Hamilton, senior technology reporter and columnist for the Toronto Star, Canada's largest daily newspaper and writer of the bi-weekly Clean Break column. And we lead with several other popular blogs that have attracted many comments
At the focused Green Car Congress, MIchael Millikin's more ino-depth report has 67 comments: http://www.greencarcongress.com/2006/11/gms_focus_on_el.html At the popular DIGG, 550 ratings and 115 comments on a short post http://digg.com/hardware/GM_Shocker_Plug_in_hybrid_SUV_announced At the eclectic engadget, 26 comments http://www.engadget.com/2006/11/14/gm-set-to-announce-plug-in-hybrid-vehicle/2#comments
http://tyler.blogware.com/blog/_archives/2006/11/29/2537397.html GM confirms: We're developing a plug-in hybrid by Tyler Hamilton on Wed 29 Nov 2006
Rick Wagoner, chief executive of General Motors Corp., has finally come clean with plans to commercialize a plug-in hybrid consumer vehicle. He didn't give any dates, only a commitment that GM is considering this a top priority. "Production timing will depend on battery development," he said." Wagoner did say, however, the first version would be a Saturn VUE plug-in hybrid. "We're working today with a number of battery companies to develop the technology necessary to build a plug-in hybrid."
Wagoner made the comments during a speech today at the Greater Los Angeles Auto Show. An environmental activist apparently wasn't satisfied with the commitment, or the lack of a date, and walked up on stage asking Wagoner to sign a pledge to be the industry's fuel-economy leader by 2010. Wagoner's response: "You have to leave now."
Good on GM for making the commitment to come out with a plug-in hybrid, but without a ballpark date it's tough to say whether this is just PR that won't go anywhere. We know battery technology is holding up the technology -- Toyota and other car makers have said this as well. It's a safe bet for any company to say they'll come out with a plug-in hybrid when that technology is ready. Hasn't that been the claim for fuel cells?
I'm being a skeptic -- perhaps I shouldn't. Perhaps this move by GM will spark similar announcements from its competitors and then, suddenly, we'll have real competition toward getting the first plug-in hybrids into the North American market.
GM to Make Plug-In Hybrid
Red Herring November 29, 2006
By Jennifer Kho jkho@...
Drivers will be able to buy a hybrid they can plug into the wall for better gas mileage, CEO says. The question is when.
General Motors on Wednesday announced plans to produce a plug-in version of its Saturn Vue Green Line hybrid, potentially good news for utilities and tech startups.
"The technological hurdles are real, but we believe they are also surmountable," said Rick Wagoner, CEO of GM, at an LA Auto Show press conference. "I can't give you a production date for our plug-in hybrid today. But I can tell you that this is a top priority program for GM, given the huge potential it offers for fuel-economy improvement."
By replacing some fuel with electricity, plug-in hybrids could potentially pit electricity against the oil industry, giving utilities the potential to sell more kilowatt-hours, said Erik Straser, a general partner with Mohr Davidow Ventures.
They also could open up a market for new technologies-such as drive trains, power-management systems, and batteries-catering to the new market, he said.
"You get a bunch of people involved in the opportunity to sell transportation, and they could be selling electrons instead of selling dead dinosaurs," he said. "This could be early signs of a shift, and that could be good for a variety of industries. Net net, I think it would be good for Silicon Valley."
According to GM, the Saturn plug-in hybrid will include lithium-ion batteries, two interior permanent magnet motors, and a 3.6-liter V-6 gasoline engine with direct injection.
With more battery power and a plug, the new Saturn would allow owners to recharge their cars using standard wall outlets. The replacing some fuel with electricity, the Vue hybrid could potentially double the mpg of any current SUV, the company said.
The most efficient SUV on the road today is the Ford Escape Hybrid, according to the U.S. Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Agency's Fuel Economy Guide. The SUV gets 36 mpg in the city and 31 on the highway, suggesting the Saturn plug-in would get up to 72 mpg.
Of course, the vehicle would get that high mileage by replacing some fuel with electricity. Advocates say the advantage is that electricity is much cheaper than fuel, and plug-in advocates say owners would mainly plug their vehicles in at night, when electricity is in surplus and prices are cheapest.
It would also reduce emissions, because of higher efficiency and because emissions at the power plant are easier to control than those at the tailpipe, advocates say.
And unlike all-electric cars, plug-in hybrids can handle long road trips because if they aren't plugged in, they work just like regular hybrids.
Growing a Green Market
Thilo Koslowski, a vice president and lead automotive analyst for Gartner, said the plug-in hybrid is unlikely to be a mainstream product right away, but could eventually get there.
"The general consumer acceptance for these types of products is growing, but the more you have to change behavior, the more difficulty you will have to get mainstream consumers to accept this," he said. "While some might like to plug the vehicle into the wall, others-such as drivers without garages-may not want that."
While GM had previously leased an electric car, the EV1, they ran into problems and "literally pulled the plug" on the program, he said. The documentary, "Who Killed the Electric Car?" blames the company.
But now the company is coming back to the concept with this plug-in hybrid, and Mr. Koslowski said he thinks the company has something better this time around.
The plug-in hybrid is an attempt by GM to leverage the momentum Toyota has built up with its marketing for hybrids, he said, adding the new alternative is good for consumers because it gives them more choice.
It's not a slam dunk, however. The price, which was not announced, will be an important factor, and batteries are also a major issue, Mr. Koslowski said.
Replacing hybrid batteries is already a significant part of the cost of ownership, and that cost could be higher in plug-in hybrids, which have larger-or more numerous-batteries.
With plug-in hybrids, the batteries also would most likely need to be replaced more often because they would be charged more frequently, he said. "Operating costs and residual value are key factors in the buying decision, and if you have to replace the batteries, the residual value goes down," he said.
Advocates Not Satisfied
Not everyone is satisfied with the news.
While she said it's a good step, Jodie Van Horn, coordinator of Plug In Bay Area, part of the national Plug In Partners campaign to get car manufacturers to produce plug-in hybrids, said she wants a timeline and a big push for plug-ins, as well as a commitment to phase out Hummers and raise overall fuel economy.
"They [GM] are in a place where they have arguably hit rock bottom economically, and they are looking for alternatives not only to get them out of an economic slump, but also an image slump," said Ms. Van Horn, who is also part of a Rainforest Action Network campaign to pressure automakers to improve fuel economy.
"We believe they realize the way to do that is to point themselves in an environmentally friendly direction, but we want to see action," she said. "We want to see production. Our contention is that the time is now; the technology is ready today."