Jan 8, 2007 (From the CalCars-News archive)
These stories show the range of coverage and include interesting comments from GM and observers.
Can GM's Electric Car Go the Distance? Hoping to catch up to Toyota, General Motors is unveiling the Chevy Volt concept car, a plug-in hybrid that runs on pure electricity. But will it actually hit the highway? WEB EXCLUSIVE By Keith Naughton Newsweek Updated: 6:19 a.m. PT Jan 7, 2007 http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/16511982/site/newsweek/
Jan. 7, 2007 - Last month, Bob Lutz, General Motors' renowned car czar, stood before a room full of reporters and offered a stunning mea culpa. "A few years ago," he said, "we made a bad decision." That decision: GM failed to green light a hybrid car, even though it had the know-how and the technology left over from its failed EV1 electric car. Toyota, of course, made the opposite decision and today its Prius hybrid is the envy of the automotive world. "The value Toyota got out of the Prius, in terms of positioning themselves as the world technology leader, was incredible," bemoans Lutz. "Now we're in a position to play catch-up."
This week at the Detroit Auto Show, GM hopes to shock the car-buying public by unveiling its catch-up vehicle: The Chevy Volt, a plug-in hybrid that GM says can go 150mpg or more. There's been plenty of buzz about plug-in hybrids over the last year. But so far there are no hybrids on the market that you can recharge by plugging into a wall outlet. Instead, today's hybrids recharge their batteries by capturing energy from braking. But the Volt is a different kind of hybrid. Unlike those on the market that are primarily powered by a small gasoline engine, this sexy little four-seater runs on pure electricity. The tiny three-cylinder gasoline engine under its hood is only used to recharge the batteries, never to turn the wheels. You can also recharge the Volt by plugging it into a standard socket for about six hours. By contrast, the 60mpg Prius can't be plugged in and only runs on pure electric power until it hits about 15mph. Then its small gasoline engine kicks in to supplement the electric motor. Other hybrids, like the Honda Civic, never run on pure electric power, but are driven by a blend of gasoline and kilowatts. Now, though, the race is on to have the first plug-in hybrid on the market.
While GM works on the Volt, the company has promised to have a plug-in version of its new Saturn Vue hybrid on the market by next year, though some technical experts are skeptical about that aggressive timing. The Vue hybrid now on the road isn't even as advanced as the Prius. The Vue is a "mild hybrid" that never runs on electric power, but gains most of its 25 percent fuel economy improvement from having a special system that shuts the engine off at stop lights and in stop-and-go traffic. The next-generation Vue will, like the Prius, be capable of running on electric power at low speeds. And GM says you'll be able to drive longer under electric power because you'll be able to recharge the batteries by plugging into your wall socket. Toyota and Ford are also working on plug-ins, but have not given a date for when they'll be available. Experts say plug-ins could take five years to develop, despite GM's promise.
When will the Volt arrive? GM won't say. It all depends on breakthroughs in battery technology. To power the Volt, GM wants to use lithium-ion batteries, which go farther on a charge than the nickel-metal hydride batteries now used in hybrids. But for now, lithium-ion batteries are mostly used in small applications, like your cell phone. Developing the 400-pound lithium-ion battery required to run the Volt could take five years, GM acknowledges. The roadblocks include making it affordable and safe. "Thermal runaway can be a problem," admits Volt chief engineer Nick Zielinski. Huh? That means lithium-ion batteries can overheat and set your car on fire.
Despite that, GM insists the Volt isn't just a PR ploy to show up Toyota at the hometown auto show. "This is no science-fair project," says GM vice president Jon Lauckner. "We're deadly serious about this."
If the Volt does hits the streets, here's how it will work: You'd plug your car into a regular 110-volt outlet in your garage every night. When you head off for work in the morning, you could go for 40 miles on pure electricity, without that little engine kicking in to recharge the batteries. So if your daily commute is under 40 miles, as is the case for most Americans, you'd never burn a drop of gas.
If you have a longer commute, the Volt then becomes the ultimate gas miser. Let's say you live 30 miles from your job, so your daily round-trip is 60 miles. That means the Volt will run 40 miles on pure electricity and 20 miles on kilowatts generated by its little gasoline engine. The net mileage: 150mpg. That is, unless you have some place to plug in while you're at work. That lithium-ion battery gets fully powered up in about six hours. So if you recharge while you work, you'll never burn any gas.
Sound too good to be true? It does to the Sierra Club, a persistent critic of GM's gas guzzlers, like the Hummer. "You'll pardon me if I'm slightly dubious," says Dan Becker, director of the Sierra Club's global-warming program. "Call me back when they actually produce the vehicle." Still, Becker says he likes the sound of the technology that powers the Volt. "It would be wonderful if this means GM finally intends to take on Toyota," he says. "But they've got to make it. Talking about it won't save the company or the environment."
GM was stung-and spurred on-by the drubbing it took in last summer's documentary "Who Killed the Electric Car?" The film laid the blame at GM's doorstep, saying it never supported its fledgling EV1 that became a darling of Left Coast enviros in the '90s. But the tiny two-seater never caught on with the general public because after driving it for 60 to 90 miles, you had to stop and recharge it for eight hours. By contrast, even if you forgot to plug-in the Volt, you could go 640 miles between fill-ups and get 50mpg with the engine charging the batteries, GM says. This technology sounds so tantalizing, GM's biggest risk is not delivering on it. Says Becker, "Then the sequel to the movie is 'Who Didn't Build the Volt?'"
The U.K independent
US car giants launch green drive
By Stephen Foley in Detroit
Published: 08 January 2007
Ford and General Motors, the two embattled giants of the US car industry, yesterday unveiled plans for environmentally friendly cars to try to maintain their position in an increasingly competitive market.
GM, the world's biggest car maker, revived the concept of the electric car, three years after it generated opprobrium from the environmental lobby by cancelling its pioneering electric vehicle, the EV-1.
The company unveiled the Chevrolet Volt yesterday at the glitzy Detroit Motor Show, where fuel efficiency and alternative fuels are emerging as a major focus. GM said its new vehicle - still at the concept stage after a year of development - could be recharged overnight and would save the average driver $900 a year at current fuel prices. It would mean, also, that 4.4 metric tons of carbon dioxide is no longer pumped into the atmosphere by the average driver.
Bob Lutz, head of global product development at GM, said the Volt fulfilled the company's promise to pursue "the electrification of the automobile, to increase energy diversity, and to move away as soon as it is technologically and economically possible from a world where the automobile industry is 98 per cent dependent on petroleum or petroleum-based fuels".
In GM's "E-Flex" system used by the Volt, electric rather than mechanical energy is used to move the vehicle.
"We commend GM for being the first out of the starting gate in the great plug-in car race of 2007," said Felix Kramer, who founded the non-profit group CalCars to spur car makers and regulators to push for mass-market electric car production.
The Volt was not the only plug-in car unveiled yesterday, as GM's cross-town rival Ford launched a space-age utility vehicle. The Ford Airstream concept, driven to 6,000 journalists at a press conference inside Detroit's Cobo Centre, is designed for long family journeys, with a futuristic interior inspired by Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey, complete with lava lamps, swivel chairs and a video screen. It, too, runs on battery power which is generated by a hybrid fuel cell, or topped up from the mains.
The launch of the Volt comes as GM is under pressure over the cancellation of the EV-1 program in 2003, after just 1,100 vehicles were produced. A documentary film released in November
- entitled Who Killed the Electric Car? - argued that GM conspired with oil companies to axe the project to protect their profitability. GM says there was simply no demand for a car that could travel barely 100 miles per charge.
GM said improvements in battery technology had given it the confidence to make a renewed stab at electric vehicle, but it could not predict how soon the car might be ready to launch. "We have a studied concept, but further battery development will define the critical path to start of production," it said.
Walter McManus, a former GM executive who is now director of automotive analysis at the University of Michigan, expressed his scepticism that the Volt would ever get to market, and said there were quicker ways for the US car industry to reduce the environmental impact of their products.
Raising an eyebrow at what he called "the magic E-Flex", Dr McManus said: "The battery technology that they are depending on is not available yet and just pouring money into it is not going to make it happen. They need to take fuel efficiency more seriously. GM and Ford have such technologies in their cars overseas; they should put their own technologies into their cars here."
Toyota said yesterday North American sales of its fuel-efficient hybrid vehicles would total 250,000 to 300,000 units this year, up from 191,000 in 2006. The Toyota Motor America president, Jim Press, told the Motor Show that while sales growth of the popular Prius hybrid sedan had droppedsince US tax credits on the car were reduced, demand was still strong.
GM announces "Volt" plug-in hybrid concept car From Clean Break Blog By Tyler Hamilton (also senior technology reporter and columnist for the Toronto Star) Sun 07 Jan 2007 09:44 AM EST http://tyler.blogware.com/blog/_archives/2007/1/7/2629692.html
The plug-in revolution is gaining steam.
There's a lot of excitement building around the North American International Auto Show in Detroit (a four-day event beginning today), where GM is introducing a concept car called the Volt -- a flex-fuel plug-in hybrid that the world's largest automaker is serious about mass-producing. You can read about the Volt in the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Forbes and IEEE Spectrum. Here's GM's press release, which was put out this morning.
"Today, there are more than 800 million cars and trucks in the world. In 15 years, that will grow to 1.1 billion vehicles. We can't continue to be 98-percent dependent on oil to meet our transportation needs. Something has to give. We think the Chevrolet Volt helps bring about the diversity that is needed. If electricity met only 10 percent of the world's transportation needs, the impact would be huge," said Larry Burns, GM's vice-president of research and development and strategic planning.
Felix Kramer, founder of California Cars Initiative, or CalCars, applauded GM for taking this important first step. "We commend GM for being first out of the starting gate in the Great Plug-In Car Race of 2007," he said in a release sent out to media and bloggers. "GM's announcements are the biggest victories yet for CalCars.org and other PHEV advocates. Now, our campaign is in third gear."
Kramer added: "We'll work with the auto industry, government, fleet buyers and advocates to get to the day -- soon, not in a decade -- when customers can buy PHEVs as easily as any other car."
GM goes electric with new concept car at auto show By Jui Chakravorty, Reuters http://today.reuters.com/news/articleinvesting.aspx?type=comktnews&storyID=2007-01-07T133933Z_01_N06285821_RTRUKOC_0_US-AUTOSHOW-VOLT.xml&WTmodLoc=EntNewsFilm_R1_comktnews-1
DETROIT (Reuters) - Struggling auto giant General Motors Corp. on Sunday revived its once-failed idea of a mass-market electric car, unveiling a new "concept" car called the Volt designed to use little or no gasoline.
Introduced at the North American International Auto Show here, the Chevrolet Volt will draw power exclusively from a next-generation battery pack recharged by a small onboard engine -- if the technology is ready in two or three years.
"We have a thoroughly studied concept, but further battery development will define the critical path to start of production," said Jon Lauckner, a GM vice president for product development.
The Volt is designed to run for 40 miles on pure electric power, making it marketable for everyday family use.
For the average American driver who drives 40 miles a day, or 15,000 miles a year, the Volt will require no fuel and lead to an annual savings of 500 gallons of gasoline, GM said.
Unlike current gas-electric hybrids, which use a parallel system twinning battery power and a combustion engine, the Volt will be driven entirely by electric power.
GM has been stung by criticism that it conspired to kill the EV1, an experimental electric vehicle program it launched in 1996 and killed by 2003. The documentary film "Who Killed the Electric Car?" released last year criticized GM for first developing but then abandoning electric vehicles.
GM said the Volt will have advantages over the defunct EV1, including smaller batteries, faster recharging, more room for passengers, and a faster maximum highway speed.
"For most drivers, the Volt will use little or no gasoline," GM chief engineer Nick Zielinski told reporters.
FIGHTING TO GET "GREEN" -- AND TOYOTA?
The Volt is part of GM's bid to demonstrate it is investing in break-through technology with some of the $9 billion saved through a wrenching program of job cuts and plant closures.
The push to develop environmentally friendly cars is also an attempt by GM to distance itself from its close association with gas-guzzling sport utility vehicles, a reputation executives say has hampered its sales in some markets.
The Volt's combustion engine is designed only as a supplement to keep its batteries charged, an innovation GM executives hope will help the automaker jump ahead of Toyota Motor Corp., which now dominates the hybrid market.
GM cut 34,000 jobs last year and plans to close 12 plants. Toyota is expected to surpass GM in global production this year, ending a run of more than 80 years for GM as the world's No. 1 automaker.
In November, GM Chief Executive Rick Wagoner used a speech at the Los Angeles Auto Show to announce that GM would build plug-in hybrid vehicles, a potential industry first.
Plug-in hybrids, a favorite among many environmentalists, are capable of being charged with a standard electric outlet, a feature GM said it would build into the Volt.
"We commend GM for being the first out of the starting gate in the great plug-in car race of 2007," said Felix Kramer, who founded the non-profit group CalCars to spur automakers and regulators to push for mass-market electric car production.
Battery technology is key to the next generation of hybrid vehicles as automakers seek ways to lower the cost of batteries and increase their power and storage capacity.
The Volt will be outfitted with new lithium-ion battery packs, which hold a charge longer than the nickel metal hydride batteries now used widely in automobiles.
Lauckner said the Volt should be ready for production around the same time the lithium-ion batteries will be, which GM expects to be in two to three years.
Automakers have been cautious that lithium-ion batteries, which are now used in consumer electronics such as laptop computers, have a tendency to overheat.
But GM also plans to introduce hybrid systems in its Saturn Vue, Saturn Aura and Chevrolet Malibu cars and in its Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra trucks.
Last week, GM awarded lithium-ion battery development contracts for its Saturn Vue Green Line hybrid to Johnson Controls Inc. affiliate Johnson Controls-Saft Advanced Power Solutions and Cobasys, a venture of Chevron Corp. and Energy Conversion Devices Inc.. Cobasys will work with privately held A123Systems to develop the technology.
Watt a concept
GM's Earth-friendly Volt recharges interest in electric cars
January 7, 2007 Detroit Free Press
BY JUSTIN HYDE
FREE PRESS WASHINGTON STAFF
With the Chevrolet Volt concept that appears at the Detroit auto show media preview today, General Motors Corp. attempts to take the title of environmental technology leader from Toyota by resurrecting the electric car.
The four-door Volt uses electricity as its main power source, with a small gasoline engine that powers a generator rather than the vehicle's wheels. GM engineers say while the Volt concept can travel 640 miles on 12 gallons of fuel, about 53 m.p.g., many drivers would rarely use gasoline at all, and some could get 150 m.p.g. in regular use.
Advertisement After years of failing to deliver on promises of high-technology concepts, and antagonizing environmental groups by fighting tougher fuel economy rules, GM executives say they're determined to reclaim an environmental mantle by putting the technology from the Volt in dealerships.
"We don't want people to get the impression that this is a flavor of the month or a PR stunt," said Beth Lowery, GM's vice president of energy and environment. "We want to build transportation on a global basis, and we want to do so in a sustainable way. ... We have to figure out some diverse sources of energy."
But executives also admit the concept of the Volt and its electric drive system GM has dubbed E-Flex rest on future developments in battery technology, which GM will have to rely on outside suppliers to provide. The Volt at the Detroit show isn't drivable; GM promises to have a self-powered Volt by mid-year.
Environmentalists say GM will have to do more than produce a show car before they believe the automaker has had a change of heart.
"GM has a very long track record of hostility to the environment," said Dan Becker, director of the Sierra Club's global warming program, citing GM's opposition to tougher fuel economy rules nationally and in California.
"You'll pardon me if I'm a little dubious that General Motors has had some marvelous epiphany, and it's demonstrating that by showing a vehicle they haven't committed to produce."
The Volt's history dates back to just after last year's North American International Auto Show, when GM Vice Chairman Bob Lutz convened a meeting of executives to come up with a new idea for an environmental vehicle -- one that would leapfrog GM past Toyota.
GM's work on the EV1 in the late '90s, and the demise of that vehicle chronicled in the 2006 documentary, "Who Killed the Electric Car?," led GM executives to consider another version of an electric vehicle, but one that overcame the 100-mile range and long recharge times of the EV1.
With the basic outline of the system in mind, GM's strategy board approved the project in March, and designers and engineers have been refining it since. To make it clear just how high GM was aiming, the project was named "iCar" -- a reference to how Apple Corp.'s iPod had revolutionized the music business.
"I've never been as excited about anything in my career," Lutz said.
Here's how the Volt works: With its battery pack fully charged, the Volt could travel about 40 miles on electricity alone. Once the batteries discharge to about 30% power, the Volt's engine kicks in.
Unlike other hybrids, the Volt's gas engine doesn't power the wheels through a transmission. Instead, it turns a generator that provides enough electricity to move the Volt and recharge its batteries simultaneously, providing another 600 miles of range in typical city driving. At night, the Volt can be plugged in, with a full recharge taking about 6 1/2 hours.
Because it's only turning a generator, the Volt's engine can be far smaller -- a turbocharged 1-liter, 3-cylinder in the concept -- and can be run at a constant speed for maximum efficiency. GM engineers say they've designed the E-Flex system so that it works with any power plant, whether it's a gasoline or diesel engine, a fuel cell or something else.
The major leap for the Volt concept comes from its batteries. To get enough energy, GM imagines using about 400 pounds of lithium-ion batteries, the same kind used in laptop computers and cell phones.
Improving battery technology has been one of the drivers behind a surge of interest in plug-in hybrids. GM said in November it was working on a separate project to create a plug-in version of its Saturn Vue hybrid, and DaimlerChrysler has a plug-in version of its Sprinter hybrid van in testing.
But modern lithium-ion batteries have several drawbacks. They run hot and must be closely monitored to prevent fires, especially in large numbers. They're expensive, more so than the nickel-hydride batteries in today's hybrids. And to make them last 100,000 miles, such batteries can't be completely discharged every day.
A California company, EDrive, has been testing a plug-in conversion kit for the Toyota Prius using lithium-ion batteries that would give it an electric-only range of about 30 miles in gentle driving, and up to 100 m.p.g. Cost: $10,000 to $12,000.
Another California firm, Tesla Motors, has 220 orders for a $100,000 all-electric roadster using some 6,831 lithium-ion battery cells just like those found in laptop batteries. While the Tesla roadster can travel 250 miles on a charge, the company also notes its batteries will lose capacity as they age; after five years and 50,000 miles, the batteries will have lost 30% of their energy capability.
GM engineers say they are working with battery suppliers to overcome the obstacles, but admit the challenges are severe. GM expects many of the battery issues could be solved by 2012, and executives note that like other production models from GM, the Volt and E-Flex system have dedicated engineers and staff.
"It's a significant task, but we don't think it's insurmountable," said Lutz. "We're making the bet the batteries will be available when product development is done."