Mar 12, 2007 (From the CalCars-News archive)
We've just posted our long report on this event...maybe Edmunds' Consumer Editor Philip Reed (who has written several times about PHEVs -- search for Edmunds in the CalCars-News Archive) said it better and shorter!
Well folks, the great plug-in hybrid race is heating up.
The phrase, the "plug-in hybrid race" was coined by Felix Kramer of CalCars.org. When Kramer used that term, maybe two weeks into January, he was referring to GM's announcement to build the Saturn VUE plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) and the Chevrolet Volt. But soon thereafter Toyota joined the race and now Honda is reportedly jumping into the running.
This morning we had an opportunity to hear from GM's PHEV team and get a status report on battery development. It was very cool to be welcomed into the inner sactum but there weren't a lot of hard answers. It all kept coming back to the old conversation stopper: battery technology.
Battery technology is the great answer deflector. Here's how it works:
General Public: Gee whiz! When will these cool cars that get over 100 mpg and don't release greenhouse gases be available for me to buy?!
Big Auto: Well, it all comes down to battery technology. You see, plug-ins require lithium ion batteries and they aren't fully up to speed yet. They're close and we're working hard but there are lots of things to take into consideration when you mass produce them. And furthermore blah blah blah...
General Public: Oh okay. Whatever. I thought something was actually going to happen.
While we certainly learned a lot about what GM is doing, and we learned that this is getting high priority, we didn't get any closer to finding out when production will begin on PHEVs.
GM VP Beth Lowery kicked off the meeting by saying that we need "energy diversity" and "GM needs to be part of the solution." She said that GM offers more cars that get 30 mpg on the highway than any other manufacturer. She was backed up by a number of speakers in various areas of development and production. Listening to them, I thought, "Yeah, there really is a lot to this and I need to be fair to GM."
But then a number of journalists raised some interesting questions:
Tesla Motors is already in production with a fully electric car using lithium ion batteries. A second Telsa car, at a more affordable price, will come out soon. If they can do it, why is GM still in the research phase?
Why can't GM release a PHEV with a lower warranty than the proposed one of 150,000 miles/10 years? Why not warranty the battery for 75,000 miles and get some of these cars on the road?
Advocates such as CalCars.org have already modified hybrids for plug-in hybrids and logged tens of thousands of miles. Where are the GM prototypes?
Finally, one of the journalists raised the specter of Toyota outpacing GM. I wish one of the GM execs had said, "Look, there's no way that's gonna happen. We're going to win this one." Unfortunately, the answer was not overwhelmingly confident.
GM, we're rooting for you on this one. You have the technology. You have good people. You're in motion. Please, please, please give U.S. drivers something the cheer about. And more importantly, give them something to buy.