Posted by: David Kiley on May 21, 2007
So, I heard General Motors’ Bob Lutz on National Public Radio’s “Wait. Wait Don’t Tell Me” this past Saturday.
The GM product boss said the vehicle he is most excited about, and the one he thinks will be the most significant for GM, is the Chevy Volt.
The Volt is the plug-in hybrid car GM showed at last January’s Detroit Auto Show.
The Volt, provided GM can get the lithium battery right, will go about 40 miles on an electric charge. At that point, the internal combustion engine kicks in and recharges the battery while you are driving. Imagine using your laptop computer on a battery. It runs down. You plug it in, and continue working. While you are working, the battery is also recharging. Apply that principal to cars, and that pretty much explains the Volt.
Given the fact that the car is not expected to sacrifice much in performance, and that is scalable to small cars, mid-sized cars and crossovers, no wonder Lutz is geeked about the Volt. Even he recognizes that the Volt will make historians forget about the (in my opin ion) entirely forgettable Dodge Viper he concocted at Chrysler, as well as the 1000 horsepower Cadillac Sixteen concept car of a few years ago. The Volt will even make people forget that it was Lutz who gave us the Pontiac Solstice and Saturn Sky. Good, sexy cars and a great price. But the Volt could be in a class by itself.
Yes, the Volt should be Lutz’s legacy. I know the Volt isn’t here yet. But I can’t help thinking that this technology will make the current crop of hybrids like the Toyota Prius and Ford Escape look like Ford Excursions. Estimates vary. But given the fact that something like 75% of driving in the U.S. is made up of short trips well under ten miles round-trip, a growing fleet of vehicles that can do that on battery power instead of gasoline is a huge game-changer. No. Make that a world changer. The technology would create viable vehicles that get the equivalent of more than 100 miles per gallon of gasoline.
It pretty much relegates GM’s EV1, Th!ink and today’s hybrids into the alternative power-train museum.
Volt technology, combined with reforms at power plants (cleaner coal technology and more nukes to generate electricity) to provide the electricity represents a greener cleaner U.S. It’s hopeful to think that if the U.S. was marching in the direction, it would give America a lot of stick to go to developing countries like India and China and say…”We figured it out…this is the technology we all should be investing in to save the planet. Let us help you adopt it before you go hog wild on dirty coal plants and gas stations.”
Toyota execs say that when the lithium battery technology is ready, they are ready to put it into every hybrid vehicle they have. So, does that make GM less than a leader in this technology. I would argue that since GM was the first one to bring out a concept and commit to a plan to bring it to market that GM deserves the same PR boost from that as Toyota has achieved with hybrids. The only way GM loses this opportunity is if Toyota manages to beat the Volt to market with its own plug-in that delivers on GM’s promise before GM does.