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Message: GM
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posted on Oct 29, 2008 11:02AM

The Chevrolet Volt is scheduled to roll off the assembly lines in Hamtramck sometime in late 2010. The vehicle will be powered by onboard batteries and a 1.4 liter 4 cylinder engine that will kick on after the 40 mile range of the battery charge has run out. General Motors likes to refer to it as an “electric car” but in reality it is a hybrid gas-electric vehicle.

The vehicle should provide a long enough range on just the battery charge for an estimated 75 percent of American's to be able to make it to work and back on a single charge. Re-charging the batteries will only take an estimated 10 hours. It is very likely that many who purchase the Volt could go weeks on just battery power assuming they re-charge every night.

Some of the technological innovation that has gone into production of the EV1 is simply amazing:

  • Aluminum frame
  • Regenerative braking
  • Super-light magnesium wheels
  • Lowest co-efficient of drag on a production vehicle

Oops. Did I say the EV1?

I sure did.

The EV1 was an all-electric car built by GM in the late ‘90s that had a cult-like following and was the centerpiece of the film “Who Killed The Electric Car”. The innovative aspects of the EV1 that I listed above are just some of the reasons why the car was a breakthrough, and unfortunately, may have helped contribute to its demise.

The first generation of the EV1 had a range of 55 to 75 miles on a single charge, and by the time the third generation of nickel -metal hydride batteries were installed, the range was 75 to 150 miles. Keep in mind, this car was battery only, with no gas engine to increase the mileage. Also, the battery could be fully charged in only 8 hours, and could get an 80 percent of capacity charge in only 3 hours.

So, the Volt has worse “battery only” mileage than the now 10-year old EV1 technology, and takes longer to fully charge the batteries. So much for advancements.

I guess the curious part of this whole thing is the weight GM is putting behind the Volt. CEO Rick Wagoner has called the Volt “...the biggest step yet in our industry's move away from our historic, virtually complete reliance on petroleum to power vehicles." This is the same company that five years ago completely pulled the plug (pardon the pun) on the EV1, citing a lack of consumer interest in electric vehicles. Nevermind that GM would not sell the EV1 to consumers, it would only allow leases of the car. When word got out that production of the EV1 would end and leases couldn't be renewed, owners were willing to buy the cars from GM. This was denied, and all EV1's were rounded up and sent to the crusher. Perfectly fine, fully-operational electric vehicles scrapped for no apparent reason.

Did I forget to mention maintenance costs? With the EV1, it was virtually non-existent. No oil change, oil filters, spark plugs, etc. since there was no internal-combustion engine. This is one of the reasons why many feel GM quickly abandoned the car, they couldn't make any money on the upkeep, eliminating a very lucrative revenue stream for the company.

It is sad to think what could have been with the EV1 had GM dedicated time to see how far they could have pushed technology in the last 10 years. Battery advancement has grown, new composite materials are available for further weight reduction, and consumer demand for electric vehicles seemingly just peaked when gas went over $4 a gallon.

Instead, we are now offered a vehicle with worse mileage, longer charge times, still reliant on gas to travel further than 40 miles, and presumably higher maintenance costs. Given the popularity of the Toyota Prius for its high gas mileage, had GM been selling EV1s for the past few years instead of killing it off, they probably could have sold as many as the produced, and not only been leading the electric vehicle movement, but also improved it's own financial stability along the way.

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