An automobile revolution… or the next Studebaker?

This photo is the CONCEPT VOLT, NOT the one to be revealed this week.

This week General Motors unveils the much hyped, much anticipated Chevrolet Volt. It is GM’s first real electric car (Yes I know about the EV 1 – this is different).

Unlike the hybrids we see from other companies, and even the Honda Insight, what makes the Volt different is this: GM, is, for all intents and purposes, betting its’ entire future on the Volt.

What makes the Volt different technically?

A few things. First, it is known as a series hybrid. What that means is that the engine that drives the driveshaft is exclusively electric.

In the popular hybrid cars, the electric motor is used to supplement the gas engine. Principally by powering the car during stop and go periods, or periods of maximum inefficiency of the internal combustion engine. The traditional engine is used during highway driving and also to generate additional power to recharge the batteries.

In the Volt, the gas engine is used exclusively to generate reserve power for the batteries. The Volt will also be able to be plugged in.

So what’s the problem? Well it starts with the design. The car that was seen at the auto shows, and ballyhood by GM is not the one that will be hitting the showrooms. That car was cutting edge. Almost like the new Cadillacs with oversize wheels. It was futuristic and, frankly, hot. Particularly compared to GM’s vanilla offerings up and down the line.

The new one looks like another Saturn, or a really nice Malibu. So, will it sell?

Next is the battery technology. The Volt uses lithium ion batteries. The same kind of batteries that are used in your laptop. And as you know from those applications, their storage capacity is not great.
All other hybrids on the road use nickel metal hydride batteries. These are heavier, but have passed the actual test of being road worthy with the Prius being in it’s 10th year of production.

What is most interesting here is a company the size of GM betting their future on this technology and this car. They have projected sales of 60,000 vehicles a year.

Critics say it will never sell more than a few thousand.

If it works, it will be the auto revolution we’ve been waiting for…

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