Sunday, August 15, 2010

It's Electric!...

But it only goes 40 miles on a charge and costs more than a Prius!

I've been sitting on this topic for a few weeks because I've been trying to ponder all of the angles and provide as fair an assessment as possible.

Chevy recently unveiled the Volt and it was touted by our president as groundbreaking and so on. Well, I hate to say he's wrong, but he's wrong.

First off, GM has been talking about the Volt for several years now. As I recall, it was supposed to have hit production a few years ago, but they hit some technological snags. Now, they present it as such a wonderful breakthrough and herald it as an eco-vehicle.
Well...It's not.

Let's start with the range. 40 miles, extended by a gas generator if necessary. That 40 miles is achieved by plugging in the car to a power outlet, where the power most likely comes from a coal fired power plant. Yeah, that's "eco-friendly" alright. Now, if it were powered by a nuclear plant, I'd easily concede that point, but with the current view of nuclear power by the current regime in Washington, that's not likely to happen.

The range on the electrical charge is about the same or perhaps a bit better than most of the completely electric vehicles from China.

Take the "Zap Xebra" for example. It gets 25 mpc (miles per charge) stock, which, if I remember correctly, can be extended to about 40 mpc with an optional expansion battery pack. The Xebra lacks a gas engine and only has three wheels, which are two of its biggest drawbacks. It qualifies as a motorcycle due to its wheel configuration, requiring the operator to obtain a motorcycle license. On the other hand, at $11,000, it's far less expensive than the Volt, and for someone who will use it for short commutes, it may be a far more attractive option (despite the country of origin and the inferior fit and finish that usually entails).

That takes us to the second issue with the Volt; its price. At over 40 grand, the only vehicle that Chevy currently makes that costs more is the 'Vette. The average American, struggling to break even in our current economy (raises hand), can't pay that much for a new car. The price relegates the Volt to "Fashion accessory" status for the elite who want to tout how "green" they are. This is as hypocritical as those who drive a Prius for the same reason. Even if they run the vehicle solely on battery power without ever hitting the gas generator, they still have to plug it in, which (as mentioned) probably uses coal power, which adds pollutants to the air, endangers the lives of coal miners, and so on. Then there's the question of what to do with the battery once it is no longer viable for recharging (which will happen eventually). The toxins in the battery will need to be disposed of and could be ecologically damaging (the biggest issue I have with the Prius).

It seems I rolled my third point into the second. In any case, I want electric vehicles to succeed. I want to see the U.S. move to clean, sustainable, constant power options (read clean nuclear). The problem is, the current electric vehicle market just doesn't measure up. Other than the Tesla Roadster, none of the electric vehicles that are currently available have anything resembling a respectable range. Not only that, but electric vehicles have yet to solve the problems of affordability for the masses and being truly environmentally friendly.

I hate to say it, but until something better comes along, the internal combustion engine is here to stay.

Whatever happened to Hydrogen Fuel cells?

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