Should GM really produce the Chevy Volt?

Post ImageBack in November I saw the documentary Who killed the electric car? and I remember being less than impressed, as my comments at the time confirm:

The movie could have been better. It felt like an extended commercial, and the people involved seemed like fanatical environmentalists. Oh, and when they realized they couldn’t answer the question properly, they just blamed everyone.

Essentially the filmmakers didn’t present a very strong case for why, exactly, electric cars should rule the roads. They seemed ticked at GM more than anything. According to a post over at Engadget today, GM is dabbling in electric cars once again, this time with the Chevy Volt:

Those of you as taken with GM’s Chevy Volt concept vehicle as we are may want to take a minute to reconsider any impending car purchases, as the car is now officially headed into production — in two different versions no less. According to Autoblog, that could put the car on track for a roll out in 2010, although GM isn’t quite ready to get that specific.

Apparently there will be a plug-in gasoline model, and a fuel cell model (though the latter will be too expensive for mass production). The plug-in model should deliver a gasoline savings of 500 gallons per year on average.

Do we really want plug-in automobiles though? Sure they result in some gasoline (and emissions) savings from the cars themselves, but what about on balance? Over 70% of the electricity generated in the United States comes from fossil fuels. With that in mind, plugging a car in is a lot like filling it with gas. The environment doesn’t really benefit. It might have more of an impact in Canada, where just 28% of our electricity comes from fossil fuels, but most of the Volts will be sold in the US.

Another thing to consider is the return on investment. GM claims they are willing to lose money on the Volt initially, but I’ll believe it when I see it. Besides, losing money on something doesn’t mean it’s cheap – just look at the PlayStation 3. Consumers will ask this question: will the price premium of the Volt be recouped in gasoline savings before the car is discarded? In most cases, I bet the answer will be no.

The last thing I’ll mention here is technology. New car technologies will not rule the industry for decades like the combustion engine has. What happens if someone perfects the fuel cell a few years after the Volt is produced? So long Chevy Volt, that’s what. This is another big reason that cars like the Volt need to be inexpensive. Otherwise, justifying their purchase is difficult at best.

I’m not sure plug-in cars like the Chevy Volt are a good thing at all. In the best case scenario, consumers love them, GM sells a lot of them, they last for more than ten years, and they really do have a positive impact on the environment. I think that’s really unlikely though. The more probable scenario is that only GM wins by charging a premium for the Volt. Consumers pay more to get a car with a short lifespan, and little to no positive effect on the environment.

Read: Engadget

5 thoughts on “Should GM really produce the Chevy Volt?

  1. there’s a lot of people who gravitate towards the electric car mainly because of the whole ‘out of sight, out of mind’ thing. If my car doesn’t smell like exhaust and I don’t have to fill it up with gas, then it must not be harming the environment. Now I don’t know enough about power generation in power plants to answer the question of whether or not it’s actually beneficial for an electric car, but all it is, is simple transference.

    After all, if your electric car is taking up more juice in the end (despite coming from outlet) compared to an internal combustion engine, well, yeah. I think the other thing is that these cars tend to have more…energy saving/efficiency bumping technology put in than your standard Sunfire or Civic.

  2. I agree Mack. Put the added effort that is needed to develop something like the Volt into the current cars to make them more efficient. The cost to the consumer will be a lot less and the end result to the environment will be at least equal or better.

  3. there’s only so much new technology you can put into gas cars. For example, one of the biggest things with hybrids and electric cars is that when you brake, some of that momentum is transferred back into charging the battery which plays a part in driving the car. Now the question is, without an electric motor, the same technology becomes useless.

    For things like more efficient combustion and whatnot, yep given the amount of pressure the automotive industry is under, you bet they’re implementing it.

  4. GM should definitely produce the Volt. It is more efficient to produce electricity at a power plant and charge an electric vehicle than it is to distribute gasoline to internal combustion engine vehicles and burn gasoline directly. It is easier to control waste at central points (i.e. power plants) than millions of smaller sources (i.e. ICE vehicles) Another argument for electric vehicles is that they will become cleaner as our power sources become cleaner. This means that as electric cars become more prolific, they will actually have an increasing benefit on the environment by allowing transportation to move from oil to cleaner energy sources.

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