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Green energy

GM fights to get green with upcoming electric car, "Volt"

Monday, January 08, 2007 by: Ben Kage
Tags: green energy, electric cars, General Motors

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(NewsTarget) Following in the wake of heavy criticism for abandoning the EV1 electric car, faltering auto giant General Motors Corp. has unveiled their latest offering to the clean car market, their new "Volt" concept car.

The Chevrolet Volt was introduced on Jan. 7 at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, and is designed to obtain enough power from its next-generation battery pack to run for 40 miles. According to GM, the average American driver only travels about 40 miles a day, so the Volt can save about 500 gallons of gasoline a year.

"For most drivers, the Volt will use little or no gasoline," said GM chief engineer Nick Zielinski.

The company was highly criticized for ending its EV1 electric car program in 2003, with some accusing the company of sabotaging its own project by supplying a limited number of the vehicles and refusing to sell them to leasers. GM claims that it refused to sell the vehicles because it would be unable to ensure the safety and life of the vehicle after parts makers stopped supplying components. The story of the EV1 was chronicled in last year's documentary film "Who Killed the Electric Car?" GM reports that the Volt will be superior to the deserted EV1 in a number of ways, including smaller batteries, more passenger room, faster battery charging, and higher top speeds on the highway.

"We have a thoroughly studied concept, but further battery development will define the critical path to start of production," said GM Vice President for Product Development Jon Lauckner. The Volt should be ready for production when its lithium-ion batteries are, which should be two to three years, he said.

Battery technology is a primary concern for automakers that build gasoline-electric hybrids, cars with engines that can run on both gasoline and a battery. Unlike most hybrids, the Volt will run on a lithium-ion battery, which can hold a charge longer than the standard nickel-metal-hydride batteries. Additionally, the Volt's gasoline engine will only be used to recharge the battery.

Lithium-ion batteries have been largely ignored by automakers because their use in consumer electronics have shown them to be prone to overheating, but GM plans to use them in its hybrid versions of the Saturn Vue, Saturn Aura and Chevrolet Malibu, as well as its Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra trucks.

General Motors has been the world's No. 1 automaker for the last 80 years, but Toyota Motor Corp. is expected to exceed GMs production later this year. The Volt may be GM's last chance to pull itself out of its financial mire brought on by stock market decline and rising health care costs. The company's decision to cut 34,000 jobs and close 12 plants last year provided it with around $9 billion, some of which it has invested in the Volt's development.

The company also hopes the vehicle's release will help pry GM's name away from the gas-guzzling, emissions-spewing SUVs it is famous for and bring it closer to the environmentally friendly vehicle market, which is currently dominated by Toyota hybrids.

While GM is hoping the Volt will be enough to overtake Toyota's products, it is also hedging its bets with plug-in hybrids -- gasoline-electric vehicles that can be recharged at a standard electrical outlet -- according to a speech by Chief Executive Rick Wagoner given in November.


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