Sunday, January 7, 2007

Chevy Volt & Ford Airstream: The Plug-in that Could Be & the Plug-in that Couldn't Possibly

Amidst the well-deserved hoopla about GM's plug-in serial hybrid Chevy Volt, Ford is touting its own equally ugly plug-in hybrid concept car. GM's vehicle is eminently buildable today, as it relies on two energy sources that are available: grid electricity and gasoline. Ford makes no pretense of its intention not to produce its car. In place of a small gasoline generator, it relies on a hydrogen fuel cell to generate the electricity once the grid-charged Lithium batteries are depleted.

Inspired by the classic Airstream, no one will expect to see anything like this anytime soon. Classic concept car fare. Given the fuel economy stats presented in Ford's press release, 41mpg equivalent, no one would want one anyway. (Not to mention the cost and unavailability of hydrogen.) The achievement, it must be said, is that somehow, even with grid-supplied electricity, the result is such pathetic fuel economy.

There is one important point to note in Ford's prototype. To the extent the industry's fuel cell project is real, it is coming to depend upon the much maligned battery to save its ass. Ford's announcement explicitly states that the fuel cell merely supplies additional electricity to the batteries that actually power the electric motor that drives the car. Honda's FCX also relies on an unspecified amount of battery power to make the car viable. Ford has interestingly chosen to ride the plug-in hybrid wave with the Airstream announcement. Perhaps a year ago this might have been touted as a hydrogen fuel cell concept car. Honda may yet stick a plug on its FCX. The times they are a changin'.