Sunday, April 22, 2007

Volt, Re-Volt, No Volt - Will CARB Revolt?

In January GM announced the Volt, a smart idea that makes use of the two existing primary energy infrastructures - the electric grid and gasoline stations. With NiMH batteries - those that provide energy to every hybrid on the road and thousands of all-electric cars - the Volt plug-in hybrid could go into production today. Instead, GM says the batteries must be Lithium and must take the car 40 miles before the engine comes on. An arbitrary decision that merely delays even simple proof of concept, to say nothing of initial commercialization. And calls into question just how serious GM is about plug-in cars. Lutz says GM hopes to have one working car by year's end.

As it struggles to get even one car on the road, GM is in Shanghai spinning the future, as reported in the Detroit News.
Although General Motors Corp.'s much anticipated plug-in hybrid Chevrolet Volt is still years away, the automaker is already planning a sequel -- a hydrogen-powered version.
Sharon Terlep's story doesn't mention it, but in the hydrogen Volt GM has made another arbitrary decision, as announced on GM's Volt blog. The Lithium battery only needs to provide 20 miles, with the H2 fuel cell providing the bulk of the desired 300 mile range. In the videotaped interview with auto bloggers, Lutz suggested this E-Flex H2 configuration would lessen the need for hydrogen enough to consider interchangeable propane-like cannisters of hydrogen.

I want GM to make the Volt as much as the next guy, but there's only so much bullshit one can swallow. In January GM announced an eminently practical vehicle that could quickly offer consumers a way to tap into the cleaner, cheaper, domestic electric grid for most of their driving needs. With every succeeding announcement, the Volt recedes into the future. Only government incentives and mandates for production can take the Volt, or a plug-in Prius for that matter, from green spin to showrooms.

My Toyota RAV4 EV was only produced because of the California Zero Emission Vehicle Mandate, and every day it proves electric cars are viable now. There is probably no single greater step one could personally take to reduce carbon emissions, smog, and our petroleum dependence than switching to a plug-in hybrid or an electric car. But the automakers just won't make them without mandates. Often, especially with cars, it takes a law.

We can't afford to debate why they refuse to build electric cars for the next one hundred years of global warming and oil wars and wait until a hydrogen fuel cell car drops from $1 million to the cost of an electric car today. The fact remains they've already built battery electric cars. They work and we ought to have the choice to purchase them. Had the automakers not destroyed thousands just a few years ago more would be on the road today. The California Air Resources Board acquiesced in the crushing of all those electric cars and turned its back on its own success. Thousands of useful and desired electric cars on the road were replaced by the impossible dream of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. The staff report released Friday suggests they haven't learned from their mistake. As CARB considers revising the Zero Emission Vehicle Program, it needs to hear over the next month from consumers who want plug-in cars. Write CARB. It is within their power to get plug-in cars back into production.