Thursday, November 12, 2009

GM's Greener Vehicles

GM was once comprised of America ’s best-known and best-selling automotive brands. Now GM is banking its future on Chevrolet's Volt. The Volt was originally unveiled as a concept car at the 2007 North American International Auto Show in Detroit. The Volt is a revolutionary product that is scheduled to start production in late 2010.

The Volt is a mid-sized car with a very aerodynamic front end and high rear decklid. Other futuristic design elements include LED fog lights, black expanse beneath the windows and Volt badging attached to the sideview mirrors.

Litium-ion batteries are key to GM's strategy for building the Volt. The company will be the first to establish a lithium-ion battery pack manufacturing facility in the US, operated by a major automaker.

The Volt can travel up to 40 miles (60km) powered only by electricity stored in its 16-kWh, lithium-ion battery. The gasoline/E85-powered engine generator provides electricity to power the Volt's electric drive unit and this radically extends its overall range.

According to US Department of Transportation data, nearly 8 of 10 Americans commute fewer than 40 miles a day. At the US average cost of electricity (approximately 11 cents per kWh), a typical Volt driver would pay about $2.75 for electricity to travel 100 miles, or less than 3 cents per mile.

“From the data we’ve seen, many Chevy Volt drivers may be able to be in pure electric mode on a daily basis without having to use any gas,” said GM Chief Executive Officer Fritz Henderson. “EPA labels are a yardstick for customers to compare the fuel efficiency of vehicles. So, a vehicle like the Volt that achieves a composite triple-digit fuel economy is a game-changer.”

The Chevrolet Volt uses grid electricity as its primary source of energy to propel the car. There are two modes of operation: Electric and Extended-Range. In electric mode, the Volt will not use gasoline or produce emissions.

When the battery reaches a minimum state of charge, the Volt automatically switches to Extended-Range mode. In this secondary mode of operation, an engine-generator produces electricity to power the vehicle. The energy stored in the battery supplements the engine-generator when additional power is needed during heavy accelerations or on steep inclines.

The Volt is expected to cost more than $40 000, almost twice the price of the 2010 Toyota Prius which starts at $22,750. In the purely electric mode, the Prius has a 90km radius on a single charge compared to the Volt's 60km range. However, in hybrid mode the Volt offers more than four times the efficiency of the industry leading Prius. The Volt can achieve city fuel economy of at least 230 miles per gallon (mpg) compared to Prius' rating of 51 mpg.

“The 230 city mpg number is a great indication of the capabilities of the Volt’s electric propulsion system and its ability to displace gasoline,” said Frank Weber, global vehicle line executive for the Volt.

Over the course of 2009 GM has consistently been on top of American auto sales. GM posted its first year over year monthly sales gain in 21 months, selling 177,603 vehicles last month, up 5.3 percent from October 2008.

Chevrolet is making a valiant attempt to stake a claim in the green automotive market. The flagship Volt will be the first mass produced vehicle to claim more than 100 mpg composite fuel economy. GM's current fleet of hybrids includes four models from Chevrolet (Silverado, Malibu, Tahoe, Sierra), Cadillac Escalade, GMC Yukon and the late Saturn's Vue and Aura.

With the help of the Volt, GM is seeking to reinvent itself and become one of the fastest growing brands in the world. Although the Volt has an extraordinary range, the most important test will come in the marketplace. Will customers see value or will the price prove prohibitive?
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NEXT: Government Investment in Greener Vehicles / Electric Vehicle Beneficiaries of US Government Investment

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