Hello, my name is Bart, and I’m a cynic. I’ve had this streak in me for a long time. Part of it is due to my Scandinavian mindset (prepare for the worst, and be mildly surprised when it doesn’t occur), part of it is due to my study of economics and politics, and the vast majority of it is due to being a fan of Minnesotan football teams. After you’ve been let down as often as I have, you tend to take other people’s claims and promises with a grain of salt.
There’s been a lot of blog posts over at Groovy Green concering GM’s unveiling of their new Volt concept car. Steve Balogh was invited to the unveiling event, and he’s posted several balanced notes concerning the event while taking a few days to let everything settle before posting a final verdict on the car. The comments on Steve’s posts have been in support of GM and their new car. It’s a bold move technically on GM’s part, but I can’t get that enthused about it.
The Volt looks sharp, and from the sounds of it uses a lot of cutting-edge technology in the battery power-only engine and utilizes advanced plastics to reduce the overall weight of the car to increase fuel economy. There are some open questions, though:
- Does GM really expect battery technology to advance that much in 3 years when it’s been unable to make any quantum improvements over the last decade or more? There are improvements being made all the time, but I would wonder about how long the batteries would last. The cost to replace the battery would not be inconsequential I’d think.
- Assuming GM does get the Volt out in 3-5 years’ time, they would start out as a very small percentage of the United States car fleet. How would a lightweight vehicle like the Volt stand up to a crash with a full-size SUV or truck, let alone a larger vehicle?
- What kind of power would you get out of the engine? Horsepower and torque are still important selling points for a large segment of the car-buying public. How long would it take for the electric technology to mature to the point it could be used to power load-hauling vehicles versus small commuter or family cars?
- What kind of price premium would such a car command, and therefore how economically viable would it be? Gasoline will still be relatively cheap in the next 5 years time assuming the world economy doesn’t go to hell due to a financial meltdown and/or regional war in the Middle East. Even if gas costs $5-7 USD per gallon, most Americans would pay it, and those that couldn’t probably won’t be in a position to buy an electric vehicle instead.
To me, the main thing the Volt unveiling brings is hope.
It brings hope to the automotive business that they can continue to crank out more cars and keep profits growing. More companies will embrace green products and solutions as they become more profitable. After getting their lunch fed to them by Toyota and Honda both in the hybrid market and in general, GM and the other Detroit automakers need to do something bold to try and maintain relevance. The Volt seems to be one possible tactic in this larger strategy, while at the same time GM is also pimping a new Chevy Camaro convertible. I would love to see all of the carmakers embrace new technologies that save energy and the environment; I just think that this is more of a survival mechanism that any form of social/environmental stewardship on the big threes’ part.
The Volt also brings hope for people that our current way of life can continue that much longer without us having to make the hard choices about how and where we choose to live. Oil getting too expensive? Who cares! Just get into a battery-powered car and keep on consuming! I realize that we will need to depend on automotive transportation for a long time to come no matter what. I’m just disappointed that more communities aren’t looking more at mass transit and zoning solutions to the problems posed by suburban development. This appears to me to be another plug-and-play solution from big business, where we simply replace our gas-powered cars for electricity-powered ones, kicking the larger problems posed by our current living arrangements farther down the line where they will only continue to exacerbate.
There’s been a lot of positive vibes put out due to GM’s announcement about the Volt. I’m embracing my glass-half-empty side, though, and don’t share a whole lot of excitement about it. Yes, it’s a technical marvel even if all of the bugs aren’t ironed out yet. It still represents a way to keep the globalized corporate/capitalistic way of life going, and has little to do with moving to a more sustainable way of life. It’s not like we should count on big business to have anything beyond their own self-interest in mind anyway, since that’s the nature of the corporate beast.
This isn’t a popular viewpoint, I’m sure. I’ve donned my flame-proof suit. Discuss, debate and rip away.