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Chevy Volt
January 7, 2007 7:37 PM   Subscribe

The Chevy Volt, GM's new plug-in hybrid electric car. For a customer driving about 40 miles a day or about 15,000 miles a year, compared to a 30 mpg car, the Volt would save about 500 gallons of gasoline per year. If the car is charged every night, the driver should be able to achieve that mileage using virtually no gasoline. That same example would also save 4.4 metric tonnes of CO2 every year from each car. All it needs for mass production is a supplier for its untested lithium ion battery concept.
posted by Brian B. (68 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

 
I read about this earlier today and was excited to hear the news (especially after watching Who Killed The Electric Car last week and being furious).

The cool thing about the volt is that it's all electric, all the time, the only thing the gas engine is there to do is to charge up the motor, which is electric. So it's kind of like the opposite of a plug-in hybrid, sorta like a gas-in electric car.
posted by mathowie at 7:41 PM on January 7, 2007


Buy two while they're cheap.
posted by Balisong at 7:41 PM on January 7, 2007


All this CO2 savings is when recharged from nuclear, hydro or wind power?
posted by wilful at 7:42 PM on January 7, 2007


This would completely rock if it were true and even slightly affordable.
posted by adipocere at 7:47 PM on January 7, 2007


Following up on wilful's comment, it appears that it requires 6.5 hrs @ 110V to fully charge, and that charge lasts for 40 miles. How much fossil fuel is needed to provide that electricity, and what sort of "miles per gallon" equivalence is that?
posted by aberrant at 7:56 PM on January 7, 2007


All you need to read is this part:
The only thing that isn't quite real at this point is the timing. The hold-up is that darned battery. At this point no car-maker in the world has yet publicly committed to building a car powered by Li-ion batteries in any significant quantities... Regardless of the claims of battery makers, the technology to build an affordable battery that will last 100,000 miles, with minimal degradation of performance has yet to be demonstrated. GM is looking at a number of potential suppliers, but so far hasn't committed to any.
posted by furtive at 7:56 PM on January 7, 2007


The engine is a turbocharged, 1.0L three cylinder engine with 71 hp that has no mechanical connection to the wheels.

This seems to my undereducated mind to be key - there are significant losses in a standard drivetrain, and by coupling the power generation unit to the motors electrically you not only cut these losses way down but it also allows you to use engines that might operate very efficiently, but in a very narrow RPM range. This is how most railroads do it, and they're all about minimizing energy costs. From the first moment I heard about hybrid cars, I assumed that was what was going on until I read more about them.

So why did it take this long to try this on a car? Is the benefit not as big as I convinced myself it might be? Or maybe the engineering is tricky? Anybody know?
posted by Opposite George at 7:57 PM on January 7, 2007


aberrant: that entirely depends on where you live. In my province (Quebec) 97% of electricity comes from Hydro power, so for the most part the only real polution would come from the construction and maintenance of our electrical utility.
posted by furtive at 8:00 PM on January 7, 2007


All this CO2 savings is when recharged from nuclear, hydro or wind power?

My thought too. Most of the power in the US comes from coal-fired plants. I'm not sure trading less CO2 from cars for more SO2 from coal is such a great idea.

Becoming less dependent on petroleum is a good thing, but without finding ways to cleanly burn coal, the environmental benefit of plug-in hybrids will be limited.
posted by dw at 8:02 PM on January 7, 2007


What's the benefit of all this?

U.S. electricity comes mainly from coal, natural gas and nukes, all of which have environmental shortfalls. But even if you consider the life cycle of battery-electric car power versus gasoline power, the decrease in CO2 per mile is roughly 46 - 61 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

While power companies have their own environmental problems, there's value in the fact that hybrids decrease emissions where they drive, lessening the impact on smog-prone metropolitan areas.

Proponents also claim that electric cars operate at the equivalent of less than $1-per-gallon gasoline, though the results are far less clear when discussing vehicles in which gasoline supplements rather than replaces the electricity. Issues of distance driven per charge and the vehicle's gas mileage further complicate the calculations. While the amount is in question, there appears to be consensus among researchers that plug-in hybrids cost significantly less to operate, even when they get their charge from the public utility.

posted by Brian B. at 8:05 PM on January 7, 2007


All this CO2 savings is when recharged from nuclear, hydro or wind power?

Research shows that the electricity from coal-fired plants is cleaner (it's a regulated point-source polluter) than the same energy being burned up as oil by thousands of cars and their exhaust, mile for mile.
posted by mathowie at 8:06 PM on January 7, 2007


We need to realize that they don't have a battery for it And that they are hoping that maybe one day they will have one and then, maybe, maybe, they will put this out. It's a concept car. Like those "flying" cars of the 50's. Otherwise, this is just fluff PR that GM can put out to look good without having delivered anything, just as they've been doing for the past 40 years. I'll start paying attention when we get the breakthrough in batteries we so desperately need.
posted by jmhodges at 8:10 PM on January 7, 2007


Fuck. I meant:
"We need to realize that they don't have a battery for it. And that they are hoping that maybe one day they will have said battery and then, maybe, maybe, they will put this out. It's a concept car. Like those "flying" cars of the 50's. This is just fluff PR that GM can put out to look good without having delivered anything, just as they've been doing for the past 40 years. I'll start paying attention when we get the breakthrough in batteries we so desperately need."
posted by jmhodges at 8:11 PM on January 7, 2007


It's not a hybrid, it's an electric car.
posted by Kraftmatic Adjustable Cheese at 8:12 PM on January 7, 2007


Or what mathowie said in the very first post. I'll go away now.
posted by Kraftmatic Adjustable Cheese at 8:13 PM on January 7, 2007


Is it too hard to admit that funneling locomotion energy sources into the energy grid would raise pressure on energy plants to develop/implement cleaner coal technology?

Do people really believe that if the nation upgraded its power generation plants (and conveyance infrastructure) that profits would shrink so greatly?

As it stands, you can have the coal plants (upgrading furnaces but skirting environmental standards put into effect by that commie treehugger Nixon) blaming cars for polluting more than them, and big auto pointing at power plants as the bigger polluter. And in our world of eternal spin, two wrongs don't make a right, but a perceived greater wrong will deflect criticism of your own, lessening the impact.

and the 'experts', oh the experts...
posted by Busithoth at 8:16 PM on January 7, 2007


Yeah, it's "Auto Show" time here in Detroit, the big 3 -2 = Toyota are just ramping up the annual propaganda machine.

It will be interesting to see if Ovonics has a spot at the North American Auto Show this year.
posted by disclaimer at 8:20 PM on January 7, 2007


Fuck it, give it to me with ordinary lead-acid deep-cycle marine batteries then. They're heavy as fuck so the energy cost goes up a little but I'll still realize most of the savings, you can buy them anywhere, get them maintained ditto and the recycling infrastructure is ubiquitous.
posted by George_Spiggott at 8:20 PM on January 7, 2007


This is how most railroads do it, and they're all about minimizing energy costs.

Afraid not. The reason that diesel locomotives use electric drive is reliability. Big transmissions and clutches capable of handling that kind of power break too easily and wear out too rapidly.

Development of practical electric drives was part of what was needed to make diesel locomotives practical. Remember, diesel engines go back to the 19th Century, but they didn't start using them for the railroads until the 1940's.

There were some experiments with Diesel-mechanical locomotives but they just didn't work all that well. They couldn't be scaled up to high-power applications (i.e. running cross-country) and only could be used in switch-yards.

I'm skeptical about this idea of electric power produced from coal still releasing less CO2 per mile traveled than a gasoline-powered car, mostly because rechargeable batteries are terribly inefficient. A substantial portion of the charging energy is lost heating the battery.

And there's a non-trivial hurdle here: lithium batteries don't support all that many recharging cycles. You get maybe 300-500 and then the battery starts to seriously degrade. For vehicular use, that just isn't enough.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 8:23 PM on January 7, 2007 [1 favorite]


Right, I was just going to say that. And even if you don't run them through many charge cycles, Li-Ions don't last very long anyway... 2-3 years at most. Even if they're kept charged and cool the entire time.

Plus, lithium is really, really nasty stuff. Just super nasty. Lithium batteries are somewhat dangerous just in laptops. Putting them into a situation where they may smash into things at high speed and then be exposed to open flame strikes me as nearly suicidal.
posted by Malor at 8:31 PM on January 7, 2007


A substantial portion of the charging energy is lost heating the battery.

65-75 percent of the energy in a reciprocating piston engine is also discarded as heat, and that's under load. 100% of the energy is discarded when idling, braking and coasting.

But, y'know we've had this part of the conversation many times. So nobody's claiming it's free energy, or even an unequivocal win in all situations. But there's no question that there's a place for it in a transportion system that right now consists almost entirely of the least energy-efficient approach possible.
posted by George_Spiggott at 8:31 PM on January 7, 2007


If you were going to have an on-board combustion engine to spin an alternator to power the electric motors at the wheels, is a gasoline or diesel piston engine really the best? What about a boiler/steam turbine? I don't know the answer, but I'm curious. It would seem to me that you could control the combustion, and therefore the pollution, much more easily given constant, controlled burning.

In any case, are the losses in getting from fire to steam to electricity to turning wheels more or less than getting from fire to rotating a crank to gearbox to wheels? Again, I have no idea.

But an electric car which forsook batteries in exchange for what amounts to an on-board generator might be worth a look.
posted by maxwelton at 8:32 PM on January 7, 2007


Here is a wiki article on new development with lithium ion batteries.
posted by Brian B. at 8:42 PM on January 7, 2007


GM lied and still lies about the EV1. I have a hard time believing anything they say. They killed the EV1, and now that they are loosing money like crazy, they want to bring back a car thats not better than the EV1, or EV1 gas/electric hybrids or EV1 with newer batteries.

More info at Ev1 Controversy and rent Who killed the electric car? Catch the Trailer at Apple.

And 40MPG, screw that, get a VW TDI Diesel at 55MPG, for half the price.
posted by IronWolve at 8:43 PM on January 7, 2007


let's see if i have this straight - gm wants to build plugin hybrids and toyota is entering NASCAR?
posted by the painkiller at 8:43 PM on January 7, 2007


Relax folks, this FPP is about vaporware. You might see a "spruce goose" produced, a "proof of concept" prototype, but by then it'll be played down as obsolete because of the next Next Big Thing -- or "unnecessary" given the U.S. conquest of Iran.

And a 40 mile range on a 6.5 hour full charge? Sheesh, even in the "San Francisco Bay Area", of which Sacramento is now a part, a lot of commutes are 40 miles one way. What are ya gonna do, drive to work and plug right in to charge up for the ride home? If so, will your employers include the juice as a perk or make you pay like with health "benefits"?

Vaporware. Let me know when they mass produce an electric ornithopter that launches straight up like a Harrier, about the same size and price as a Honda Civic, that one can recharge while flying by pedalling a la Gilligan. (I'll let Quonsar buy one for me!)

The way to go is MASS TRANSIT. Dump the one-person ox-cart, at least to get to work.
posted by davy at 8:52 PM on January 7, 2007


At this point no car-maker in the world has yet publicly committed to building a car powered by Li-ion batteries in any significant quantities.

Because no car maker in the world is stupid enough. Not even GM.

Li-Ion batteries....

1) Cannot tolerate overcharge.

2) Cannot tolerate complete discharge.

3) Cannot tolerate temps over 75C, and really dislike temps over 35C.

4) Cannot tolerate temps below 0C for any length of time.

5) Loses 20% percent of their capacity per year, starting with the date of manufacture. This assumes, of course, that the batteries are charged properly and kept at a moderate temp. At full charge at 40C, the loss of capacity is 35% per year. At 60C, the loss is 40% every 90 days.

6) Really, really hate being crushed or punctured.

This is possible, barely, in a notebook, and if you screw up in the design, the notebook catches fire.

These specs are *impossible* for a car, unless you live in a spot where the weather is always 72F, you always remember to plug the car in when needed, oh, and you never ever get into an accident.

New electrode technology is helping with the biggest problem -- power draw and recharge. I've heard rumors that people are getting the graphite terminals out of the battery, this is a huge help in the "catch fire" problem.

But, right now? Any car maker who puts conventional Li-Ion packs into cars will be sued into oblivion -- and rightfully so. At best, they're going to fail very rapidly. At worst, they're going to kill quite a few people first.

There is an electrode that works -- lithium metal phosphate cathodes solve almost all of the problems that conventional (Cobalt Oxide) cathodes have. The rub? You lose 25% of the power capacity right off the bat, and you still have the capacity loss problems. At that point, you do what every automaker has done -- you give up and install NiMH batteries instead.

We are a long way -- at least ten years -- from a Lithium Ion battery that's safe to use in cars and can be produced in large enough quantities to be economic, and we're even further away from those being cheap.
posted by eriko at 8:52 PM on January 7, 2007 [5 favorites]


Wikpedia on GM's "failed" EV1 (not flattering to the car itself).
posted by Brian B. at 8:54 PM on January 7, 2007


Man, that low roofline: does it come with a periscope? At least it won't take long to scrape off the windows.
posted by cenoxo at 8:54 PM on January 7, 2007


The EV1 didn't fail, GM killed it.
posted by IronWolve at 8:59 PM on January 7, 2007


The reason that diesel locomotives use electric drive is reliability.

I'll give this one to you (it certainly isn't as clear-cut as I suggested - maintenance costs are a huge issue for railroads and were as big a factor as energy costs in the adoption of diesel over steam.)

According to Wikipedia (Yeah, I know...) diesel-hydraulic transmission is even more efficient but also runs into powerband issues. So though on first glance it seems to me like electric transmission would be a simple way to get around this, maybe not - I dunno. Come to think of it, you don't see any 18-wheelers with diesel-electric rigs - maybe it only starts to make sense for really high power applications, or maybe winding through gears isn't as costly, efficiency-wise, as I suspected.

I'm skeptical about this idea of electric power produced from coal still releasing less CO2 per mile traveled than a gasoline-powered car,

Yeah, I did kind of a Fermiesque analysis of this a while back using conservative assumptions and there seemed to be a slight energy and emissions advantage to the central power generation model, but it's nowhere near the no-brainer that most of the hype would have one believe. And tweaking a couple of the parameters tipped the balance the other way. Just going to electric cars isn't going to solve much for long if car usage continues to increase; we really need to offload as much generation as we can to friendlier power sources if we want to turn things around. On top of that, this society needs to reevaluate its dependence on the personal automobile.
posted by Opposite George at 9:13 PM on January 7, 2007


jmhodges writes:
It's a concept car. Like those "flying" cars of the 50's.
What flying cars of the '50s?
posted by Flunkie at 9:13 PM on January 7, 2007


What about a boiler/steam turbine?

Boilers work best in situations where load is nearly continuous. The problem is that it takes a long time to get a boiler up to operating temperature, so if you want to draw power from it intermittently with no significant latency, you have to keep it hot 100% of the time, with most of the energy being used for that being wasted.

Of course, if you're willing to use freon for your boiling fluid, all the calculations change...

Diesel or Otto engines are excellent for intermittent use because they can go from "off" to "producing power" in just a few seconds.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 9:17 PM on January 7, 2007


Really well said eriko. I very much like the idea of an engine doing nothing but recharging a battery, and I would hope one day that someone builds a car around the concept. But this prototype ain't it. And when and if they do build it, it's not going to be using Li-Ion, or at least not as we know it today.

An interesting intellectual exercise would be to look at all the different potential ways that a battery could be recharged in a car. As said above, steam might be interesting, but what about a turbine? Once you remove the mechanical linkage from the power generation device to the wheels, I'm sure there are lots of different systems that could be employed.

It's not unreasonable to believe that, after much testing, a gas powered motor might be the best choice, I mean we know the technology really well. But I would like to know that we had at least looked at alternatives.
posted by quin at 9:20 PM on January 7, 2007


All this CO2 savings is when recharged from nuclear, hydro or wind power?

Even if the electricity was pure coal or oil fueled, it'd still be a net CO2 savings because of a number of reasons - even when considering the "lost" power in transmission and power transformation.

When generating electricity at a massive, stationary generating plant, you're talking about huge economies of scale, and much higher efficiency ratios.

Generation plants don't have to move around, therefore they can employ more sophisticated (heavier, larger) exhaust scrubbing systems that a car could not efficiently carry around at any scale.

Traditional internal combustion engines (ICE) have to carry a lot of excess weight around to handle everything from sound poluttion to emissions controls to fuel-air mixture sensors and more.

Being able to ditch a lot of this mass by leaving at the electrical generation plant means more efficient transport, cleaner energy and better ratios of efficiency all around.

Ideally much or all of this electricity should be solar, wind or hydro - but in many energy markets you can do that right now by putting your money where your mouth is and buying (probably more costly) power from the numerous independent green/renewable energy companies that have begun to appear.


However, looking at the picture and acknowledging that this is indeed a potential Chevy product, I'm not holding my breath for second.

One of the things that I've thought about electric cars for a number of years is that for them to be truly successful they will probably need to change what our idea of a "car" or vehicle is, much like cars had to change our concepts of their eponysterical namesake - the carriage.

Early "cars" had "features" we'd consider outright stupid or insane in this day and age. Fake horses proceeding the car, steering bars with "reins" attached.

Likewise, there's a lot of legacy "features" we need to elimate from today's ICE vehicles to make electric cars work, and not all of these "features" are physical objects. Some of them are purely conceptual or perceptual - like how cars should look, or how they should feel or sound.

An easy, easy change would be to get over the American obsession with aesthetics in vehicles. Sure, 2,000 pounds of sculpted metal panels and fins looks fast, but we quickly found out this isn't true unless you back it up with 2,000 pounds of engine, or more.

Cars like the SMART car address this. The body is basically the frame, and it's very strong and safe. Plastic is used for door panels and other inserts, but the whole frame and body is essentially a lightweight one piece roll cage.


All told, the first truly efficient and affordable car will probably come from China. They're already making lots of electric utility vehicles, electric scooters, bikes, batteries, motors and everything to do with electric vehicles.
posted by loquacious at 9:21 PM on January 7, 2007


The EV1 didn't fail, GM killed it.

Yes, yes, we know about the movie.
posted by smackfu at 9:26 PM on January 7, 2007


GM EV1's for sale.

Rumor has it the 2008 Prius will get over 80mpg.
posted by stbalbach at 9:33 PM on January 7, 2007


Yes, yes, we know about the movie.

Its not a movie, its documentary based on facts. I remember watching the news and seeing the million dollar check offered to GM, and GM refused it. Then they reported "nobody wanted to buy the cars"... Sorry, GM lies.
posted by IronWolve at 9:33 PM on January 7, 2007


There are practical upper limits on how much power a straight mechanical drive, or a hydraulic drive, can handle. But electric drive is not seriously limited in that regard. Huge motors and huge generators are well-established technology. (Some motor-generators operate at gigawatt levels.)

Our nuclear submarines use electric drives. Steam from the reactor runs a turbine hooked to a generator, and electric power drives motors connected to the props.

Again, reliability is part of the reason, and another reason is that turbines have an even more constrained range of effective speeds than piston engines do. (They always have to run wicked fast if you want any kind of reasonable efficiency.)

Apparently the Queen Mary 2 uses diesel-electric drive.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 9:34 PM on January 7, 2007


GM EV1's for sale
The last EV1 was taken off the Smithsonian floor 6-2006, no longer on display, and it was crippled.

posted by IronWolve at 9:38 PM on January 7, 2007


GM EV1's for sale
They do come up for sale - don't see at the moment but last I checked a few months ago there were a couple. I think over 1,000 are floating around.
posted by stbalbach at 9:40 PM on January 7, 2007


mathowie writes "Research shows that the electricity from coal-fired plants is cleaner (it's a regulated point-source polluter) than the same energy being burned up as oil by thousands of cars and their exhaust, mile for mile."

Plus sequestering is possible and ideas like that C02 eating bacteria -> synthetic fuel are possible with a power plant, not so much with cars.

davy writes "And a 40 mile range on a 6.5 hour full charge? Sheesh, even in the 'San Francisco Bay Area', of which Sacramento is now a part, a lot of commutes are 40 miles one way. What are ya gonna do, drive to work and plug right in to charge up for the ride home? If so, will your employers include the juice as a perk or make you pay like with health 'benefits'?"

Not every car has to be everything to every person. A 40 hour commute would mean plugging in twice a week for me. Once a week if I used it to drive to the train station.
posted by Mitheral at 9:41 PM on January 7, 2007


ev1.org has some other news about the batteries and how GM fought to keep them off the market.
posted by IronWolve at 9:41 PM on January 7, 2007


Why not use a normal, tested battery?
posted by delmoi at 9:42 PM on January 7, 2007


The EV1 was never sold, so not sure how you can buy one.
posted by IronWolve at 9:42 PM on January 7, 2007


Regarding boilers, another point is that efficiency of a boiler scales as boilers get larger. That's because heat loss is a function of surface area and effective power generation is a function of volume.

Tiny boilers have dreadful efficiency because the surface-to-volume ratio is so high.

In the above discussion, I see some confusion in discussions of emissions from coal-fired generation plants. The problem is the word "pollution". Until recently, CO2 wasn't considered a pollutant. It's true that big coal-fired plants are generally pretty "clean", but what that means is that they don't emit a lot of sulfur oxides, or nitrogen oxides, or carbon monoxide. CO2 scrubbers are as yet only fever dreams by activists.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 9:44 PM on January 7, 2007


Gods, that is an *ugly* car. As much as I want an electric car, I'm too much of a Detroiter to drive something that silly looking.

Give me something cute, like the SMART roadster that Chrysler killed, or a Mini, something that has visibility and is electric, and I'll start checking the rates on auto loans, even if the battery isn't quite there yet.
posted by QIbHom at 9:47 PM on January 7, 2007


There seems to be some misconception about the range of the Volt. I got the impression that it was 40 miles on plug-in only, it has a recharging motor if needed on the freeway.

Also, the EV1 had experimented with many forms of engines for electric generation, including a gas turbine, as per the wiki link.

I will once again post the link to the advances in lithium ion batteries, which promise something of a return on the investment as they improve.

Steven, this.
posted by Brian B. at 10:04 PM on January 7, 2007


Flunkie: There were lots of concept cars created in the 50s, and showed at presentations just like this one, that were "designed" to fly. It was a very "look at what we will be able to do in the next 5-10 years", except this "5-10 years" kept moving back and back and back and back...

These "flying" concept cars suffered the same problems as this design: they were absolute vaporware. The "technology" they supposedly demonstrated was technology that was to be developed later. This "later" never came.

There is no battery in existence that can handle anything remotely necessary for a fully electric car. GM is confusing the issue by putting out cars that "will be made" when they don't have a clue has to how to make them.

Find me the magic battery existing right now that doesn't have the problems listed in others comments above, and I will eat my words. Otherwise, I will wait for something other than fluff.
posted by jmhodges at 10:28 PM on January 7, 2007


The EV1 was never sold, so not sure how you can buy one.

Sorry I was confusing GM's EV1 with Fords EV pick-up trucks which was also canceled still has a few around. Ref:Of the 4-5,000 electric cars built for California's ZEV mandate in the late 90s, only about 1,000 remain on the road. These occasionally come up for sale, mainly on the West Coast.
posted by stbalbach at 10:30 PM on January 7, 2007


Brian, it seems you're right, at least for the LA Class subs. There are two turbines, one for the prop and one which generates electric power for the sub.

I think they went with electric drive on the Virginia's, but I'm not sure of that and my google-fu isn't turning up the answers I want.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 10:34 PM on January 7, 2007


On the subject of the look of the car, I have to admit that it does hit the 'car guy' neurons in my brain, Mmm, big tires, big hood and low windows... nice. And I'll also be the first to admit that I've got an environment wrecking muscle car sitting in my garage, so I can appreciate what the designers were going for, but the thing is, form follows function. Chopped windows are cool to look at, but do they really make the car safer? The big hood is neat, but why not stick the engine and batteries in the back?

I get that it's a concept car and all bets are off, which is to say that the manufacture is trying to build a car people in the States would buy, but it doesn't need to be this wrong.

The Eastern markets have shown us that people in the States are more than willing to embrace a different style. Big windows and short hoods are the best things that Japanese cars have given us (OK, making front wheel drive common place is a good thing too).

I like the look of the Volt, but I'm also the first to say that, for what it is, I would prefer a more practical styling. I mean, for a guy who has moved about in everything from a Chrysler Cordoba to a Datsun 210, and I'll be the first here to defend smaller = better.
posted by quin at 11:04 PM on January 7, 2007


The best thing the Japanese automakers have given us, quin, is cars that work.
posted by Malor at 11:21 PM on January 7, 2007


Re: Flying cars. Listened to an entertaining talk by the author of this book on Saturday.
posted by maxwelton at 1:27 AM on January 8, 2007


davy writes "And a 40 mile range on a 6.5 hour full charge? Sheesh, even in the 'San Francisco Bay Area', of which Sacramento is now a part, a lot of commutes are 40 miles one way. What are ya gonna do, drive to work and plug right in to charge up for the ride home? If so, will your employers include the juice as a perk or make you pay like with health 'benefits'?"

The article does address this:

"However, when the fuel tank is filled to it's capacity of 12 US gallons of gas, the Volt has a range of 640 miles." (emphasis mine)

Did you miss this part? I feel like many others did as well.

Still, I'll believe it when I can buy it at my local dealer.
posted by splice at 3:08 AM on January 8, 2007


Why not use a normal, tested battery?

Because they aren't good enough to get the price, weight, and performance needed to make a car people will buy.

All this CO2 savings is when recharged from nuclear, hydro or wind power?

If the total output of pollutants is equivalent, it's still probably better to move the pollution out of the cities, where it can disperse rather than be breathed almost directly from tailpipes as it is today, and because it's easier to monitor and reduce waste and pollution in a single place than to do it in millions of vehicles.

Even if this car (and the next, and the next, ...) never makes it, it adds more to the general effort to find better cars: it increases the reward offered to the manufacturers of great batteries, it increases the number of jobs available to engineers interested in such problems, it improves the reputation of formerly dorky technology, etc. Someone eventually will make electric cars that convince tons of people to switch, and that will start to tip the industry away from dinosaur designs. Great battery technology could make, for example, pedal/electrical bicycles light, cheap, and popular -- electric for lazy uphill, pedal for the rest -- which could reduce pollution in ways the car companies don't intend (reduce car sales) and also reduce parking lots and drive ways and garages and traffic jams and obesity.

One thing I'm waiting to see: businesses offering a free or cheap electrical charge to customers while they're in the restaurant or shopping in the store. And employers will have charging outlets for all employee parking spots billed against employee paychecks. Eventually, gas stations become unprofitable and rare, and that makes gasoline-powered cars inconvenient, and so electrical vehicles take over.
posted by pracowity at 5:45 AM on January 8, 2007


I like the idea of a pure electric car with a 80-ish mile range (number pulled from my bum, but something that would cover most daily commutes) with an optional generator that can be hooked up as a trailer for longer drives and to recharge the car from traditional petroleum infrastructure. You could even rent the trailer if you only take longer trips once in a while, but it shouldn't cost more than a few thousand bucks to own.

Ditching the gasoline engine for daily driving would save a lot of weight -- maybe enough that lead-acid batteries would be viable.
posted by LordSludge at 6:51 AM on January 8, 2007


eriko: At this point no car-maker in the world has yet publicly committed to building a car powered by Li-ion batteries in any significant quantities.
Because no car maker in the world is stupid enough. Not even GM.


It appears that the 2008 Toyota Prius disagrees with you.
posted by jsonic at 6:57 AM on January 8, 2007



"However, when the fuel tank is filled to it's capacity of 12 US gallons of gas, the Volt has a range of 640 miles."

Did you miss this part? I feel like many others did as well.


Whoa... so, if I read this right, the first 40 miles of any trip you make is off of grid power, and then, after the initial charge on your batteries is exhausted, the gas motor kicks in and gets 50 MPG, as good or better than existing hybrids?

That's pretty kick-ass, if they ever manage to put these into production.
posted by Mayor West at 7:14 AM on January 8, 2007


Apparently the Queen Mary 2 uses diesel-electric drive.

I think a lot of cruise ships do, and many submarines as well -- it was reliable enough in the 1940s to get you all the way from Pearl Harbor to the Japanese Inland Sea and, hopefully, back again.
posted by pax digita at 7:30 AM on January 8, 2007


What this car could do, should it ever, you know, get made, is present its users with options. You could just run gasoline. You could charge it up at night from juice from your local grid. Or you could hook into the power you have stored from what your solar panels collected during the day.

I'm not sure how many Joules the battery would require for the 40 mile trip, but if it were something I could pull off, I'd consider putting up some photovoltaics just so I could drive around, completely off the grid.
posted by adipocere at 7:40 AM on January 8, 2007


From the article in yesterday's NYTimes, the car takes 8.5 seconds to reach 60 miles per hour. Sorry, but there is on freakin way I'm driving a car with such pathetic pick up.
posted by spicynuts at 7:42 AM on January 8, 2007


It appears that the 2008 Toyota Prius disagrees with you.

Tesla Motors definitely does.

The linked article also contains a very interesting analysis of the costs - in terms of carbon use - of electric vehicles versus gas/hybrid, fuel cell and CNG, including power generation and transmission. Hopefully enough put to bed some of the nay-saying here.

Tesla seems to be going to some fairly extreme (and currently expensive) lengths to mitigate the risks associated with Li-ion. The CEO, Martin Eberhard, describes some of these in more detail in the comments associated with this article (look towards the end.)
posted by pascal at 7:53 AM on January 8, 2007


BTW, I am just as skeptical about the vaporous nature of GM's announcement, it's just like the fuel cell concept they trotted out the last few years. Hell, GM is having a hard enough time doing internal combustion cars properly.
posted by pascal at 8:01 AM on January 8, 2007


Diesel is just the way to go. Instead of filling up the landfills with lead, iron and so many other exotic metals that we end living on toxic ground centuries from now, we just need to invest in diesel.

A one litre diesel engine (displacement) putting out a nominal 40kw can easily power a vehicle (of roughly 800kg) through a standard drivetrain and achive reasonable speeds. Moreover, fantastic fuel consumption follows. Using common rail injection with air pumps and you could easily see that vehicle getting 3-4l/100km (65-75 mpg). The vehicle would not be a speed demon but who cares?

Diesel emmissions also follow the power curve. That is to say, it only pollutes its worst when at the top of the curve, for which you don't use a deisel anyway. Add the latest in emmissions technology (ammonia injection catalysts) and the exaust will be twice as clean per litre/km driven than any gasoline powered car.

Diesel... Diesel... Diesel.....
posted by pezdacanuck at 10:07 AM on January 8, 2007


I have a twelve-mile round trip, now that I have to drop off and pick up the kids from day care every weekday. It's in LA, so public transit isn't an option (unless I want that 12 miles to last more than two hours total.)

Since I can't ditch the kids, I can't take a motorcycle or bicycle. A small car like this -- or better, Honda Fit-sized -- that had a range of 16 miles would be worth it to me, and I'd buy it, because I would never need to go to the gas station (except to run the motor once and a while to keep it lubricated and happy.)

I wonder how many people like me would need to exist for this to be profitable.
posted by davejay at 12:50 PM on January 8, 2007


Someone on public radio, after talking to GM people at the tradeshow, predicts it will be on the market in 3-4 years. By that time it may as well be a boat car to handle the panic of the melting ice caps.
posted by Brian B. at 12:57 PM on January 8, 2007


Make magazine had a feature once on guys who convert cars to electric. As I recall, you can do a conversion for about $6000. Start with a smallish car that's got a blown engine or transmission.
posted by neuron at 1:08 PM on January 8, 2007


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