Like many journalists and enthusiasts, I applaud GM’s renewed efforts in the electric car arena. Unlike the rest of the world, it seems, I’m not impressed.
Let’s get something straight here – the Chevy Volt concept released at the Detroit International Auto Show is no different than if I brought my 1960 Triumph TR3 to the stage and called it the next electric car. The Volt had no engine – so it was simply a design concept, not an engineering one. In marketing, we call this vaporware.
To be fair, GM has more resources to make its Volt a reality than I do for turning the TR from gas to electric powered. (My god, could you fathom an electric vehicle with Lucas parts? You probably would need an extra fire insurance policy.) We know GM has been down this road before with the EV1, as eloquently told in the movie “Who Killed the Electric Car.”
But when asked about the car, GM brass indicates the only thing standing in the way of making this a reality is substantially better “battery technology.”
For those not familiar with the 100-plus year history of electric cars, sales have always hinged on battery technology. Whether it’s plug-in technology, hybrid or otherwise, batteries have been the sole reason the electric cars haven’t achieved any substantial market dominance (at least since Cadillac debuted its self-starter, so people no longer were required to hand-crank gas-powered cars.)
In the last century there have been many improvements in battery technology, but none that were enough to overcome the inherent range issues. And just in case you thought that regenerative braking or other hybrid technologies change the issue – Ferdinand Porsche invented the first gas-electric hybrid in 1901.
Trying to change its image after the EV1 and falling behind Toyota and Honda in alternative-energy vehicles, it’s possible GM will put enough brains on the project to find a true groundbreaking battery technology. I’m not holding my breath, though…especially given the predicted short-term decline in cost of gas. The trouble is that like Americans, GM has a tendency to have a short memory. We could just as well see the Volt concept die on the vine, replaced by another performance halo or short-lifespan crossover SUV.