Ford and General Motors, the two embattled giants of the US car industry, Ford and General Motors have both unveiled plans for electric cars to try to maintain their position in an increasingly competitive market.
GM, the world’s biggest car maker, unveiled the Chevrolet Volt yesterday at the glitzy Detroit Motor Show, where fuel efficiency and alternative fuels are emerging as a major focus.
GM said its new vehicle – still at the concept stage after a year of development – could be recharged overnight and would save the average driver $900 a year at current fuel prices. It would mean, also, that 4.4 metric tons of carbon dioxide is no longer pumped into the atmosphere by the average driver.
Bob Lutz, head of global product development at GM, said the Volt fulfilled the company’s promise to pursue “the electrification of the automobile, to increase energy diversity, and to move away as soon as it is technologically and economically possible from a world where the automobile industry is 98 per cent dependent on petroleum or petroleum-based fuels”.
Not to be out-done Ford launched a space-age utility vehicle, called the Ford Airstream that comes complete with lava lamps, swivel chairs and a video screen. It, too, runs on battery power which is generated by a hybrid fuel cell, or topped up from the mains.
American carmakers are struggling to respond to criticism about them failing to invest in electric technology. A documentary released last year, Who Killed the Electric Car?, suggested GM had wilfully turned its back on electric vehicles.
The multi-billion question though about electric vehicles is how is the electricity generated: because if it’s dirty coal, oil or nukes its out of the frying pan into the fire.
It’s great to see a major automaker finally moving forward on what small companies have been proving possible for several years (see Energy CS, CalCars and HyMotion). But while the announcement is exciting, GM still isn’t giving any solid timeline on WHEN we can see these cars on the road or HOW MANY cars are actually going to be produced – at best they say 3-4 years if the battery technology is available. There is a demand for plug-in hybrids NOW – there are hundreds of cities, counties, utility districts and fleets already placing “soft orders” for such vehicles. Such early-adopters of these vehicles would provide test markets for GM to refine the technology and build public confidence and interest in these cars.
I have to admit I’m a little concerned that they will use the announcement of these concept cars more to clean up their image than clean up their product line. There is a lot GM can do between now and when we may see these concept vehicles actually on the road.
We all know increasing fuel efficiency is the direction automakers need to head – so let’s get past the hype of a handful of concept vehicles and look at what they are doing with the rest of their fleet. Overall average fuel economy from the Big 6 is worse today that it was 10 years ago and GM is still heavily dependent on its gas guzzling truck lines. In addition to that they are still fighting tooth-and-nail against increasing fuel economy regulations, suing states that try to limit greenhouse gas emissions, and in December argued before the Supreme Court that carbon from tailpipe emissions was not even a pollutant. GM is still planning to expand their Hummer line to become 25% of their overall sales. Consumers still have limited options to find fuel-efficient cars that are affordable, well-built, and fun to drive. There are plenty of things automakers can do today to increase fuel economy – and I’m tired of being shown distracting concept cars that we won’t see for 3-4 years if ever.
I’ve been working with the Freedom From Oil Campaign to make automakers honestly prioritize fuel economy and move beyond oil – check out what we do at http://www.FreedomFromOil.org
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